How to care for a pet that’s been abused

Choosing to adopt a pet that has been abused is an incredibly selfless and compassionate thing to do and the rewards from gaining the trust of your new companion are incredibly satisfying.

Although there’s more and more awareness around animal cruelty and it’s thankfully becoming less common, it does still happen and when it does, essential charities and caring people can change a life.

If you’ve decided to open your home to an animal that’s been abused there’s a few things you need to know.

What is animal abuse?

When an animal is described as abused it could encompass a wide range of scenarios so it’s important to find out as much as you can about the pet you’re about to take home.

Abused could mean:

  • It was abandoned or neglected which could result in a pet that’s had to learn to be more self-sufficient.
  • It was physically abused by other humans which could result in a pet that’s very wary about humans it doesn’t know.
  • It was rescued from a fighting ring or a situation where it was forced to survive through violence which could mean it might take a while before it learns it doesn’t have to constantly be on guard.
  • It was rescued from a breeding or puppy farm which could have resulted in physical long term damage and will need a soft and caring home.

Abuse could be long term and happen over months or years or they might have been rescued after a few days or weeks – it’s important to remember that cats and dogs don’t have the same concept of time that we do so the length of the abuse is often irrelevant.

Can an abused animal be happy again?

The good news is dogs are inherently social animals and have evolved over many years to have a close bond with humans. It’s very common that with a little time and patience, a dog with even the most tragic story will be able to make a very clear distinction between any humans that caused them pain and suffering and humans who have given them love and safety.

Cats are the same. They might be naturally more solitary creatures, but they understand having access to regular food and somewhere safe and warm to sleep. You will need to use your actions to show your new cat they’re perfectly safe.

Are all rescue pets abused?

No! it’s very common to find a cat or dog in need of rehoming with no knowledge of their history, this doesn’t mean anything bad has ever happened to them.

Even if they seem withdrawn or cower when approached, you must remember, this cat or dog is not only in an unknown situation with the scents and sounds of many other animals around them, but they’re also now 100% dependant on humans they don’t know.

Eye contact with cats and dogs can be a form of dominance and their heads are their most vulnerable body part. This means it’s perfectly normal for them to not want to make eye contact and lower their heads if you go to touch them.

How do I earn the trust of an abused pet?

Earning the trust of any pet will always depend on the individual pet and their new surroundings. But there are a few things are essential if you’re bringing a pet home who might be nervous:

  • Time is essential
    • The most important thing is letting your new cat or dog settle in in their own time and not yours. The best thing you can let them do when you get them home is let them explore their new home in peace and quiet. Sometimes it can be a good idea to just let them explore a few rooms to begin with or keep them away from any stairs until they’re feeling more confident.
  • Be quiet
    • Quiet doesn’t just mean no loud noises, it means keeping the TV on a lower volume (especially if you like action TV shows or anything with other animals), not running around too much and even treading lightly where possible. If your cat or dog is in a deep sleep and someone comes stomping across the room with heavy boots on, it could startle them and set their progress back.
  • Don’t force interaction
    • It can be almost impossible to have a cute animal in your home and not want to play with them, but you need to restrain yourself until they’re ready. It’s important you get them used to being touched but go very slowly and don’t force it if your pet is scared or anxious.

How can I show an abused pet they’re safe?

Present the back of your hand for them to sniff and if they don’t pull away, slowly move your hand to their neck or chest for a gentle stroke. Avoid putting your hand above their head as their heads are vulnerable and they won’t be able to see what you’re doing.

Once they’re comfortable with you touching them, try sitting near them (or even just in the same room) ideally low down or on the floor. If you sit there reading or even working on a laptop, they’ll understand there’s no pressure on them and they’ll slowly get used to your presence.

If they then decide to come up to you, carry on with your activity, let them sniff around you. If you’re on the floor, they might feel more comfortable approaching you as they’ll know they can make an easy get away if they need to. If they decide to sit next to you (or even on you), reassure them in a calm and quiet voice and only touch them if they’ve seen your hand and are OK with you touching them.

Establish a routine and try and stick to it. If they know they always get fed at the same time they’ll find it easier to trust you. If you make a habit of giving them a groom after dinner every night, they’ll start to associate the end of the day with one-on-one time. The more they can rely on you, the more they’ll trust you.

3 things to never do to an abused pet

  • Never scold or punish them. Whilst this might seem obvious, a scared cat or dog could lash out without meaning to causing their owner to instinctively lose their temper. The difference is your cat or dog might be acting out of self-preservation, but they certainly won’t be acting out of malice.
  • Never try to correct something that’s already happened. It’s not uncommon for rehomed pets to need help with toilet training. If you notice a puddle on the floor, you can’t tell your cat or dog off after the fact because they won’t understand what they’ve done wrong. The best you can do is clear the mess up and if you catch them in the act, move or encourage them to where they’re meant to be going to the toilet.
  • Do not adopt any animal unless you’ve done your research. So many animals end up back in shelters because they were rehomed by someone who wasn’t fully prepared for the responsibility. Rehoming an abused pet is exactly the same as buying a new puppy, you can’t guarantee what you’re going to get, it will take a lot of hard work, mess and some tears but, if you’re prepared to put the effort in, you’ll be rewarded with a loving pet whose life you know you made better.

Once your new pet is used to you and their new home, you’ll be able to keep an eye on their health. If you’ve been made aware of any previous abuse that could have long term health implications, your vet will be able to tell you what you need to be looking out for.

How Petcover can help your pet

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