As a life-long cat enthusiast, I have many early memories of instantly befriending a friend or neighbor’s cat. As soon as I walked into a room and saw a cat, I loved it and wanted to pet and cuddle it. Unfortunately, for most cats, this level of enthusiasm from a stranger is definitely not what they were looking for. And, as a child, I didn’t understand the concept of granting a cat it’s own space. I couldn’t understand how something so fluffy and adorable didn’t want to be held and petted. Even social cats are unlikely to warm up to someone who is chasing them down and pulling them out from their safe place under the couch. So what are some ways to help cats be comfortable around you?
A cat that has been introduced into a new family and a new environment might show extreme shyness, especially if it’s an older cat that has grown accustomed to his previous family and schedule. New kittens might take a few days to adjust but then will soon be exploring and looking for fun. An older cat is likely to want to hide and observe, taking things at his own pace and reclaiming some sense of control in his life.
Cats with an abused past
Other cats may have past experiences that have taught them to be cautious and mistrustful of humans. They will be masters of hiding, coming out only when no one is around. They will probably be resistant to being held or touched in any way.
Just plain shy
Some cats may have a very stable life and schedule with plenty of kind people around and will still exhibit extreme shyness. Sometimes its just one of the many personality quirks that a cat can have.
In all cases of cat shyness, the first thing to remember is that you can’t and shouldn’t force anything on your cat. Dragging them from their spot and forcing them to be social will only reinforce the negative associations they have with social behavior. If you’re a cat owner, you should already know that cats won’t do anything unless they darn well feel like it. So all we can do is present opportunities for cats to be social so they can decide on their own that this socializing thing is pretty nice.
The first step in socializing you cat is committing your own time to the task. Your cat won’t become friendly and social over night. In fact, your cat might never make the social leaps and bounds that you’d like him to. Be accepting of that. Love your cat no matter what. The initial process could take days, weeks, or even months. Just keep at it and don’t get discouraged. You may find that the regular quiet time you spend with your cat is very valuable to you too.
Home base: A cat’s own space
Establish a specific room as your cat’s home base. Provide food, water, and litter in this space. The aim is for your cat to spend all his time getting used to this space and feeling like he can claim it as his own.
Take time each day to visit your cat in his space. Multiple visits are great if your cat seems fine with it. Start out by sitting quietly and talking soothingly to your cat. Bring a book or something to do so that you’re present but not always focused on your cat. This will keep him from feeling pinned down by your attention and might encourage him to sniff you out on the sly. Avoid sudden noises or movements that would startle your cat. Gradually, your cat may become more interested in you and will venture closer and possibly let you touch and pet him.
Help your cat associate something positive (like food) with your visit. When you first come into the room, set out a treat or snack. Your cat will begin to associate your presence with good food. Over time, put the treat closer to yourself until your cat is willing to take the treat from you. If your cat doesn’t eat while you are there, start to take the treat with you when you leave. This will encourage your cat to eat in your presence. Note that particularly shy cats probably won’t eat in your presence. Use this tactic for treats, not for their basic source of food. You want to be sure that they’re getting enough to eat.
Once your cat is comfortable with your presence and is associating food with positive interactions, you can introduce toys and games to promote play. Interactive play is the best. As with the food, gradually bring the toy closer to yourself, encouraging your cat to come to you.
As your cat is comfortable, you can let him explore the rest of the house and interact with a few more people. Always keep the home base so your cat will have his safe place to return to when he needs it.