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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 -
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 situation 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 -
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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