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Rescue Cat Behavior: Vet-Reviewed Problems & How to Help

Written by: Ed Malaker

Last Updated on June 20, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

a sad cat inside a cage

Rescue Cat Behavior: Vet-Reviewed Problems & How to Help


Dr. Lauren Demos (DVM) Photo


Dr. Lauren Demos (DVM)


The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Rescue cats often make wonderful pets, but while many quickly adapt to their new environment, some may exhibit certain behavioral challenges. Understanding and addressing these common problems can help improve the bond between you and your new pet. Here, we explain what signs to look for and what you can do to help make your rescue cat more comfortable so you can both have a better experience.

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What Is Rescue Cat Behavior?

Rescue cat behavior refers to the patterns and actions exhibited by cats that have been adopted or rescued from shelters, abandonment, or other situations where they were not receiving proper care. These cats often have poor backgrounds and experiences that can influence their behavior in various ways. Rescue cat behavior may include both positive and negative aspects, and understanding these can help you provide appropriate care and create a supportive environment.

Image Credit: Yulia-Grigoryeva,Shutterstock

What Are the Signs of a Behavior Problem in a Rescue Cat?

  • Many rescue cats experience fear and anxiety, especially in the first few days or weeks of being in a new environment, which can result in hiding, avoidance, or skittish behavior.
  • Some rescue cats may be initially shy or reserved, particularly if they have had limited socialization.
  • Cats that have experienced trauma or stressful situations may display aggression as a defense mechanism when people or other pets get too close.
  • Some rescue cats may engage in destructive behaviors like scratching furniture or chewing on items, which can be a response to stress or boredom.
  • Cats are territorial animals and may have difficulty getting used to sharing the house with other pets.

What Are the Causes of Rescue Cat Behavior?

If a cat has many bad experiences in the shelter or before they arrived there, they will be more likely to have behavioral problems. Abuse, neglect, poor socialization, frequently moving from one environment to another, and a general lack of positive experiences can all lead to behavioral issues with your new pet. Additionally, the crowded environment that many cats face in shelters, a lack of veterinary care, and even genetics can contribute to how cats respond to unfamiliar environments.

The 11 Ways to Care for a Rescue Cat With Behavioral Problems

1. Veterinary Check-Up

Schedule a thorough veterinary examination to rule out any underlying health issues that may be contributing to the behavior problems. Pain or discomfort can influence a cat’s actions.

vet checking cats teeth
Image Credit: PRESSLAB, Shutterstock

2. Safe and Comfortable Environment

Provide a quiet and secure space where your cat can retreat and feel safe. Ensure that they have access to hiding spots, comfortable bedding, food, and litter boxes placed in low-traffic areas.

3. Slow and Gentle Introductions

If you have other pets, introduce them to your cat gradually. Use positive reinforcement, and monitor their interactions to prevent stress and conflicts.

4. Positive Reinforcement

Reinforce positive behaviors with treats, praise, and affection to help encourage your cat to repeat them.

Image Credit: jaromir-chalabala, Shutterstock

5. Mental Stimulation

Stimulate your cat mentally and physically with interactive toys, scratching posts, and puzzle feeders to help reduce boredom and redirect destructive behaviors.

6. Regular Playtime

Engage in regular play sessions to provide an outlet for your cat’s energy and strengthen the bond between you. Use toys that mimic prey behavior to satisfy their hunting instincts.

7. Litter Box Management

Keep the litter box clean and place it in a quiet, easily accessible location. If your cat has litter box issues, consider trying different types of litter and addressing any environmental factors that may be contributing to the problem.

man cleaning cat litter tray
Image By: New Africa, Shutterstock

8. Routines

Establish a consistent routine for feeding, playtime, and interactions. Cats often thrive on predictability, and a stable routine can help reduce stress.

9. Pheromone Products

Feliway and other pheromone products can help create a calming environment for your cat. These products mimic the natural pheromones that cats use to mark their territory, and many cat owners report having success using them.

10. Patience and Understanding

Behavioral changes take time. Be patient with your cat, and avoid punishment, as it can increase fear and stress. Instead, focus on positive reinforcement and building trust.

11. Professional Help

If the behavior problems persist or escalate, consider seeking advice from a veterinarian or a certified animal behaviorist. They can provide personalized guidance and strategies to address specific issues.

Image By: Anna-Hoychuk, Shutterstock

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Frequently Asked Questions

What Are Signs of Stress in a Rescue Cat?

Signs of stress may include hiding, excessive grooming, changes in appetite, aggression, or litter box issues. Monitoring behavior and addressing stressors can help alleviate these signs.

Can I Socialize an Adult Rescue Cat, or Is It Too Late?

While it may take more time, you can often socialize adult cats. Patience, positive reinforcement, and gradual exposure to new experiences can help them become more comfortable with social interactions. They often do best in quiet environments, where routines are easily established and household activity levels are more minimal.

How Can I Encourage My Rescue Cat to Play?

Experiment with different types of toys, including interactive toys, feathers, and laser pointers. Allow your cat to initiate play, and use positive reinforcement with treats or affection to make playtime enjoyable.

Image By: Evan-Abram-McGinnis, Shutterstock

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Common issues with rescue cats include shyness, fear, and anxiety. These cats can hide, act aggressively, or even get destructive. Some owners also notice that they can get quite vocal. Scheduling a check-up at the vet is a good idea because it can rule out potential health problems. Then, having a comfortable environment, clean litter boxes, and predictability through routine can help them start to feel comfortable.

Gradually introduce your rescue cat to other pets, engage them in playtime with interactive toys, and use pheromone products to help them feel even more comfortable, so they can start to form stronger bonds with you and the other pets. If problems continue to escalate, contacting a vet or behavioral therapist can help.

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Featured Image Creidt: Mimzy, Pixabay

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