Shy cats

Is your cat too shy to socialise?

Shyness in cats

Is your cat too shy to socialise? This short guide explains why some cats are shy and how you can help them relax around people.

Help your cat overcome their shyness

Does your cat recoil from your touch or spend most of the day hiding behind the sofa? There are many reasons why your cat might be shy, nervous or timid, but you can often help your cat to relax by being patient, calm and sensitive to their needs.

Most importantly, never lose your temper or force your cat to interact when they're not ready. By taking your time and gradually earning their trust, your cat will be much happier.

You may find it helpful to ask your vet for advice.

Why is my cat so timid?

Timid behaviour could be caused by:

Genetics - some cats are naturally more cautious than others.

Lack of socialisation - if cats do not socialise with humans, particularly during their first eight weeks of life, they may be stressed or frightened by human contact.

Bad experiences - if your cat has been harmed or scared in the past, they may be more wary of people.

Signs of fear in cats

Signs that your cat is scared include:

  • running away
  • retreating to hiding places
  • dilated pupils
  • flattened ears
  • cringing and cowering

How to help your shy, nervous or timid cat

You can help your cat to feel safe and secure by:

  • providing plenty of refuges where they can hide. Cats de-stress more quickly if they can hide, preferably somewhere high and dark, such as behind sofas or on shelves
  • preventing other cats from entering your home by windows, doors or cat flaps. Make sure your cat is not being bullied in the garden or intimidated by other cats through windows or doors
  • maintaining daily routines so your cat knows what to expect
  • use synthetic scent pheromones (available from your vet). These can help reassure your cat and reduce stress
  • sit quietly near your cat so they can get used to you in their own time. Ignore them while you read a book or take a nap so they don't feel pressurised or anxious in your presence. Do this while they are eating, or give them a small food treat so they associate you with a positive experience
  • let your cat approach you. Direct approaches are extremely threatening, so don't force attention on your cat
  • blink slowly at your cat, narrow your eyes so they are half open and then turn your face away slowly to reassure your cat that you are not a threat

As your cat becomes more confident

Your cat should gradually relax as it learns that you do not present a threat. As your cat becomes braver you can try:

  • talking to your cat quietly in a calming tone
  • rewarding your cat with a treat if they approach you. At first, give the treat as soon as they approach, but gradually increase the time between the approach and the treat. Over a period of weeks, work up to calmly stroking your cat once or twice before giving the treat
  • using small toys you can gently throw for them, such as a ball of foil, scrunched up paper or a ping pong ball. Fishing rod toys allow your cat to interact without feeling threatened by close contact

Photo credits

Banner image - Chinda Sam -

Inset image - Kamonnat Onnom -