—Feline Behavior Specialist 🇺🇸
Some cats hide under the bed. Others, in closets. And others, have a hiding spot so good you still don’t know where it is.
Although shyness is a personality trait and hiding under certain circumstances is okay, it’s important to know when it’s normal, when there’s something wrong, and when you need to build their confidence.
I’ll tell you how to spot each of these scenarios, and then give you some advice on what to do to help your kitty feel like they always belong – even when guests visit.
In the wild, cats will sleep in places where they feel safe and secure, away from threats and predators. It’s instinctual, so it makes sense why when they’re indoors, they do the same thing. Choosing to nap under a couch or in a closet is usually fine. They may like how dark and quiet it is, and feel they can rest undisturbed.
If there’s an uncommon event happening in your home, like a kitchen renovation or a big party, your cat may feel scared or dislike the noise and hide. This is a normal response.
Hiding Because Something Is Wrong
I always say, cats are masters of disguise. When they aren’t feeling well or are in pain, they can hide it like the world’s best poker player. However, unexplained hiding may mean something is wrong.
In the wild, they will hide if sick or injured to stay away from predators or even other cats who will see them as weak. Again, it’s instinctual for cats to hide in these circumstances. If your cat is normally out and about but has started hiding, it’s important you talk to your vet to rule out anything medical
Another reason a cat will hide is because they’re scared of something else in the home: another pet, a child chasing them, etc. Again, this is okay if the cat needs to get away from something that is a threat, they should have the option.
When Hiding Means Your Cat Needs Confidence
If a cat is hiding for a perceived threat that is a social situation or even just part of your daily routine, that is when it’s important to step in and practice confidence building exercises.
Why? Because you want your cat to feel confident and part of the space they’re living in, and if something isn’t a threat and will be recurring, it’s better for your cat to get used to it than to get in their own routine of hiding.
Another incidence is when you bring a new cat home. Even positive moves are so stressful for cats. It’s important you interact with a new cat in the first few days, so you can build a bond before you introduce them to the rest of your residence or even other cats. This will be extremely difficult if the cat spends its time hiding.
Tips for Confidence Boosters
- When bringing a new cat home, it’s best to start the kitty in a small room or bathroom for a few days up to two weeks so they can slowly get acclimated. I prefer bathrooms because there are few hiding places. If it’s a bedroom, block off any space under the bed.
Day to Day
Play with your cat at least 15-30 minutes a day. This is good for boosting confidence for all cats – even ones that are already confident.
While doing basic things around the home, pet your cat if you walk by them, or even talk to them while doing a chore.
The goal is to make them feel safe in the space of your home at all times and like everything is normal and non-threatening. Do this frequently to solidify their relationship with you.
Advise guests on how to interact with your cat before or when they arrive, especially if a guest is used to dogs. Greeting cats with high energy and forward actions will not be appreciated by most cats, who prefer calmer intros and distance around new people.
If your cat is super friendly and outgoing, tell your guests it’s fine to offer their hand for a cat to smell, and if received, they can pet the cat. For other cat personality types, ask your guests to give your cat space and time to observe before approaching.
Remind guests that cats prefer soft voices over loud ones.
Encourage a hiding cat to come out for treats. Don’t start this with a big party, but try it just when you have one or two guests over.
Ask your guests to give treats to your cat. This will help them understand that positive things happen when other people are there (not just you). It will be rare for a cat to take a treat from the hand of someone they don’t know. Instead, ask guests to place it on the floor near your cat.
Try feeding a meal to your cat when guests are over, ideally a special wet food they love but don’t typically have. Sometimes, the smell of the food is enough to draw the cat out of its hiding space. Once eating, some cats realize there’s no threat and they stay out.
- Suggest guests play with your cat to create a positive association. Select your cat’s favorite toy to make it even harder for your cat to resist.
Use vertical space in your home by getting cat trees, towers, or mounting shelves. Many cats feel safer off the ground, so giving them an option to go vertical will help them feel more secure. It will also help in multi-cat households.
Cats can hang on different levels on the same tower, so they occupy the same space with the other cat while still maintaining their own personal space.
Start by just sitting with them in the room where they’re hiding and reading or doing something on the quiet side.
Play mediation or classical music to help your cat relax.
- Add plug-in pheromone diffusers, use pheromone spray, or have your cat wear a calming collar.
Medication & Non-Traditional Therapies
If nothing seems to work and your cat is completely petrified, talk to your doctor about medication. They may recommend as-needed medicine to help with anxiety around upcoming events (vet visits, work around the home, parties, etc.), or even a daily med to help your cat relax overall.
Ask your vet about any calming supplements they recommend. Since most supplements aren’t regulated for efficacy, only use supplements recommended or reviewed by your vet.
- Consider taking your cat to a veterinary acupuncturist, who can help with anxiety.
A Confident Kitty
Follow these tips, and you’re well on your way to building your cat’s confidence and limiting their time hiding unnecessarily. Be sure to take it one day at a time and remember that modifying any behavior takes time, patience, and persistence. Keep your eye on the goal: A happy cat that feels safe in their environment.
Article by Elizabeth Italia 🙋♀️
Cat Behavior & Fostering Specialist