Bringing Home a Scaredy Cat

By Suzanne Denk, Dip.FBST, Animal Enrichment Specialist

Many cats can be shy and even fearful when entering a new home. As their family, you know that your new cat is safe and loved but they don’t know that yet and will need some time to settle in. A home is a larger space than they are used to at the shelter and can be overwhelming. They may want to hide, which can take longer for them to feel at home.

Your new cat will adapt most quickly when given the time to feel comfortable. This can be done by keeping them in one room to settle into. The “settling in” room should provide everything your cat needs including food and water, a litter box, toys and a scratching post. Be sure to also give them time and attention to help them get to know you.

The room should also have a safe spot for your cat to hide such as a cat carrier, a cardboard box on its side or a cat cave. The hiding space should allow your new family member to feel secure but not prevent your ability to see and interact with them. It is very important to block their access to spaces under the bed, behind furniture or places where they can easily disappear.

With a few simple steps, you can build a relationship with your scaredy cat and help them begin to feel comfortable.

  • Let them set the pace for getting to know you.
  • Offer play with a teaser wand toy or shoelace several times each day even if they don’t engage. Play builds confidence and creates a bond with you.
  • Blink your eyes at them and see if they blink back. This is a friendly cat greeting.
  • Offer a finger for your cat to touch with their nose. Reward any forward movement with a treat.
  • Try petting their head with one or two fingers while they are eating, creating a positive association with touch. Do not force petting.

Once your cat is comfortable, you can begin to expand their space. You’ll know they are comfortable when they are eating, drinking, using the litter box, playing and interacting with you and your family. Consistency and patience will help your scaredy cat enjoy a full life!

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