Will My Husband Ever Win Back My Kitten’s Trust?

Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:

I have a very gentle kitten who was just fine until a recent incident that occurred between him and my husband. The kitten is 9 months old and we have had him for seven of those months.

This kitten is a very gentle, sweet and timid little guy, generally happy-go-lucky. What happened was really unnecessary in my opinion but it happened. My husband wakes up very early in the mornings for work. We have a special spare room where the cats sleep at night or when they are not being watched. A few days ago, the kitten bolted out the bedroom door. My husband shouted a loud “hey,” chased the kitten and grabbed his tail, and caught his finger in a knot in the cat’s fur. My husband let go right away and the cat ran into his room, scared out of his mind. He was panting, yowling and hiding in his litter box. I was able to calm him down, and the rest of the day was normal.

The next day, the kitten hid in his litter box when my husband entered the room. He runs away when my husband gets close and generally does not want to be around him. My husband knows he was wrong, and he feels horrible. He wants to gain the kitten’s trust again if possible. What can we do to get my husband on kitten’s good side again?

Man with leather wrist cuff stroking an orange tabby kitten

Photo CC-BY-SA Matthew Frederickson

~ Cheri

Siouxsie: We’re so sorry to hear about this — both for your sweet kitten and for the two of you! It seems very clear that this was an honest mistake and that your husband didn’t intend any harm.

Thomas: However, this kitten has a very sweet and rather shy disposition to start with — much like myself …

Siouxsie: Don’t even start, Thomas! You chased me all around the apartment this afternoon. You pinned me down and swatted me! You even managed to loosen some of my under-fur … and now I’ve got a tiny little cold patch on my shoulder. I’m Very Upset with you, Mister Man! Shy and sweet, my patootie!

Thomas: But … but …

Siouxsie: If Mama hadn’t stopped you, you probably would have chased me around until I had a heart attack and died, and then Mama would cry and it would all be your fault!

Thomas: But … *sniffle*

Bella: Stop being such a meaniepants, Siouxsie. See? You’ve made Thomas cry now!

Thomas: *sniffle*

Siouxsie: *grumble* It’s a good thing I can at least take some consolation in Mama’s lap, because you two are useless.

Bella: Meaniepants! Come on now, Thomas, wipe your eyes and lick your whiskers, and let’s get back to answering Cheri’s question.

Thomas: Okay. I’m better now. So, Cheri, some kittens when faced an accident like this would just shake it off and go on about their merry way. But your kitten is reacting in such an extreme way partially because of his innate temperament.

Bella: The good news is that it is possible for your husband and your kitten to rebuild their bond. It’s going to take time and effort, though.

Siouxsie: The most important part of rebuilding that bond is to make your husband the source from which everything awesome flows. Food? Husband prepares it. Water dishes? Husband cleans and refills them with fresh water. Litter boxes? Husband cleans them and washes them out as necessary. Play? Yup, husband’s on that, too.

Thomas: As your kitten starts associating good things with your husband, his wariness about interacting with him will begin to decrease.

Bella: Don’t be surprised if at first the kitten doesn’t want to go near his food if your husband is standing nearby. Husband should just put the food down gently and then walk away quietly. He shouldn’t even attempt to touch the kitten while he’s eating.

Siouxsie: Play is a very important part of this recipe, too. Interactive play helps shy cats to build their confidence. A “thing on a string” toy will allow your kitten to hunt and play without getting too close to your husband. We particularly recommend Da Bird, because this toy has a long wand and a long string, so kitty and husband don’t have to be right next to each other to play.

Thomas: Believe it or not, playing with cats isn’t as easy as it might seem. Mama wrote an article for Catster on how to play with your cat, and you two might want to check it out for some ideas.

Bella: Watching episodes of My Cat From Hell can also give you lots of tips on how to play with cats. The series is available on Netflix and a number of other streaming video services.

Siouxsie: Another thing you should do is ensure that your kitten has lots of high places to hang out, whether those high places are tall cat trees, specially designed cat shelves, spaces in bookcases, or whatever. If he is able to check out the world from a higher vantage point, your kitten may feel more secure in general, and certainly when interacting with your husband.

Thomas: If your husband starts doing these things and if you ensure your kitten has all the vertical space he needs so he can move around your home and look at his world from above, the odds are good that kitty will come around eventually.

Bella: You’ll both have to be patient. Your kitten is very scared and traumatized right now, and it’s going to take him some time to feel comfortable around your husband. But we’re sure it will happen with time.

Siouxsie: What about you, fellow readers? Do you have any suggestions for Cheri and her husband about how to rebuild the man-kitten bond? Please share them in the comments.

  • Rumorasit

    This brought to mind a recent article from you: In that article it mentions sitting on the floor of the kitten room and reading for instance. Just being quiet and calm and on their level in their space. No quick or jerky movements, no loud noises or sudden noises. If there’s a treat the kitten can’t resist, start out by placing one a few feet from where you’ll be sitting. Ignore that treat and if and when the kitten comes to get it. Give him time to see that you’re not going to suddenly jump at him. Move the treat a few inches closer every few days – providing he’s actually eating it. When you enter the room, talk softly to the kitten. And then go about your reading, or whatever you’re going to do while in there. Again, talk softly once in awhile, to the kitten. No direct eye contact, except for eye hugs. If the kitten attempts to approach you, put your hand out (slowly of course) and palm towards the floor, fingers relaxed. Let him sniff to his hearts content. Again, no direct staring. Hopefully, one day kitten will rub or head bonk your offered hand. At that point you can attempt a little stroking.

    My grandkittygirl is like this. She’s now 6 years old and is not as shy or traumatised as she used to be. Everytime she gets severely stressed she poops in the hallway. She’s always had poopie issues since the original trauma. We never scolded or raised our voices or made a big deal out of it. I didn’t want her *hiding* the poop. That’s even worse! We simply scooped it up and put it in her nearby litter box. It took 4 years to get her to poop in her litter box again due to the trauma she endured. We’ve had construction going on in the building connected to our building and today – loud pounding downstairs. She poops in the hallway cause the noises scare her. She’ll be ok again once the noise settles down.

    Cats are not dogs. They approach everything differently. They perceive things differently. They can be guided and some can be trained. But the way you’d house-train a dog, for instance, seldom works with a cat.

    Good luck and I’d really love an update or several on the progress being made with this kitten!

  • Jen

    you could have feliway plug-ins around the house too and try having a catnip sock (crushed up dry catmint leaves in an old (clean) sock) its a wonderful cheap toy and they love it… you could also use valerian or that other yellow flower (sorry, i forget what its called but i can point to it in my back garden lol)

    good luck

    Jen xx

  • alex white

    Jeez.. this incident brings back some old memories.. i too share a same incident when i by mistake tried to grab hold of my pup but somehow i ended up hurting him in the process.. Just like the kitten, he would come near me.. So what i did was.. for 10-15 days consecutively i sat at a bit of a distance from him, holding his favourite treat in my hand.. and finally on the 10th day, he finally came close to me and eat the treat from my hand. it was a great great feeling and i knew that my efforts bore fruit, mending our relationship. :D