While many cats may  be initially wary of new people coming into our homes aka their territory, most eventually adapt as they get used to visitors. Shy cats remain anxious. If you have one of these shy cats, your friends may not even believe that you have a cat since she never comes out from under the bed when they’re visiting.

Shyness may be part of a cat’s basic personality, but shyness can also be the result of a constant state of anxiety. This level of stress can lead to physical illness, especially lower urinary tract disease. Helping your cat become more confident and comfortable with visitors will not only make her happier, it will also improve her health.

What makes a cat shy?

A cat’s personality is shaped by genetics, environment and early life experience. Just like humans, some cats are just naturally more confident than others. In general, a cat’s genetic make up predisposes her to be cautious. Lack of early socialization also contributes to shyness in cats. Kittens who have been frequently handled by humans tend to be more confident as they grow up. Kittens who haven’t been socialized before the age of 8 weeks may take longer to acclimate to living with humans, and they may remain leery of humans.

How to help shy cats

Working with shy cats requires patience and understanding, but it can be incredibly rewarding to help a shy cat gain confidence. Never force a cat out of her hiding place. This will only make her more anxious. Interactive play can be a great way to bring timid cats out of their shell. Structured play time, 10-15 minutes twice a day, using fishing pole type toys, are a great way to build confidence for the cat and to enhance the bond between cat and human.

Use food treats to create positive associations for the nervous cat. Work with a friend who likes and understands cats. Ideally, this will be someone with a very calm, gentle energy. Use treats to encourage your cat to interact with that person. Have the person place treats on the couch or floor next to them. This allows the cat to associate being with a visitor with something positive.  As things progress, have the person offer treats directly from their  hand. Be careful when using treats so you don’t inadvertently reward timid behavior.

Environmental enrichment for shy cats

A shy cat needs to have places where she can feel safe. If you want to encourage your cat to stop hiding under the bed, create cozy hiding spaces in areas where you and your visitors spend a lot of time. Covered cat beds, cat tunnels, and even just a simple cardboard box make great hideaways. Cat trees are wonderful for most cats, but a nervous cat may not be comfortable to feel so exposed. Look for cat trees that have enclosed perches.

Natural remedies to help shy cats

Synthetic pheromone plug ins such as the Feliway Comfort Zone can help create a sense of safety and familiarity in the home, which will make it easier for shy cats to accept new people. Natural remedies such as Spirit Essences Stress Stopper can also help.

Do you have a shy cat? What are you doing to help her become more confident?

25 Comments on How to Help a Shy Cat Become More Confident

  1. I have an extremely shy cat Stella. I adopted her 6 months ago from shelter. She 10 years old owner surrender. She was devastated. Long story short she has made great progress. She does let me pet, lays next to me but no cuddle and I’ve accepted she never be a cuddle cat. When she wants my attention she’ll come to end of hallway to meow for me to go in her space. Which I’m tired of sitting on bedroom floor.. I’d like for her to come in den area to stay but she refuses. Live alone she’s only cat. Any suggestions? I can’t pick her. I have to force if I need to brush or put in carrier.

  2. I have recently adopted 2 five year old cats. They’re sisters. Phoebe has settled well. Her sister Mirry has only come out of her corner for 20 seconds in the week that I’ve had them. I have Feliway in the room where they are, plus catnip and toys if they want them. Phoebe will greet me and roll over for a tummy tickle, but I can’t get anywhere near Mirry. I want to help this sad little cat. She has always, apparently, been known as shyer than Phoebe, but I feel terrible that she’s so unhappy. She is, I think, eating at night when I’m in bed. Any advice would be welcome. Thank you!

    • Following the tips in this article, and patience on your part, should eventually help Mirry to become more confident. She’s only been in your home for one week, cats can take weeks or even months to adapt to a new environment. Try using food and treats to coax her out of her comfort zone, but go slowly so she doesn’t get overwhelmed. You may also want to consider just sitting in the room with her and quietly talking to her, or reading a book out loud to her, so she can get used to being with you without you trying to interact with her.

  3. We just adopted a cat shortly after Christmas. She will sit next to me when I’m in my chair and let me pet her, and she will jump up on my lap for a treat, but doesn’t like to stay long. She recently started coming out to the kitchen to eat when I’m out there, but only if I’m sitting down. She is very skittish if you get up or move…even if you move away from her. Any advice?

    • Reward her with treats while she’s in the kitchen with you. As she becomes more comfortable, see if you can get her used to you moving very slowly by holding a treat out to her. Just be careful that you don’t inadvertently reward her for being skittish.

  4. Some cats are happy to bond with only one or two humans. They are called shy, but actually they are really not interested in being with any more people. I wouldn’t force a cat to interact with more people than s/he wants. If your cat is comfortable with you, be grateful and return her love. Our Nebelung was devoted to the two of us for her entire long life. She simply had no interest in anyone else.

    • It’s the same with my sweet Mimi. She only trusts me and shows me lots of love. She tolerates my husband and my mom but neither can get too close to her. We rescued her from outside our home at about 12 weeks which is a bit late. She’s finally let me pick her up in my arms – as long as I’m sitting next to her – finally after 12 years. As long as she is happy, I’m not going to force her to do more.

  5. I have two formerly feral kitties. They are great with me and slowly getting comfortable being around other people. I have two other foster kitties (originally there was five). One of them is extremely shy. She used to run and hide when I came in the room. I enter the room now and before I feed them I sit on the couch with the food container in my hand. She has begun jumping on my lap and letting me pet her. After 5 minutes or so she will jump down and I feed them. I think this is helping because she has also started greeting me at the door to the room. She still does not care to be picked-up and held for more than a minute or two but I think this too is improving.

  6. Hi

    Our Yoda is 14 months old and seems very relaxed when mom and dad (us) are around plus his playmate Jack who is 22 months old. But his terrified by visitors. As a kitten he was quite bold. Jack on the other hand was extremely nervous as a kitten bit is now quite laid back with visitors. Any suggestions?

  7. Great article, Ingrid … Miss Gracie is very timid around strangers, although she does selectively seem to pick some people to socialise with from the get go. She is scared of the wind, loud noises … she’s turning 7 now and she’s still as scared of many things as when we first got her! I am going to try rescue remedy on her to see if that helps her anxiety.

  8. oops!! forgot to leave my comment!! DUH !!

    Great advice — will share . . . God bless. . ♥♥♥

  9. Great article Ingrid, with lots of good advice.

    I was slow going with Cocoabean when we adopted her from a local rescue. We didn’t know anything about her other than her approximate age and that she had suffered some trauma from kids while on the streets.

    She hid for a full month before emerging from a “safe room”. We did everything by the book to help her, all the things you mentioned above. When we noticed her favorite spot was our large dining room window; we put a cat bed up on the radiator for her and eventually her need to peer outside won over her fears of everything inside.

    As each month by she became more friendly, confident and interactive. Now, 3 years later we can’t believe we have the same cat living with us.

    The best part is now she solicits us for affection by jumping on the couch or bed for cuddles and pets. Doing things on her terms made a difference in her life, and ours. Get to know your cat; pay attention to their likes and dislikes and evaluate how you can help them, respecting their boundaries. Some may never be the proverbial lap cat, but they still can offer a lot to our lives. And one day you may be as surprised as we were to have your kitty jump up to be near you. Not for food, but just because.

    • It is remarkable how patience and looking at things from the cat’s perspective allows even the shyest cat to become confident, isn’t it, Laurie? Thank you for sharing your experience with Cocoabean.

  10. Gordon always greets visitors at the door, but Jasmine never does. She doesn’t “hide”, but she usually stays in her cat tree while they are here. What
    I don’t understand is why she absolutely hates to be picked up and trembles all over when she is. She was 8 weeks old when I adopted her (as was Gordon) and came from a very cat-friendly home, the same home that Gordon came from 2 weeks earlier at the same age. Jasmine is a true lap cat whenever it is her idea, and she isn’t picked up. She has never had a bad experience in the almost 7 years she’s lived here. Is this behavior something that could have been inherited do you think?

  11. Solid advice, and I’m sharing it. Ashton has come a long way, but she is still very shy. I’m hoping to have some cat bloggers come by the house for a cat fix during Global Pet Expo this year, and unfortunately she isn’t brave enough to participate yet.

    • I hope I get the chance to visit all of you one day. Ashton would make a great subject to practice my cat whispering skills on!

  12. Boodie is our shy cat… the humans think she was never properly socialized before being dumped with her sister in the parking lot of a veterinary clinic at the age of five months. She has come a long way since then, and even comes around sometimes when there is company. I think if her early months had been different, she would not be so shy.

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