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Concerned that your cat is too shy to socialise around other people? Help your cat relax with our expert guide on shy cats.

Shyness in cats

If you’re wondering why your cat is shy around strangers, or are worried about helping a scared cat adjust to their new surroundings, our guide might just help. Shyness can be shown in many ways – from a cat hiding to freezing in place or even appearing skittish. So if you’ve created a safe and loving home environment, why is your cat fearful and what can you do to help your shy cat relax?

Why is my cat so timid?

Like humans, a cat’s behaviour and character are shaped partly by its experiences as a kitten. These experiences create your cat’s personality and most adult cats appear confident enough to face most situations. If your cat hasn’t been exposed to a full range of experiences (from unfamiliar sounds to a wide range of people), the likelihood of it being scared of these experiences will increase.

Timid behaviour could be caused by:

Genetics - some cats are naturally more cautious than others.

Lack of socialisation - if cats do not socialise with humans, particularly during their first eight weeks of life, they may be stressed or frightened by human contact.

Bad experiences - if your cat has been harmed or scared in the past, they may be more wary of people.

Signs of fear in cats

Signs that your cat is scared include:

  • running away
  • retreating to hiding places
  • dilated pupils
  • flattened ears
  • cringing and cowering

How can I help my cat overcome their shyness?

Does your cat recoil from your touch or spend most of the day hiding behind the sofa? There are many reasons why your cat might be shy, nervous or timid, but you can often help your cat to unwind by being patient, calm and sensitive to their needs.

Most importantly, never lose your temper or force your cat to interact when they're not ready. By taking your time and gradually earning their trust, your cat will be much happier.

How to help your shy, nervous or timid cat

You can help your cat to feel safe and secure by:

  • providing plenty of refuges where they can hide. Cats de-stress more quickly if they can hide, preferably somewhere high and dark, such as behind sofas or on shelves
  • preventing other cats from entering your home by windows, doors or cat flaps. Make sure your cat is not being bullied in the garden or intimidated by other cats through windows or doors
  • maintaining daily routines so your cat knows what to expect
  • use synthetic scent pheromones (available from your vet). These can help reassure your cat and reduce stress
  • sit quietly near your cat so they can get used to you in their own time. Ignore them while you read a book or take a nap so they don't feel pressurised or anxious in your presence. Do this while they are eating, or give them a small food treat so they associate you with a positive experience
  • let your cat approach you. Direct approaches are extremely threatening, so don't force attention on your cat
  • blink slowly at your cat, narrow your eyes so they are half open and then turn your face away slowly to reassure your cat that you are not a threat

As your cat becomes more confident

Your cat should gradually relax as it learns that you do not present a threat. As your cat becomes braver you can try:

  • talking to your cat quietly in a calming tone
  • rewarding your cat with a treat if they approach you. At first, give the treat as soon as they approach, but gradually increase the time between the approach and the treat. Over a period of weeks, work up to calmly stroking your cat once or twice before giving the treat
  • using small toys you can gently throw for them, such as a ball of foil, scrunched up paper or a ping pong ball. Fishing rod toys allow your cat to interact without feeling threatened by close contact

My cat wasn’t nervous in the past but has recently become anxious. What can I do?

Any change in your cat’s behaviour shouldn’t be ignored – there could be a multitude of reasons why your cat now appears to be scared. Before you do anything, contact your vet for a thorough check to ensure your cat is not in pain or has an illness. If needed, your vet will be able to refer you to a behaviour specialist who will be able to advise further.

How can I choose a kitten that won’t be a nervous adult?

While it isn’t possible to guarantee how your kitten’s personality will develop, you can limit the risk with our guidelines on choosing a kitten. ‘Socialising’ a kitten happens between two and nine weeks old and helps to prepare them to cope with the world while their brain is still developing, so you’ll need to make sure that the breeder you’re purchasing your cat from is aware of this.

Find out more about kitten socialisation and download our kitten checklist.

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