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How to Care for an Abused Cat: 7 Ways to Help (Vet Answer)

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Last Updated on November 16, 2023 by Dr. Lauren Demos (Vet)

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Dr. Lauren Demos (DVM)


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It can be difficult to know for sure if a cat was abused. Certain signs, such as fear of strangers (or of a certain gender), excessive hiding, misdirected aggression, or extreme aggression, along with a variety of other signs, might indicate that a cat has had a difficult background. Since it is often tough to know, it never hurts to approach these cats slowly, and with respect.

If you are trying to take the next step and care for an abused cat, the challenge can be well worth the effort, as these cats can become loving additions to the right family. The hard part, if you suspect a cat was abused, is knowing how to care for them. So, if you are looking to add an abused cat to your house, or if you’re simply looking for general tips, here are seven ways to help care for an abused cat.

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The 7 Ways to Care for an Abused Cat

1. Medical Care is Key

If there was recent abuse, and the cat has suffered visible injury, then medical care is a no brainer. Recent or current physical injuries, even if they look to be healing, should be cared for under veterinary supervision.

However, if the cat you are wanting to care for simply has a history of abuse that is not recent (e.g., months or years prior), then you may have other options. While these cats should still see a veterinarian regularly, you may sometimes choose to give them more time to acclimate to people or the household, before introducing a veterinarian into the mix. This can be especially important when bringing the cat to a veterinary clinic.

There are also some good alternatives to traditional veterinary care. This can include home visits by a vet, or finding a local feline-only clinic to become the cat’s doctor. Some veterinarians may offer tele-consultations as well—though the extent of these is often fairly limited by practice law.

And, if the cat you are caring for is having behavior issues, feline behavior medicine has come leaps and bounds in recent years. So, finding a good feline veterinary behaviorist is generally easy. Better yet, these consultations are often well-suited to telemedicine. So, many times, you can accomplish a lot to help your furry feline without even having to leave home.

If you will be travelling to the vet (or anywhere, for that matter) with your cat, it helps to acclimate them to the carrier they will be travelling with. Find one that is big enough to fit your cat—ideally, the length of your cat, so that their tail can stretch out without touching the sides. Bed carriers may be an exception to this rule! Ensure there are at least two ways for your cat to go in and come out—so a door where the top easily comes off, or two different doors.

Next, leave the carrier out, and make it fun. Keep it clean. Offer treats, and lots of soft bedding for your cat to sleep in.

vet holding burma cat
Image Credit: Elpisterra, Shutterstock

2. Think Like a Cat

Try to have a cat mindset—what would a cat like? How do they want to be approached, if they are timid? If they are aggressive, could it be because they are afraid?

When trying to care for and interact with an abused cat, go slow. Cats are generally relaxed, slow-paced creature—unless it’s 2 am and they have the late-night zoomies! Otherwise, most of their interactions are slow and steady. Using the same mindset, be calm and relaxed. Don’t rush an interaction, especially if you’re in a hurry. Remember, cats are great at reading body language. The tone of your voice, your stance, and the way you carry yourself all greatly impact how you are perceived. Your body language is key to any relationship—human or feline alike.

If you only have a short period to spend interacting at that particular moment, pick an activity that fits into the timeframe—such as giving a treat and some praise, or giving them a brushdown in their favorite spot. Lots of small, positive interactions can be just as beneficial as longer ones when it comes to bonding with an abused cat.

Top tip: the slow blink is a critical move to master when working with any cat, but especially when caring for an abused cat. A slow blink during direct eye contact means things are all good. If they return the slow blink, even better!

3. Don’t Underestimate the Persuasive Power of Food!

Nutrition is key for caring for cats, in many ways. First, for cats that have been previously abused, they may not have had access to the best diets and foods to keep them healthy. Therefore, feeding a high quality diet made for cats is very important. There are lots of good foods to pick from, and your vet can help recommend what might best suit your particular cat’s needs.

Second, many cats are extremely food-motivated. This can help you find alternative ways to reward a cat that you are caring for. For instance, if you are trying to gain the trust of an abused cat, you might reward them with treats as you spend time with them. Alternatively, you may entice them to come out from a hiding spot with some nice food. Think creatively, and food can be a huge asset in this way.

Some cats prefer wet over dry, or vice versa. Try lots of different things and find out what your cat likes best. Then use that to select a variety of tasty treats that are best suited to them.

Cat eating wet food from white bowl on wooden floor
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4. Give Them a “Cat Friendly” Environment

Caring for cats can be quite different than other animals, especially if the particular cat had a rough start in life. When creating a “cat friendly environment” for them, think about hiding spots, background noises, and smells, in particular.

Cats want lots of nooks and crannies to hide and sleep in. They may choose not to use them, which is ok. But, having them allows them to feel safe and protected. This can be especially true for an abused cat. So, ensure that their environment allows them plenty of places to to hide. This can be as simple as cardboard boxes with blankets, or fancy cat trees with perches and cubbies. The idea is to simply offer your cat a place to get away when they need it.

Similarly, cats have a very acute sense of hearing—even normal sounds are amplified for them. Therefore, ensure that they have access to a quiet area of the house for sleeping and grooming. Similarly, avoid excessive smells when working closely with an animal, as their sensitive noses may be more apt to finding certain smells offensive.

For smells, consider using a pheromone diffuser to help a cat know that the environment they are in is safe. Avoiding wearing strong scents when caring for an abused cat will also be helpful.

5. Incorporate Playtime

Most cats appreciate some playtime—though with what toys, and for how long it will last depends on the individual cat. In caring for an abused cat, this can be a great way to help bring them out of their shell.

cat playing with owner
Image Credit: Dora Zett, Shutterstock

6. Be Mindful of Body Language

Reading a cat’s body language can help you to better understand how they are reacting to what you’re doing, and how to better target your approach to help you best care for them. The following are some signs might indicate your cat’s feeling of uncertainty towards you and your mannerisms, so that you can reconsider going about things in a different manner.

Possible signs of feline uncertainty can include:
  • Purring
  • Laying on the side with their belly exposed
  • Hissing or growling
  • Hair standing up on their neck or back
  • Not making eye contact,or making excessive eye contact

7. Consider Getting a Second Cat

Sometimes caring for an abused cat is about showing them the way forward. And sometimes, the best way to do this is with another cat. Sound odd? A cat that hasn’t been abused is more apt to be outgoing, trusting, friendly towards people, and less concerned about strangers/strange things in their environment. Sometimes, this can help teach an abused cat what more normal life can actually look like. In the best case scenarios, they might even start picking up on some of these habits, and implementing them themselves.

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Image Credit: Nils Jacobi, Shutterstock

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While caring for an abused cat can sometimes be challenging, it can also be one of the most rewarding experiences you will have. There is nothing like the reward of helping an abused cat live a wonderful, fullfilling new life.

Featured Image Credit: one photo, Shutterstock

About the Author

Dr. Lauren Demos (Vet)
Dr. Lauren Demos (Vet)
Dr. Lauren has worked in all aspects of the veterinary field throughout her career and therefore she has a deep understanding of animals. Since graduating from veterinary school, Lauren has worked in multiple countries, fostered many animals, and volunteered her time to help pets and vets alike.

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