Shy, timid, and fearful cat behaviour

Cats naturally bond with humans, but nervous cats may need some extra care and understanding to reach this natural state

Shy cat hiding under towel

Cats, like humans, vary in character but all cats enjoy interaction, attention, and play. These needs can be at odds with nervousness, distrust, and fear so it is important to try and 'bridge the gap' with your cat, offer security, and remove these negative feelings.

Understand the cause of Shy Cat Behaviour

Kittens are rarely shy and timid but adult cats often show these characteristics. In most cases it is a result of isolated upbringing, lack of human interaction, or past cruelty. Having said this, if your cat is new it may simply be settling in and learning its new owners and environment. Try and identify the events which cause your cat to hide away, these could be noises, attempts to pick the cat up, touching the cat (either anywhere or in certain places), or sudden movements.


Fear of people

If your cat is fearful of people in general and tries to avoid any kind of interaction you need to first show that you are not a threat, then move on to showing that you trustworthy, and eventually that being around you has benefits.

Start by simply spending time in the same room as your cat and don't do anything loud or lively, the best thing is simply to sit quietly, either watching tv on low volume or reading a book. Eventually your cat should come out of hiding and will sit some distance from you. At this point do not react to the cat coming out or you risk frightening the cat back into its hiding spot. It needs to learn that you are not a threat and you are not 'after' it. Once your cat has got used to you being in the same room you can put some food or a treat somewhere in between you and the cat - again if the cat goes for the food, keep your distance and don't attempt to move towards the cat. Eventually, your cat should learn to trust you and will come and sit near you out of interest.

Continue with the approach of not moving towards the cat and avoid any touching unless the cat has come and rubbed against you. Once your cat is confident to come right up to you you can move on to gentle stroking and giving treats to reinforce this new close contact. Never try to force any interaction and let your cat develop the relationship at its own pace.

Create a 'safe' cat environment

cat being tempted out of hiding with a toy
A shy cat might come out of hiding with a bit of distance play

To become a confident friendly cat, your cat needs plenty of its own 'places and things' to feel at home. Provide lots of hiding places, scratching posts, toys, and treats to build confidence. You do not have to spend lots of money on expensive beds or activity centers - a few cardboard boxes and blankets will do. A shy, timid cat will feel much safer once it has these areas to itself and its scent is spread around the house. Make sure your cat is left alone and not harassed when it is in its hiding places, and try to avoid any frightening events around the house (people running about, banging doors, loud noises etc..) It your cat still shows unusually fearful or problem behaviour after several weeks you could try pheromone scents, available either commercially or from your vet, which chemically induce a calmer state of mind in your cat.

Time and patience

In the vast majority of cases all it takes for a shy and fearful cat to become a confident member of the family is lots of time and patience. You cannot instruct your cat to come out from hiding, and any movements you make towards a fearful cat could be interpreted as an attack.
Although all you want to do is stroke your cat and provide reassurance, this can only be achieved if your cat asks for it first. It may be difficult but the best way to form a bond is to ignore your cat and let it come to you when it is ready.

Discuss Shy Cats

We have a discussion going on on this very topic in our cat forum - discuss shy cats here

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