Shy cats may take some time to win over, but that can make it even more gratifying when your new friend purrs or sits in your lap for the first time.
Hiding, shying away from touch, and wide-eyed wariness might make it harder for a cat to connect with potential adopters, but there are lots of reasons why adopting a more-reserved kitty could be the right choice.
For one thing, cats who appear anxious in the shelter environment aren’t necessarily shy at home. Even fairly confident cats can become cautious in the shelter environment. After all, who wouldn’t feel a little anxious surrounded by all those new sounds, smells, cats, and people! When these cats go home with a new family, they often regain their outgoing nature within days.
Even cats who are more on the cautious side often build confidence after some time in a loving, patient home. It may take a little longer for a shy cat to get comfortable, but there are things you can do to help the process.*
- Set a routine. An uncertain cat feels more settled when she knows what to expect and when.
- Find common ground. Take some time to learn what activities your new feline friend prefers. Does he respond well to being brushed? Love snacks? Always play with wand toys? Use these distractions to encourage and reward interaction.
- Respect personal space. Forcing a cat to endure cuddling will only make things worse. Start out by simply sharing the space without interaction. Sit in the same room and read, play quiet video games, or even watch TV. Provide kitty with alone time too.
- Take baby steps. As your new cat gets more comfortable, increase the length of interactions a few minutes each day. Use treats to reward your kitty after she lets you pet her or hold her—even if just for a few moments.
- Try synthetic pheromones. FELIWAY Spray or Diffusers have been shown to help cats feel more calm and comfortable by mimicking the natural feline reassuring messages. (Bonus: You can purchase FELIWAY products in our in-shelter retail store!)
Adopter Jennifer H. knows firsthand the joy of helping a nervous cat
overcome her fears. Jennifer, who adopted shy cat Julea from CAT last
“Julea didn’t come out from under the bed for 24 hours, and then she haunted the shadows. We followed your instructions and mostly let her alone in a quiet space, but we were pretty worried she’d be scared and skittish forever… But she just needed some time to get comfortable, and a couple weeks later we have a sweet, purring, playful kitty whose personality emerges more every day. She no longer hides when someone comes over. She jumps on our bed at night and cuddles. Best of all, she and [our other cat] Nori have become fast friends.”
Adopting a shy cat and helping her blossom can be so rewarding. But it will require patience, understanding, and a willingness to accept your new cat even if she never becomes a lap cat or major cuddle bug.
*These tips are great for working with an adult cat. Socializing young kittens is quite different.