Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
Tonight my cat, Bronte, escaped the house. On her way back inside, she was attacked by a feral cat. She was so scared by the attack that she peed and pooped all over herself, so I gave her a bath — something I’ve done before and that she used to enjoy. She lay under the water purring, but when I took her out and dried her, she freaked out and peed all over me. Now she won’t come near me or my partner. It’s heartbreaking because Bronte and I used to do everything together and she has always been a super-affectionate cat: she slept on the bed with me, sat on my lap, and even sat on the edge of the tub when I took showers. How can I get her to trust us like before?
Siouxsie: Oh, Chantel, it sounds like Bronte was severely traumatized by the attack, and that’s so sad!
Thomas: And unfortunately, while she was still in her freaked-out state with her adrenalin flowing, you had to get her cleaned up so you gave her a bath.
Bella: You’re not wrong for doing that, so please don’t blame yourself: you were doing what you thought would be best and most helpful for her.
Siouxsie: It just happens that now she’s suffering from the kitty version of post-traumatic stress disorder. The primary trauma was the attack, not the bath.
Thomas: Although I have to confess a bath would be pretty darn traumatic for me. I don’t even like getting my tail wet!
Bella: But I like the baths you give me, Thomas. I feel so loved when you wash my head and ears with your tongue …
Thomas: Oh, I like getting tongue baths, Bella. It’s the watery kind I don’t like!
Siouxsie: You never give me baths, Thomas.
Thomas: You never asked. In fact, the last time I tried, you hissed at me!
Siouxsie: Well, I’m asking now. I need some help cleaning the top of my head.
Thomas: Just a second, I’ll be right over.
Bella: Anyway, we probably should get back to Chantel’s question.
Siouxsie: Oh. Yeah. Sorry, Chantel; I just got a little bit distracted there. Anyhow, what can you do to help a cat with PTSD? Potentially quite a lot.
Thomas: The June 21, 2014, episode of My Cat From Hell featured Mia, a kitty that was suffering from PTSD because she was trapped in her home when there was a really bad fire. Mia was even attacking her people because she was so scared and triggered! But Jackson Galaxy was able to help Mia and her family, and Mia’s doing a lot better now.
Bella: The first thing you need to be sure about is that your Bronte wasn’t hurt during the attack. If she was injured, that would increase her pain and give her an instinctive drive to hide. Is she eating well? Drinking normally? Peeing and pooping normally? If her biological functions are normal, then the main issue is probably the trauma. But if you have any doubts at all, you need to get her to a vet for a checkup.
Siouxsie: There are things you can do to help. First of all, we’d recommend you get a Feliway plug-in or two. Put one in the room where she seems to be spending most of her time and one in a main area of the house.
Thomas: If there is a room where she’s spending most of her time, put her food, water, litter box, bedding, and other little comforts of home there. Once she begins feeling safe in that room, she will probably want to begin exploring the rest of the house.
Bella: Jackson had Mia’s family use Trauma-Free, one of his Spirit Essences, to help relieve the emotional overload from the trauma. You may think flower essences are kind of woo-woo, but they really do work!
Siouxsie: If you’re not ready to go all the way there, try some Rescue Remedy. Mama gave us Rescue Remedy while we were making our cross-country move last year and it really helped. It’s a flower essence, too, but it’s much more commonly available. There’s even a version just for pets.
Thomas: Try coaxing her out of her hiding place and building her confidence with interactive play sessions. Few cats can resist a good feather-on-a-string toy! But remember, she’s really traumatized, so don’t send the toy toward her too aggressively. Instead, make it move like a prey animal, flittering around in irregular patterns.
Bella: If she starts focusing on the toy and tracking its movements, you’re making good progress, at least at the beginning.
Siouxsie: As her confidence rises, she’ll probably come out of hiding and start playing with you.
Thomas: Another thing you can do is quietly spend time in the room where she’s hiding. Read a book, watch a movie or a TV show, or just meditate if that’s something you do. Your quiet presence will help to remind her that you’re not a threat.
Bella: Whatever you do, though, let her approach you. Don’t make any large gestures toward her.
Siouxsie: In order for a trauma survivor to feel safe rebuilding their lives, they need to feel that they’re in control of the action and that they can set the boundaries they need.
Thomas: When you’re in the same room with Bronte, offer her some of her favorite treats or food. You can leave the food or treats in a place that’s close to her safe space but that still challenges her to come out from hiding or come closer to you.
Bella: Just as with humans, it takes time for kitties to recover from trauma, but by using some of these tips and some of the tricks Jackson Galaxy demonstrated with Mia, we trust that you’ll be able to bring her around.
Siouxsie: Please let us know how things turn out. We’d love to get an update on Bronte and find out if our advice was helpful. Purrs to you!