You bring your newly adopted cat into your home, looking forward to years of happiness, purrs and snuggles. But as soon as you open the carrier door, she bolts for the smallest, darkest corner she can find. What’s a cat caretaker to do in a situation like this? You know this cat is stressed and scared — her behavior is clear — and you want your scaredy cat to be able to relax. But how do you help her?
Here are nine tips, based on my experience with my own fearful cat, Maddy-Gold, and many subsequent years of feline care, which can help you transform your scaredy cat into a confident kitty.
1. Keep her environment peaceful
If you’re playing loud music, if your kids are playing their new video game at full blast, if the dog is sniffing around her hideout or if you’re yelling from room to room, for example, that’s going to be too much for her to take.
2. Spend quiet time in the room where she’s hiding
Read a book, catch up on some paperwork or watch that TV series you DVR’d months ago and haven’t had time to see yet. While you’re doing that, speak to your little scaredy cat in a soft, soothing tone so she gets used to your voice.
3. Put a drop or two of Rescue Remedy in her water
Bach Rescue Remedy was created to help heal physical and emotional trauma. Animal shelter volunteer and Bach Flower Essence practitioner Sara Goldenthal has successfully used Rescue Remedy to rehabilitate unsocialized and fearful cats.
4. Lure her out of hiding with food or treats
Gently toss or roll a treat to your cat and see how your scaredy cat reacts. If she eats the treat, roll another one toward her. Gradually bring her closer by tossing the treats a shorter distance. While you’re doing this, speak to her gently and tell her what a good, brave cat she is.
5. Give her slow blinks
You’ve probably had a cat give you a kitty kiss, a slow blink that shows she trusts and loves you. You can do the same for your cat, too. When she looks at you, slowly close your eyes, keep them closed for a beat, and slowly open them again. You’ll know she’s starting to relax a little if she returns the gesture.
6. Build her confidence with play
Once your cat has gotten confident enough to come out of hiding, even if she’s just slinking around the edges of the room, start engaging in some gentle, interactive play. Place the feather end of a teaser toy on the ground and then jerk it around in tiny little motions to get her attention. If she looks at the toy and starts acting interested, play with her a bit more, then praise her bravery and give her a treat.
7. Give your scaredy cat plenty of vertical space
A scaredy cat is more likely to explore when she has a high, safe place to observe the goings on in her environment. Tall cat trees and even mats on top of bookshelves can give your cat a new attitude about her world.
8. Give her escape routes
Make sure there are no dead ends in your home. Declutter and give her lots of shelves and other methods of moving all around her environment. You may have to use your feather toy and treats to coax her up onto those shelves.
9. Let your scaredy cat come to you
Don’t try to force the issue. Let your cat approach you to sniff your hand rather than putting your hand out to her. As long as you give her time to explore you and her new home at a pace that feels safe to her, she will come out of her shell.
Even when your cat starts to feel comfortable around you, she still may not do as well around strangers and unfamiliar stimuli. It takes time to overcome fear, but with patience and love you can help your cat learn to enjoy her life.
Tell us: Have you ever rehabilitated a scaredy cat? What did you do? Please share your stories in the comments.
Thumbnail: Photography by Julie Vader / Shutterstock.
About JaneA Kelley: Punk-rock cat mom, science nerd, animal shelter volunteer, and all-around geek with a passion for bad puns, intelligent conversation, and role-play adventure games. She gratefully and gracefully accepts her status as chief cat slave for her family of feline bloggers, who have been writing their cat advice column, Paws and Effect, since 2003. JaneA dreams of making a great living out of her love for cats.
Read more about bringing a cat out of her shell on Catster.com:
23 thoughts on “9 Ways to Turn Your Scaredy Cat Into a Confident Kitty”
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I moved in w/roommate 3 mo ago. She has 4 cats and 3 dogs! I've always had a great feel for animals of all kinds. Including wild ones.
One of her 4 yr old male cat is shy and a bit more then skittish. I offered very gently love and treats to all the animals. Still DC wasn't warming up to me. About 3wks ago he would come closer then before and look at me. Watching me play with all the other animals and rubbed up against my arm then my hand.
He now sleeps with me, takes treats from me and I swear, he understands when I rake to him!!
The slow, steady and patient path to any animal is the best.. scardy/skittusk/shy cat. Once I find a place I can afford on my own I'll try my hardest to get this one counted as mine!! Lol. So wish us luck! I want this cat so bad!!
Hi I have a I think is 10 week old kitten we got of a friend and she is very skittish and it likes being held but it sratches and has bite twice
The vet told me that if I do not start forcing my kittens (3 months) to be held they will turn into wild animals. They are skittish but friendly. They play, but do not want to be touched or held. I didn’t want to force holding and cuddling. Should I, given what the vet said? I think their visit to the vet was traumatic, esp. for the one who seemed the boldest and most dominant. A little larger and his behavior would frighten me. What do you advise?
We recently decided to foster a stray cat for the first time. She is super scared and has been hiding under the couch in the living room for the last 2 weeks. She will come out to eat when it is quiet. We have been gradually moving her food bowl a few inches away from her hiding space every other day so she needs to walk a bit more towards it.
She seems to be exploring downstairs but will run back into her hiding space if she hears any movement upstairs or if there is any movement in the living room.
We have left her to her own device and at the moment she is eating, drinking and pooping.
Is this there anything that we should be doing differently?
@D S I am in the EXACT same boat but we have had him about two months now.
I adopt a to rescue Scaredy Cats. The first one, Sabrina, took hurt 2 weeks to even acknowledge my existence. It took 7 years before I could put my hand out and pet her without her bolting in Terror. But she turned out to be the sweetest and most Regal cat I’ve ever known. What I did was every day during those two weeks I put out a trail of kitty treats and food leading up to her dish. Everyday I would add one more kitty treat or piece of food closer to her dish. Presto! With Sam, AKA Samson, all it took was a nice,
new litter box and an open window in a sunny spot to entice him. Still, it took him a day.
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My advice for a skittish cat: give them a defined “safe” space and leave them alone.
I have a Manx rescue (she’s 2 now). She was 5 months when I got her and was feral her whole life. The humane society did “cuddle therapy” with her (forcing human contact and cuddles). She is still very skittish and hides when unfamiliar people are around.
My partner and I just moved in together and my partner’s mom and her small dog are staying with us temporarily. The cat started hiding in the covered litter box, so I got a large soft dog kennel and put a blanket over it. I shoved her inside and left her alone. 2 days in the new place and she was exploring. 6 days and she even went as far as to sniff the dog and came out when my partners mom was home!!
For context it took 1 year for her to seek affection from my partner.
Another tidbit that I forgot to mention in the book I wrote above. Neither cat will eat wet food. I know, right?! I have tried several ways of offering the wet food, but, without going into all the methods I’ve tried, I’ve gotten little response.
I’m reluctant to change too many things at once. I did manage to convert them to a higher quality kibble.
I want my cat to be more confident walking in my house and when people come over she owns HER space but once shes in the rest of the house freaks out any little noise sets her running
Besides the 9 above the best thing to do is once you set up the home as listed above just leave the cat alone. Let the cat decide when it’s time to say hello and be friends. As long as the cat is eating\drinking and using the litter box you have nothing to worry about. The harder you try to bond the more time it will take.
My 2 month old Scottish fold kitten doesn’t sleep anywhere, she only likes to sleep on my lap she doesn’t go to the litter on her own I have to pick her up and put her and she doesn’t like it when I leave the room or go out she keeps meowing loudly. How can I fix this problem
Hi there —
See if any of these articles might help:
If your kitty is only 2 months old, she may have been taken from mommy cat too soon & still needs constant mothering. She needs to be with you. I suggest you get one of those carriers (like a baby carrier) that I have seen people carrying small dogs. I fits against your chest & around your neck. Simply keep her in it & against your chest while you are doing whatever around your house. She will feel safe & secure & you will be happier as well. Gradually encourage her to be more independent. With loving care, she should grow out of this & be a happier kitty. Good luck.
I recently rescued two nine-year-old Blue Point Siamese cats. They are brother and sister. Their elderly human guardian died in 2012, and then the husband got Alzheimers and died in December 2017. They haven’t enjoyed much of an affectionate human bond for several years and have relied upon each other for companionship. We are headed into our fourth week. The cats are calm and sit on their towers, but they continue to be afraid of me. Neither will come close, and neither will allow me to approach, let alone be petted or picked up. They are wary and vigilant and startle or bolt at the slightest movement. I have a Feliway diffuser in two rooms, and my house is quiet, but they remain totally aloof. Once upon a time they were lap cats to the elderly woman, but from years of benign neglect, they do not trust and are totally skittish. Is this just the way it’s going to be? Even with a fishing pole wand, occasional sweet talk, lying down near them to be nonthreatening, et cetera, I am discouraged by any lack of progress. I had a beautiful, loving, playful, sweet and affectionate lap cat Siamese-Himalayan mix who followed me everywhere but died in December, and I want and need another affectionate kitty. I can wait and work with these cats for a while, but if this is going to take six months or maybe never happen, they are not a good match. I don’t know whether this is a nature-nurture problem, but their PTSD makes me want to cry. How long might this take? Thanks for any help or suggestions.
Sorry to hear that you’re having issue. This might help you communicate with your cats and build up bonds:
I know you’re probably busy, but sometimes cats and their humans need personalized help — not just hyperlinks. This lady wants to give two badly abused cats a loving home. Her cats need someone to understand what they’ve suffered and be patient with them. All of them needed more and better than merely a few links. PLEASE be more giving when heartbroken people and cats reach out to you — lives literally depend on you.
Thanks for reaching out! We strive to provide the best advice possible, but for serious medical and behavioral concerns, we suggest that you see vets or behaviorists for advice that’s tailored to your situation.
Molly – I had the same thought…
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