Fostering an Older Cat (Who Might Just Have PTSD)

Fostering has its challenges, and those are compounded by other factors, such as an animal’s age or previous abuse.


Cora, a 9-year-old Abyssinian, was frightened beyond belief. She’d been removed from a murder-suicide house and ended up spending almost 3 months in a cage. She was days away from being euthanized when someone contacted me about fostering her.

Dulcie was a declawed 4-year-old Himalayan with lovely lusterware-blue eyes. She had, I was told, been kept confined in an 18″x18″x18″ box. I was never able to verify this story, but she did move stiffly and seemed to have difficulty jumping at first.


Scrabble had been given up because of circumstances beyond her control. The 8-year-old tortie had been born with a hind foot that wasn’t completely formed, and she had abandonment issues.

Each of these cats was a challenge. Kittens are easy to foster and easier to place. Everybody wants kittens. But older cats are trickier: They come with emotional baggage — with the memory of every hurt, every bit of abuse thrown their way.

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Cats and PTSD

Cats can suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as Knox and Sara Neeley illustrate in their book Urban Tails: Inside the Hidden World of Alley Cats.

Donkey, one of the feral cats they came to know, had barely escaped an attack by a city coyote. She “was so wary and jumpy that if she had been a person, she would have been called crazy or, at the very least, hyperactive,” the authors write.

“Intuitively, we knew that her behavior had to do with what she had seen and endured the night her family and father had been killed.”

Cats with PTSD don’t act that differently from people with it. Years ago, when we rescued Tikvah, she’d been living in the field behind my mom’s house and was very sick. In time she came to trust and love me, but she still balked at being picked up. And for the rest of her life she would bolt in terror whenever she saw me take the broom from the closet.


Healing the Trauma

Ingrid King, a Reiki master practitioner who works with both humans and animals, believes that “Reiki can be very effective for cats who have experienced trauma or with a history of abuse. If given hands on, the gentle touch and energy can help restore trust in animals who have learned to associate touch with being hurt. If given remotely, the gentle energy can provide comfort and relieve fear and anxiety.”

King also recommends flower essences on her website, The Conscious Cat. Some of the better-known ones are:

  • Bach’s Rescue Remedy (developed by Dr. Edward Bach in the 1930s and safe for animals and people)
  • Feline behaviorist Jackson Galaxy’s Spirit Essences
  • Green Hope Farm Essences

“Most animals will readily choose the positive role of flower essences over negative energies,” state the Green Hope Farm folks on their website. “However, when an animal’s electrical wiring has been deeply damaged by negative interactions with humans, as is the case with most rescue animals, this process of letting flower essences inform and improve an animal’s health may take longer than the lightning response of a more balanced animal.”

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Truth be told, all methods take time. There is no quick cure for a cat that has been abused or traumatized. Once you accept that — and the inevitable setbacks along the way — you have a good shot at helping the cat.

2 Out of 3 Ain’t Bad

Dulcie came around the most quickly. She began following me around making sure that I didn’t vanish. A woman who had just lost her beloved Maine coon came over to meet Dulcie. They clicked immediately, and Dulcie went off to her new life in a state-of-the-art cat carrier.

Cora took a little longer. She hid in my study a lot at first. Then one day she hopped up on the computer table and got all nuzzly. Cora is now living her “happily ever after” with an old friend of mine.

Scrabble was the holdout. Deeply unhappy, she hissed and swatted at me. I hissed back at her and went about my business. Scrabble mulled this over. Then, once she began to feel safe with me, she began rubbing against my ankles and meowing conversationally. She still does. Of the 3, Scrabble ended up being my “foster failure.”


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