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April 23, 2021

Top Tips for Adopting a Shy Cat

  • Adoption
Ragdoll cat laying in front of the fireplace with owner

Are you considering adopting a cat? 

In shelters, shy, fearful cats are just as common as black and white cats. Many cats end up in shelters because of their shyness. Many homes can't accommodate adopting shy cats and their needs. In the wrong type of home, a nervous or fearful cat can develop destructive behaviours that are hard to live with. As rescuers, our purpose is to find these kitties a home where they will live out their life feeling loved, safe, and at peace. Adopting a shy cat can be tricky because they don't just need an incredible family; they need an incredible family with specific living conditions. Here’s everything you need to know when adopting a shy cat!

Introducing and Socializing Shy Cats

It only takes one generation for an abandoned family cat to produce a litter of completely feral kittens. Kittens need to be exposed to humans in some way, shape, or form. The best age is ten to twelve weeks old, otherwise their socialization will be significantly compromised. Many rescues have volunteers who take in feral or semi feral kittens to socialize them. However, even some of the most socialized kittens grow into felines with "issues." Cats can be susceptible animals who don't deal well with many of the things we do regularly, such as moving around our furniture, travelling, making loud noises, and creating unfamiliar smells. 

If there are other pets already in the home, they shouldn't be dominant. A highly socialized, calm cat is the perfect companion for their new shy friend. The more peaceful cat will provide a sense of safety and help socialize the shy newcomer. Two (or more) shy cats will bond with one another, their shyness towards people often increasing, and neither one will likely establish a relationship with the owner. 

Maintain a Calm and Quiet Home 

Before bringing a newly adopted cat into your home, it's essential to assess your lifestyle and whether or not it would be a good fit. When first adopting a shy cat, many won't do well in a house filled with kids. Additionally, loud music and late nights are usually a no-go. Shy cats will find it difficult to adjust to a home where things change regularly, and people come and go frequently. 

Cat’s also love to hide - especially shy ones! Make sure to provide a place for your new adopted shy cat to have a designated place to run away to in the house, but don't offer them awkward hiding spots where they will be hard to reach if needed. If possible, try to confine the cat to a relatively small part of the house or limit them to a single room. Less furniture is better since cats can squeeze into the tiniest of spaces.

Bringing Your Cat Home

When first bringing your kitty home, try to get them 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 would be best.

There are several calming products are available to help ease them into their new environment. Check out plugins, sprays, oral medications, and catnip (it's always a must-have). Let them have their own blanket and something familiar they can go to when they feel vulnerable.

Lastly it's always important to make sure your cat has some nutritious food readily available from them. It may take some time for them to adjust but try to find the perfect balance that suits your cat’s needs. Remember, cats are known for being creatures of habit and it may take a little longer for the transition to happen. Exposing your cat to different textures early on will help them enjoy the various types cat food.

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What a Shy Cat Needs from You

While kittens need to be handled to become socialized, older cats need their space. Therefore, it's also important to step back and let them be. During this time, try not to force yourself on them or insist on direct contact. Trying to grab them, hold them, or pick them up right away may make them even more scared - however, don't ignore them either.

To make your shy cat feel more comfortable, talk to them calmly and keep your distance. Try not to make direct eye contact, and if you do, close your eyes to show them you aren't a threat. You can also lay down on the floor near them and stretch out your hands in their direction and allow them to come to you.

Additionally, when they start getting comfortable enough to approach you, come at them from the side and aim to stroke the back of their head or along their shoulders. If your cat isn't within reach yet, 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 way, your cat can get comfortable being touched without you having to get as close to them.

Watch for Negative Behaviours 

Shyness and fearfulness are negative personality traits in themselves. Therefore, in the wrong environment, a shy and fearful cat's behaviour can quickly escalate. Stress can trigger inappropriate actions in the friendliest of cats, and shy cats are affected even more.

Behaviours such as litter box issues, scratching, biting, stress grooming, and depression can easily happen when shy cats are placed in homes that cannot address their needs.

Remember, when adopting a shy cat, it can be a bit of a challenge at first. However, with a little patience, love, and gaining their trust - they will be able to feel safe and comfortable in no time.


Magda Romanow holding black cat

Magda Romanow

Shelter Owner

Magda has been involved with animal rescue groups for 22 years. She opened up her own cat shelter 18 years ago and it has grown tremendously ever since. Katie’s Place specializes in hard to place cats. They are a “last chance” shelter. The shelter is always full, as is her home.