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Help! My Cat is Skittish: 5 Tips to Help Her Come Out of Her Shell

Some cats are very confident. They are friendly to anyone who comes into your house, they run to the door when there’s a knock, and they don’t even shy away from the vacuum! But just like humans, every kitty is different. For every gregarious cat, there’s a skittish cat that jumps at the smallest noise or shies away from strangers.

If your cat is skittish, don’t fret! There are things you can do to help your furbaby come out of her shell. First, it’s important to understand why she might shy away from people, things, noises, and smells.

Why Is Your Cat Skittish?

A cat can be skittish simply because it’s part of her personality, but sometimes outside factors make a kitty skittish or cause her shyness to be worse.

1. She’s in a new environment.

This is the number-one reason a cat is anxious. When you bring home a new cat, she needs some time to get used to the house, family, and any other pets you have around—with all their sights, smells, noises, flavors, etc.

Bringing a new member of the family home is an exciting time as you get to know each other, but your cat may not feel as overjoyed as you right away. She’ll need her space as she explores her new home.

skittish cat

2. She doesn’t know how to act around humans.

Some pets, especially if they transition to a home from a shelter or the streets, may have had very few interactions with humans. It will take time before they feel safe around you and others.

Socialization is essential to overcoming your kitty’s anxiety, but bad socialization can have a negative effect. Mistreatment by a previous owner takes time to overcome.

3. She has a medical issue.

This could be the case if your cat’s anxiety started recently and wasn’t a part of her personality before. Behavioral changes and problems could be a sign of an underlying medical issue. Take your fur baby to the vet to rule any serious issues out.

Tips to Help Your Skittish Cat Come Out of Her Shell

If your cat is a bit anxious and you’ve ruled out underlying causes, here are some tips to help her come out of her shell:

Tip #1: Prevention

If your new cat is a kitten, prevention is the best way to avoid or reduce the chance that she’ll grow up into a skittish cat. Early socialization is essential. Introducing your kitty to new people, sights, objects, sounds, etc. while she’s young will help her be more comfortable with those things and new things she encounters as she ages.

Ensure your cat meets a wide variety of people in your life, especially family members, friends, or neighbors who come over often. Cats that grow up without meeting men early in life, for example, could make a trip to a male veterinarian or technician difficult for you!

Tip #2: Provide a Calming Atmosphere

An important step in helping a skittish cat overcome her anxiety, whether she’s young or old, is providing a calming atmosphere. In general, but especially in known stressful situations, avoid loud music, ask your children to quiet down, and turn down the TV a bit. Try not to yell at your cat, a family member, or another pet.

Be sure nothing chases your cat, like children or other animals. Although kids are naturally curious and excited about a new pet, chasing your cat could create lasting negative effects. The outcome could be scratched arms as well as more fear for your furry family member.

If your cat has a favorite place to hide, spend time with her in that space. Speak softly, and show her that everything is okay and she’s safe with you. An occasional treat or two can do wonders as well!

Tip #3: Give Her a Place to Go

Cats, whether they’re normally skittish or not, do not like their escape routes being cut off. Suddenly being trapped is distressing. Make sure your cat has easy access to her favorite hiding spots.

If you don’t have one already, consider buying a cat tree. Cats love to be up high. It helps them feel at home, comfortable, and safe because they can see their domain. This could be a great compromise for you and your cat: She’s in the room with the company that normally stresses her out, but she gets to be there on her terms.

Tip #4: Play

Relaxing play (and treats!) can also help your skittish cat come out from under the bed or her favorite hiding place. A feather wand or laser pointer is a quiet toy that may pique her interest. When playtime is over or she’s emerged from her lair, reward her with treats and praise.

If your cat isn’t taking the bait, try giving her more space with the toy. Allow her to smell it and investigate. Don’t rush her. Stay low to the ground to appear less threatening. Perhaps sit on the floor, speak in a soothing voice, and show your kitty that play and treats can be a great time for both of you.

Tip #5: Be Patient

The best thing to do for any skittish cat or kitten is to be patient. Their behavior is not going to change overnight. You never want to force your cat to sit with you or be around strangers. This will only reinforce her anxiety about her environment.

A soft voice, a gentle hand, and plenty of time can go a long way in calming your kitty.

Is Your Cat Shy Around Strangers Specifically?

If your cat is perfectly fine around the family, but runs when a stranger comes to the door, you can help her overcome her fear. This takes time and patience and shouldn’t be forced (Never lock her in a room with a stranger.), but it is possible!

Start with distance. When a new friend or neighbor comes to call, see what distance your cat is most comfortable with regarding the stranger. Don’t have the human get any closer than that. Practice this every time the stranger comes over. If your cat ever gets too anxious about how close they are, have your friend back up until your cat is comfortable again.

As you work toward progress, reward your kitty with treats and praise. Playtime may also help her associate the stranger with positivity.

The most valuable piece of advice when it comes to a skittish cat is: Be patient. Whether she’s new to your home or just afraid of strangers, giving your cat time and space to overcome her fears can do wonders. Forcing her to socialize can only do more harm than good.

If your kitty is suffering from anxiety and is still skittish after you’ve worked through these steps, give us a call, so we can rule out medical causes. Once that’s done, we’d be happy to talk through options for behavior counseling, so we can get your furry friend feeling fancy free as quickly as possible!

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The Team @ Cinco Ranch Veterinary Hospital

Cinco Ranch Veterinary Hospital serves Katy, TX and the surrounding areas with a dedication and passion for our animal friends that is unmatched. Our veterinarians are highly trained, experienced, and compassionate when it comes to giving your pet the care they deserve. If your companion is in need of emergency care, a dental cleaning, grooming, or just a check-up, we would love to see them! Call 281-693-7387 to make an appointment quickly and easily.

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