How to Tell if a Rescue Cat was Abused

Bringing a rescue cat home comes with a lot of benefits—from which we ask you to think only about the life you saved. Stray cats are not used to living outdoors, and they don’t typically live more than a few months after hitting the streets.

With access to so many information channels, lost cats are usually reunited with their owners. That is why the ones that reach shelters are most likely to be abandoned or rescued from abusive owners. Even if the cat was rescued from the streets and the shelter you adopt her from has no information about her background, there are some signs you watch for to identify an abused rescue cat.

Abused rescue cat

Watch for “Head-Shy”

This term is used by vets and behaviorists to describe the most common sign any animal has suffered abused. Same as with dogs, if a cat keeps her head down, avoids eye contact and flinches even at the slightest touch, it could be the first indicator of previous abuse.

Flea Infestation

If you adopt a cat, you will not have to deal with this, but asking the shelter about the cat’s condition when it was rescued could help you determine if the cat has been neglected (a different form of abuse). Excessive ear mites may also be present – and for this, you’ll need to know how to clean your cat’s ears.


Abuse sometimes includes violence. If your cat is gentle, try to check while petting her if she has any scars underneath her fur.

Runs and Hides from People or Other Animals

A cat with an abusive history will tend to fear the elements which hurt her. For example, a cat could hide under a bed and refuse to come out in the presence of other people, sometimes children. The same goes for other animals.

Hoarding is another type of abuse. People who keep too many animals in a closed environment (even if they do it with good intentions) usually fail to cater to the animals’ needs. This leaves the animals fighting for food, without enough clean water, or a clean litter tray. Cats from situations like these may show food aggression, have litter box issues, or drink from less-than-desirable places.


Starvation is one of the most noticeable signs of abuse. An underfed cat was clearly not taking care of properly. If you can feel her backbone or her ribs while petting her, the cat could be underfed. If you have adopted her from a shelter, this is another question you need to ask about her history before bringing her into your home.

Poor General Condition

Even if a cat is not underfed, improper nutrition could still generate abuse symptoms. A cat’s coat should be thick and shiny. Her nose should be moist, and her paw pads should be smooth. If any of these symptoms are present, the cat was abused.


Aggression is the ultimate sign of abuse, and we are not talking about the behavior of a feral cat. For those, aggression is a part of their survival behavior, but for rescue cats, aggression that occurs without notice might help you identify previous abuse.

For example, if your rescue cat loves being petted but suddenly strikes at you when you reach a specific spot, it might mean the cat was injured there. However, it can also indicate an underlying condition. Take her to the vet for a proper check-up and see which is the cause.

Even though the signs above are meant to guide you in adapting your rescue cat to your home and your family, if you love animals, they are all indicators of abuse even for others. When you notice these signs in pets which might not be yours, reach for help.

You can try to discuss with the owner yourself, but do not, in any way, confront him/her. Even in a casual discussion, an abusive owner will get defensive. Don’t dig deeper. Go to your local rescue unit and present your concerns as detailed as possible, and let them handle the situation.

Whatever the case, you might be helping a soul find a better home, or the owner might receive help in taking care of his pet if the abuse was unintentional and generated strictly by lack of proper information.



4+ cats and 2 dogs over the past decade, loves to write, not a huge fan of coffee... but LOVES her pets! Read More
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