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San Diego Humane Society

Shy and Fearful Cat Tips

Many cats are fearful in a new environment and need some time to adjust. Fearful cats avoid people or things that frighten them, they may hide or seem uninterested and sometimes hiss, spit or swat to make what they’re afraid of go farther away. If you’ve decided to share your life with a shy cat, take heart. The following information can help you understand what he is feeling and give you ways to help him feel better.

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Tips for working with shy cats

  • Fearful cats usually do best in relatively quiet homes.
  • Provide your cat with a safe, small, quiet room or space at first.
  • This space can be set up with appropriate hiding places, like a cat tree and cozy blankets.
  • Be sure your cat’s space has a litter box within easy reach of the cat, but away from food and water.
  • Avoid staring, direct eye contact or towering over your cat.
  • Avoid making loud noises.
  • Avoid pulling or forcing your cat out of hiding or to be held.
  • Speak softly and calmly.
  • Allow your cat to choose to approach or interact — or not.
  • Encourage play with interactive toys, such as a cat charmer or feather wand.
  • Build confidence and positive interactions through reward-based, force-free training methods.
  • Pair your voice or petting with high-value foods.
  • Praise and treat to make positive associations with new sights and sounds and for relaxed, calm behavior.
  • When he is showing signs of exploring, gradually let him explore the rest of the house.

Recommended reading on cat behavior:

  • “Cat Sense” by John Bradshaw
  • “Total Cat Mojo: The Ultimate Guide to Life With Your Cat” by Jackson Galaxy
  • “The Trainable Cat: A Practical Guide to Making Life Happier for You and Your Cat” by John Bradshaw and Sarah Ellis


Contact our Behavior Helpline for more information at 619-299-7012, ext. 2244, or email

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