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Why are some cats shy?

Hiding, scrambling, freezing in place. If your cat is skittish and timid, you have undoubtedly seen all of these behaviors.

It can be heartbreaking to feel as though your feline friend is terrified of you, particularly when you feel as though you’ve gone out of your way to create a safe environment for your cat. So why is your cat panicky, fearful and avoidant? What can you do to help them feel more secure in their new home?

Not All Cats Are Social Butterflies

Just like people, every cat has a distinct personality and interacts with others in different ways. Once you have introduced a new cat into your life, you will learn over time their preferences and behavioral patterns. You might come to realize that your cat is simply not as outgoing as other cats. This is completely normal. If your cat is comfortable in their home, affectionate with you and relaxed when it’s just you two, then there’s no reason to suspect anything is wrong.

But if your cat takes some time to warm up to friends and acquaintances, there are a few things you can do to make them feel more comfortable.

When you have guests, give your cat time to warm up and want to come out on their own. Don’t force them to join the party, as that will only create negative associations with guests. If there are other animals or children present, don’t allow them to chase your cat.

Ultimately, not every cat is a social butterfly; not every pet can be the life of the party, especially if being the life of the party means being pet or held by people your cat doesn’t trust. Allow your cat to make their own choices about socialization, and you’ll both be happier for it.

Stray Cats, Rescues and Past Abuse

If you’ve recently adopted a stray cat or taken in a rescue, don’t be surprised if they take a while to warm up to you or guests in your home. Your new cat might not have experienced much interaction with humans up until their adoption. Even in shelters, cats have limited interaction with humans, and without the experience of living in a home with people, it can be difficult for a stray cat to adapt to their new environment and family. It’s absolutely possible to help your cat feel safe and secure in their new home, but it requires love, patience and consistency.

While not a hard and fast rule, it’s often the case that cats that have positive human interaction within the first two months of life adapt easier to living with their owner. However, teaching a stray cat to socialize comfortably is completely possible. Check out the helpful cat socialization tips below.

Socialization Tips for Shy Cats:

  • Introduce them to new people regularly, so that it becomes routine for them

  • Try shutting doors to other rooms to prevent your cat from having too many places to hide

  • Provide an approved hideout with their cat carrier, and put one of your shirts inside so that it smells like you (familiar scents can be comforting)

  • Give your cat treats when they approach guests to reward them for their bravery

  • Don’t allow guests to force interaction with your cat

NOTE: Some cats may have suffered abuse in their past. If you suspect this is the case for your feline friend, try to observe what triggers fear and talk with your veterinarian about what you can do to help mitigate your cat’s anxiety.

Sudden Behavior Changes

If you have a normally outgoing, social cat that has suddenly become timid and spends most of their time hiding, contact your veterinarian right away. Cats can feel vulnerable when sick or injured, so they will often retreat to a safe spot, such as their carrier or room in your home. For your pet’s safety and wellbeing, it is better to rule out injury or illness before considering environmental factors that might be affecting their behavior.

Shyness Isn’t Bad

Just like being shy isn’t a negative characteristic for you, there’s nothing wrong with a shy kitten or cat. The trick is differentiating between whether your cat is afraid or just a bit timid. Observe your cat at home when you’re alone. If they’re confident in their surroundings, content playing with you or alone, eating and drinking regularly, using the litter box with no mishaps and is affectionate with you, you have a happy, healthy, well-adjusted cat.

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