10 Must-know Tips For Happy Living With A Shy Cat

Apr 13, 2015 · Updated Oct 5, 2016 · ·
  1. Anne
    Most cats are fairly confident creatures. Once accustomed to their people and their territory, you can expect them to strut around as if they owned the place, calm and fearless. Most new things and people will be met with inquisitive sniffs and stares, and unless the cat distinctly recognizes a threat (such as a strange cat invading his territory) introductions are likely to go quite smoothly.

    However, some cats are an exception to the rule. Instead of bossing everyone in the household, these cats are timid. They slink around the house, looking for safe spots into which they can disappear. New people in the house? Sudden noises? These and any other new stimuli could send them into their hiding place within seconds.

    Such behavior is perfectly natural for a new cat, one that has not yet had the time to adapt to its new surroundings. It's also the behavior we expect from a feral cat only recently introduced into a home, or a traumatized cat that has not yet recovered from a stressful ordeal. In such cases, timidness is a temporary phase. With proper socialization and/or stress reduction techniques, the cat is likely to eventually gain composure.

    However, cats that are shy or timid by nature are not likely to change. It is simply their temperament. The behavior may be most noticeable when the cat is introduced into your household, but it will always be there, to some extent, for the cat's entire life.

    How to tell if my cat is a shy cat?

    Some people call these kitties scaredy cats. Indeed, fear combined with a constant sense of threat is a key feature in the shy cat's behavior. Look for body language such as dilated pupils and walking with the body closer to the ground and a limp tail. The more stressful the environment, the more likely the cat is to display these signs. Shy cats tend to stay in the quieter areas of the home, avoiding contact with strangers, and moving away from sudden noises. Shy cats never jump into a stranger's lap. Some of them even avoid their owner's lap or limit snuggle time to when they feel your movements to be more predictable, such as when you're lying in bed, or working at your desk. Shy cats prefer not to be picked up and may struggle to be let down. While most of them are not aggressive by nature, they will attack when panicked and could scratch and bite if held against their will.

    Sharing your life with a shy and timid cat

    If your cat is timid by nature, accept that this is who she or he is. You can and should try to reduce the cat's stress levels by changing their environment, not their innate temperament. Here are a few things you can do to make life together better for your cat and for you -

    1. Create safe places for your cat

    Make sure your cat has safe quiet places, preferably high above the ground, where he or she can nap undisturbed, or just relax and watch the world around them with a sense of safety. You may find that Kitty loves your bed, as it's probably in one of the quietest rooms in your house and has your comforting scent all over it. If that's the case, make sure your cat has full access to the bedroom at all hours of the day.


    2. Avoid direct eye contact

    Direct eye contact is threatening to cats. Most cats will shrug it off in an intimate relationship and will gladly let you look at them adoringly and will probably gaze back undeterred. However, timid cats may be uncomfortable with direct eye contact. Avoid eye contact whenever possible and when you do look at your cat blink slowly every few seconds. This breaks the direct eye contact and helps comfort the cat. You may find that the cat responds with his own slow blinks.


    3. Spend "quiet time" with your cat

    Shy cats appreciate being next to you, even if they prefer to stay out of your lap. It may not seem like interaction to an outsider but being able to share a couch or just hang around in the room while you're reading or typing away on the computer is a show of trust on the part of a shy cat.


    4. Spend time on the floor

    When you can, find a comfortable spot on the rug and just spend time with your cat when in that position. You can play with your cat, or just be there, talking quietly on the phone or reading a book. You may find Kitty coming over to interact and be petted, as she feels safer with you being at ground level. This technique is used by people to socialize feral cats and it works well with shy cats too.


    5. Keep your voice down

    Never shout at or around your timid cat. Try to generally keep the tones around your home low and gentle. If you absolutely have to shout, go to a different room and keep your cat's environment quiet.

    6. Avoid punishments or negative deterrents

    Needless to say, punishment is bad for any cat. With shy cats, even non-direct forms of negative reinforcement such as "boobytrapping" certain areas in ways that could scare a cat can be too stressful and should be avoided. It's best to avoid trying to "train" shy cats if at all possible. If you must apply behavior-modification techniques, make sure you stick to positive reinforcements. Read more here: The Dos and Don'ts of Cat Behavior Modification.


    7. Apply stress-reduction techniques

    Shy cats are highly-strung by nature. Do whatever you can to reduce stressors in their environment and apply stress-reduction techniques and methods. More on this -

    Potential Stressors in Cats - The Ultimate Checklist

    Six Surefire Strategies to Reduce Stress in Cats


    8. Don't try to grab the cat

    Unless there's a medical need, don't pick your cat up and don't grab him. It can be very stressful for your cat and does not respect the cat's personal boundaries.

    9. Don't force company on your cat

    Warn guests that your cat is shy. Don't force Kitty to be in the room where the guests are and don't drag him over to be shown to the guests. Your cat may choose to join you and your guests but this must always be on his terms, not yours or theirs.


    10. Consider making Kitty an "only pet"

    Your aim is to create an environment that feels safe to your cat. Introducing new pets, especially a loud dog or another cat, can be a stressful situations for the shy cat. If you bring in a new pet, consider the type and the new pet's personality, and read up on introductions and how to make them with a minimum amount of stress. More on this -

    Introducing Cats to Dogs

    Choosing a Second Cat

    Introducing Cats to Cats


    It is possible to enjoy a close and rewarding relationship with a shy cat. Provide Kitty with a safe environment, know your cat's boundaries and respect them, and you could win the everlasting true love of a feline. Once gained, the trust of a shy cat is a precious gift for their human.


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  1. eggsavior
    I've had 2 littermates for about 4 years now. The girl, Marley, is very outgoing and rambunctious, never afraid to DEMAND my attention, or antagonize the dog! Her brother, Charlie, is quieter in comparison. He's come a long way, though, and I'm so proud of him. I can't to try some of these things and see if it helps us get closer.  
  2. zelskid
    Lola and Honey are tolerating each other
  3. zelskid
    Lola rules the cat tower
  4. zelskid
    Sorry, had to reboot computer, it is a 7 year old Dell
  5. zelskid
    I have to be more patient with Lola. She doesn't want to be picked up.
  6. tarasgirl06
    Wow, you are caring and creative, Gilmargl!  I wish I could be more help in trying to locate that special mouse, but I'm not even sure what cellulose is.  Do you have a photo of this toy?
  7. gilmargl
    Tarasgirl06, I have foster cats in a room in the cellar and we have a whole washing basket full of cat toys down there. They get washed and disinfected whenever a cat leaves and I swop some of the toys around so that my cats don't get bored. I've made plenty (knitting, sewing and crochet) but I'm still looking on the Internet, in petshop stores and supermarkets for a cellulose mouse similar to the one Katie loved. We don't have fights - just a bit of hide-and-seek and chasing about - particularly at bedtime.
  8. tarasgirl06
    Gilmargl, is there anything you could make yourself for Katie?  And/or have you cruised a wide variety of online "pet" supply stores and cat blogs?  I know quite a few, but am not sure whether or not I can share them here as I'm not sure what the rules are.  But if you use your search engine and input "cat blogs", you may be able to find sources of toys where you might find a replacement toy.  Just a thought.   My youngest girl is 11, and she was born feral, so she's bonded only to me, and she stays away from the other cats, sadly.  But we have a lot of room, so she's able to do this pretty well, except when bedtime rolls around and she wants her usual place next to my pillow.  Our eldest, who's 18, is her primary "enemy" -- she's never liked her, and it's mutual, so fights and flight can ensue, but Feliway does help a lot of the time.
  9. gilmargl
    Tarasgirl06, my black cats, Mogi and Katie, don't like catnip. Katie has a dreadfully battered toy mouse, which she used to love. I have kept it in the hope of finding something similar (it's cheap and nasty, it used to squeak, but the plastic is cracking so it's potentially dangerous). Modern toy mice don't interest her. She may suddenly decide to chase a ping-pong ball around the house until it bounces down the stairs, but her favourite toy is a ball in a tunnel - too large to put in a carrier! Mogi will only play ball with us but stops as soon as another cat joins in. She would probably have been happier in a one-cat household. Lilly is more sociable but Emily, whom I'm fostering, is only friendly to me and hides or tries to leave the house whenever a potential new owner visits. But that's another story!
  10. tarasgirl06
    Oh, gosh, Gilmargl!  I'm so sorry!  Feliway spray works wonders for us.  Does Katie like toys or catnip at all?  Maybe those could be used  for her and for Mogi?  I know life is never dull with cats and patience and love are key.  ;)
  11. gilmargl
    Thank you very much for your advice, Tarasgirl06. I have at least 3 Feliway plug-ins. Haven't had much success with them. The semi-feral cat, Katie, can't be tempted with treats at any time added to which, when she has dental problems, she is frightened of food! And as I provide the food, she is frightened of me. We go one step forward and one step back - it's been like this for three years. 
  12. tarasgirl06
    Gilmargl, you might try using Feliway, either the spray or the plug-ins, to foster friendly feelings between cats and calm them when they are feeling stressed.  And you might try using treats in the carrier when you need to entice Mogi into a carrier for a vet visit.  Hope these suggestions help. 
  13. gilmargl
    When my large tabby, Lucy, became ill and died within 10 days, Mogi changed overnight and became a scaredy cat. It was only then that we realised that Lucy had probably been protecting Mogi from our third cat. Although an indoor-only cat, we rarely knew where Mogi was: under a bed, in a closet, at the top of the stairs. Food was placed in our bedroom as well as in the kitchen. When necessary, I have always been able to pick her up to put her in her carrier but it has taken years for her to regain her confidence. The main breakthrough came when I bought a second sofa for the other end of our rather large lounge. She decided it was for her and spends afternoons and evenings sitting on her throne. She will always come to the bathroom with me and allow herself to be petted. I have more serious problems with a semi-feral who lives in the house but is impossible to catch for vet visits. She sleeps with us and will sit next to my partner when he's reading but I still can't catch her without a lot of stress. My partner is no help as he hates doctors himself and thinks I'm cruel insisting that she goes to the vet when she's obviously sick.
  14. DreamerRose
    Mingo is a scaredy cat. I've learned the hard way to do most of what you've suggested. I think he was abused as a kitten because he flinches when I touch him while he's sleeping, cowers if I talk too loud, and once ducked when I reached down to pet him. Thanks for the advice.
  15. tarasgirl06
    Sounds good!  Good on ya for thinking of your cat as the individual she is, and for loving her!
  16. artyjill
    Some of the parts l don't agree with, the part that says cats that are shy and timed by nature are not likely to change' isn't true. Reading the book Think like a cat' explains with training all cats can change, needs a lot of patience and time but l have found a  lot of things can be altered,. I never expected to be able to stroke my kitten but it happened and grooming her is another. I still have a few things still to alter but they will.
    Jilly
  17. tarasgirl06
    A good suggestion for anyone with a shy cat:  Watch Jackson Galaxy on Animal Planet!  His series, "MY CAT FROM HELL" may be strangely named, but it is invaluable for anyone wondering how to live a more fulfilling life with their cat(s) -- it's a reality show presenting many kinds of issues, including shyness.  His first book, CAT DADDY, is also very helpful; and you can contact him on social networking sites as well.  He is a professional cat behaviorist and has so much empathy for shy (and other) cats!
  18. artyjill
    I wasn't sure when l read 'Its best to avoid trying to train shy cats if at all possible' My cat wasn't socialized so its an on going thing l am taining her with and she hs come on so much in eleven months.
    Jilly
  19. tarasgirl06
    My beloved cats aren't shy, except, in some cases, when it comes to company, from which some of them will run and hide.  I don't discourage this in any way, as it's their choice and they know best!
  20. cwagne13
    Hope that applying the ideas found here will help my shy older kitten.