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?
Ingrid King is an award-winning author, former veterinary hospital manager, and veterinary journalist who is passionate about cats.
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