Offering a quiet space is vital. Cats need to feel secure in their environment before they will relax and show their happy, playful side. Limiting access to just one bedroom can be helpful for some fearful cats. It is easier for your cat to adjust to one small space before feeling confident throughout your home. This bedroom can become their safe place until they are feeling more confident.
Make sure your cat has a proper hiding place. Not under your bed but a hidey hut style cat bed or crate where you can still interact with them. It is difficult to interact with your cat if she is under your bed or dresser so encourage her to use a cat bed and begin blocking off the inappropriate hiding spots like under beds or dressers. Be sure you provide your chosen alternative hiding place before blocking those places off though, your cat still needs a place to feel safe.
Once your cat is venturing out of her safe room, you can add hiding places around your home to create a network of places where your cat feels safe.
Offering vertical space can help build confidence for many shy cats. A cat tree or series of wall shelves gives her the option of surveying her surroundings with the added security of being up high. Vertical space can be especially important for homes with a lot of activity such as multi pet homes and homes with busy kids.
Slowly desensitize your cat to what is frightening her. Find where your cat can tolerate seeing or hearing what scares her without reacting to it. The point where she is not reacting is where you will start to desensitize her. Pair scary things like new people or noises with good things like food and toys. The idea is to replace the fear she currently has with a positive association. This can be a slow process but it is important to keep it up and continue working to help your cat.
Do not free feed your cat. Food is an excellent motivator but not if there is a bowl of food sitting out all day.
Instead of feeding your cat where she is hiding, place the food nearby to encourage her to step out of her hiding place. Do not force your cat out of hiding, this will shatter trust and likely lead to scratches and bites.
If your cat is extremely fearful or swatting at you, put some canned food on something like a backscratcher or even a spoon taped to a chopstick. You just need enough distance to not get scratched when you are reaching toward the cat. Let your cat eat the food off the spoon and slowly lure her out of hiding. It may take several sessions before she will actually leave her hiding place. The important thing is that you are having positive interactions and building trust with each other. This can be a lengthy process but totally worth it to help your scaredy cat find her confidence.
Keep calm. It’s exciting to see your cat take steps out of hiding but remember that your cat is afraid of loud noises and activity. If you start talking loudly and excitedly or putting your hands all over your cat you are reinforcing that the world outside of her hiding place is scary. So play it cool, keep your excitement in check – quiet voices and only gentle petting when your cat solicits it.
As your cat continues to step out and grows more confident encourage her with toys and enticing places like a cat tree in front of a window. Your cat will learn that it’s fun and safe beyond the confines of her previous hiding place.
Things not to do. Do not crowd your cat by putting your face up in their hiding spot. People tend to think they are comforting their cat by laying down, staring at the cat and explaining that they are not scary. Actions speak louder than words to cats too, especially because they do not speak your language. Act normal, sit a respectful distance from your cat and do not just stare at them. Staring is so rude to cats – think of how uncomfortable you would be if a person was staring at you while sitting too close and telling you that everything is ok. It’s weird right? Don’t do that to your cat.
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