The Star-Herald

Shy or fearful cats

It’s not uncommon for cats to be scared of people they don’t know. They may be affectionate and calm with their family but fearful when other people visit.  There are several reasons for this behavior. 

Lack of exposure. Shy cats may have lacked exposure to different people when they were kittens, especially between the ages of 2 to 7 weeks. Cats who have been exposed to different types of people may still feel afraid of certain kinds of people they haven’t come across often, such as children.

Timid personality. Fear is a natural characteristic in animals, and some cats may just be born with more fearful personalities.

Loud noises. Visitors tend to be accompanied by loud noises like laughing, loud talking, and things being moved about, which can add to skittish cats’ anxiety. 

Other Possible Reasons.  If your cat’s behavior changes suddenly, it could mean they are sick. Hiding and aggression are some common symptoms of illness. See your veterinarian to rule out any medical reasons for a change in behavior.

How to Help Your Fearful Cat.  If you have a shy kitten, expose them to people of different ages, sizes, ethnicities, and genders. When your kitten approaches a new person, give a reward, praise, and attention.  

If you have a skittish adult cat, it will take some time to get them comfortable around visitors. A gradual approach and rewards may help a shy cat. If possible, have a friend come over to play the part of a visitor. The goal is to reward your cat for staying calm in the presence of a stranger. Have your visitor start from a distance and then slowly get closer over several sessions.

When you have guests over. Create a calm and safe area for your cat to hide if they need to. This should be a room they’ve already spent time in. Provide food, water, and a litter box, and make sure your guests respect your cats’ privacy.  Try to restrict your guests to one part of the house so that your cat feels comfortable walking around the rest of the house.  Also have your guest sit down and avoid staring directly at your cat, and let your cat approach them instead of the other way around.

What not to do with a Skittish Cat.  Never punish your cat for running away or hiding from guests. Punishment can make them more fearful.  Don’t pull your cat out of its hiding place or force them to be held by someone. This will only increase their fear and could also result in bites and scratches.

Provide a high viewpoint. Your cat may feel more comfortable observing visitors from a higher spot. This includes shelves, cat trees, or cat beds placed on top of furniture. 

Give it time. If your cat hides, don’t force them to come out. It can take time to change a skittish cat’s behavior, so be patient and don’t expect too much too soon. More helpful information can be found at

Please check out the Central Aroostook Humane Society Facebook page for pets available for adoption.  Call for an appointment or message. Please be responsible: spay and neuter your pets.

Gloria J. Towle is the secretary and a member of the board of directors for the Central Aroostook Humane Society.

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