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How Can I Help My Shy Cat Come Out Of Their Shell?

by Amber
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There are a lot of factors that go into how your cat behaves in your house. Every cat has a unique personality, and their individual experiences and history will also influence their behavior. Some cats are abundantly affectionate, others are confident yet aloof, and more than a few of our feline friends are best described as being cautious or timid. These shy cats usually prefer to hide when people are around, and it can be hard for them to express their true personalities. 

No one wants their cat to be stressed or afraid. The key to discovering your cat’s true personality is to help them gain confidence within their home. Whether you recently brought home a rescue or your family’s cat has always been shy, there are ways to help them feel more comfortable and come out of their shell. Here are tips on how to do it right. 

shy cat

Limit Their Territory

This is especially important for cats that are new to a home. If they lived at a shelter, or even as a stray, suddenly moving to a new house can be overwhelming. There are so many new smells, unfamiliar objects, and unexpected noises. All that newness is more than enough to send a shy cat diving under the bed.

It’s best to introduce a shy cat to a new space room by room. Set them up with their food, water, litter box, and bed in a room that doesn’t get much traffic. It would be even better if it’s a room you can close off from the rest of the house. Let your shy cat garner some confidence in that smaller space, and you’ll gradually be able to spend time with them in that familiar area. Once they’re comfortable in that one room, leave the door open as an invitation for them to explore the house further. 

If you start them off in a spare bedroom upstairs, the goal would be to eventually have them walk confidently around the entire upstairs. And as they progress, they’ll hopefully get brave enough to venture downstairs. Let them explore their new environment at their own pace.

Block Off Inappropriate Hiding Places

Cats feel safest in closed-off spaces, and it’s natural for shy cats to spend most of their time hiding. It’s important to give a fearful cat enclosed areas where they can feel safe, but some cats have a talent for finding the worst possible places to hide. There is always the risk of them getting stuck, lost, or hurt. There are other areas where you simply don’t want your cat hanging out all the time.

Take the time to think like a shy cat and look around your house for all possible hiding spots. If there’s somewhere you definitely don’t want your cat hiding, make sure to block it off. You can also block off their go-to hiding spots to encourage more confident behavior. Give them a crate or box for when they feel overwhelmed, but if most hiding spots are off limits, they’ll be more likely to work toward coming out of their shell. 

Don’t Force Interactions

As tempting as it is to scoop up your cat and show them your love, too much attention can make a shy cat feel worse, not better. Always consider their body language before you reach down to offer pets or pick them up. If they’re cowering, backing away, have flat ears or a puffy tail, they’re telling you to back off. Ignoring this message will only make your cat feel more stressed and afraid.

shy cat

The best way to interact with a shy cat is to sit quietly somewhere near them. Talk to them in a soothing voice and don’t make any sudden movements or sounds. Your shy cat might decide you’re safe enough to approach if you do this often enough. Let them give you a good sniff before you go in for the head scratches.

Stay Calm

Shy cats usually do best in quiet homes. If your household is typically loud with a lot going on at once, your fearful kitty will probably be too scared to leave their hiding place. This can delay any progress and potentially make the situation worse.

You’ll do your shy cat a favor by trying your best to keep calm and quiet, at least until they have more confidence. Even if you can’t keep everyone quiet all the time, encourage family members to be more conscious of the cat’s feelings and fears. 

Reinforce Confident Behavior

As your cat becomes more accustomed to their surroundings, they’ll start taking baby steps out of their shell. When this happens, you don’t want to miss an opportunity to reinforce their brave behavior. Exactly what these steps will be will depend on your cat and your home situation. For some cats, it could be voluntarily leaving their safe room for the first time. It could also be getting close enough to sniff you or not running away when you walk into the room.

You want to show your cat that those baby steps will ultimately lead to even better things. Ideas for positive reinforcement include gently tossing them a few tasty treats, praising them in a soothing voice, or offering pets (if it doesn’t spook them). The more often you reinforce their confident behavior, the more they’ll want to try new things.

As your shy cat gains confidence, you’ll see them finally start to come out of their shell. Their true personality will shine through their timid exterior, and you’ll be able to work on strengthening your overall bond. Take this journey slowly, and you’ll see gradual improvement that’s worth your patience.

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