In shelters shy, fearful cats are as common as black and white cats. In fact, many cats end up in shelters because of their shyness. Many homes simply cannot accommodate shy cats and their needs. In the wrong type of home, a shy or fearful cat can develop destructive behaviours that are hard to live with. Our job as rescuers is to find them a home where they will live out their life feeling loved, safe, and at peace. We don’t want them coming back because they live under the couch, and the family has not seen their cat in two months. Adopting these cats is tricky because they don’t just need an awesome family, they need an awesome family with specific living conditions.
Here’s What to Expect When Adopting a Shy Cat
Feral cats are wild animals. It only takes one generation for an abandoned family pet to produce a litter of completely feral kittens. Kittens need to be exposed to humans in some way, shape, or form by the time the are ten to twelve weeks old, or their socialization will be greatly compromised. Many rescues have volunteers who take in feral, or semi feral kittens in order to socialize them. Even some of the most socialized kittens grow into felines with “issues”. Cats can be very sensitive beings who don’t deal well with many of the things we do on a regular basis, such as change or move around our furniture, travel, make loud noises, and create unfamiliar smells.
For a shy cat a quiet and stable home is of the utmost importance. They will not do well in a house filled with kids, especially small ones. They will not fit into a house full of young people, loud music, and late nights. They will not adjust to a home where things change regularly, and people come and go constantly.
If they are other pets already in the home, they can’t be dominant, or rambunctious. A highly socialized, calm feline is the perfect companion for a shy cat. They provide a sense of safety and help socialize the shy newcomer. Two (or more) shy cats will simply bond with one another, their shyness towards people often increasing, and neither one will establish a relationship with you.
Make sure your home is calm and quiet. Give them a place to hide, but don’t provide them with awkward hiding spots where they will be hard to reach if needed (i.e. behind the furnace or water heater). If possible, try to confine the cat to a relatively small part of the house to start with. You may even begin by confining him to a single room. The less furniture and clutter the better, since cats are able to squeeze into the tiniest of spaces.
Try to bring your cat home when things aren’t hectic. A time when you won’t be doing any renovations, going on any trips, or having extended family over for the holidays.
There are numerous products available to help with calming cats. There are plug ins, sprays, oral medications, and cat nip is always a must have. Let them have their own blanket that you do not wash regularly (so it retains their scent). Something familiar they can go to when they are feeling vulnerable.
What They Need From You
While kittens need to be handled to become socialized, older cats need their space. You have to step back and let them be. Don’t force yourself on them. Don’t insist on direct contact. Don’t try to grab them, hold them, or pick them up. But don’t ignore them either.
Talk to them calmly and keep your distance. Don’t make direct eye contact, and if you do, close your eyes to show them you are not a threat. Lay down on the floor near them and stretch out your hands in their direction. Let them come to you. Spend time with them every day. They will approach you once you gain their trust.
When they start getting comfortable enough to approach you, resist the urge to reach directly forward and pet their head or scritch their cheek. Instead approach with your hand from the side and aim to stroke the back of their head or along their shoulders. It can be a scary thing for a cat to see a large (in their eyes) hand coming directly towards their face. If the cat isn’t within reach yet though, you can try using a long handled back scratcher. Reach out slowly and gently stroke the cat with the “scratching” end of the back scratcher. This is a great interim step which can help the cat get used to being touched (and enjoying the feeling of being “petted”) without you having to get as close to them.
Most importantly – stay calm, stay consistent, and stay patient. This can take a while.
Shyness and fearfulness are negative personality traits in themselves, but in the wrong environment a shy and fearful cat’s negative behaviour can escalate. Stress can be a trigger for inappropriate behaviours in the friendliest of cats, and shy cats are affected even more.
Behaviours such as litterbox issues, scratching, biting, stress grooming, and depression can manifest themselves when shy cats are placed in homes that are not able to address their needs.
Being denied a shy cat at a shelter does not mean you are a bad home; it just means that there are things about your lifestyle that will result in the cat coming back to us sooner or later. Don’t take it personally. It’s not about you. It’s about them.
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