How to Solve Cat Behavior Problems

By: Dr. H. Ellen Whiteley

Dealing With Skittish Cats

©2006 Publications International, Ltd. Skittish or shy cats may just need a little love and attention.

More than just the fabled feline aloofness, shy cats can be all but invisible, running and hiding even from their owners. At some time during the day, virtually every cat wants to be alone and will find a secluded place to crawl into. But shy ones and "scaredy-cats" may spend most of their time out of sight. A cat that spends most of her time under the bed isn't having a good time -- and may not be getting enough food, water, or exercise.

Why are some cats so shy? Some breeds are more reserved than others, and some cats, usually those who have not been socialized to humans, tend to be people-shy. In certain cases, the cat may be frightened of certain types of people -- children or men, for example.


They only come out at night. Cats are naturally nocturnal animals. If your cat rarely comes out during the day, don't assume she's not prowling around the house at night. Since cats can have very quiet footfalls when they want to, you may not hear her -- and you won't see her because you're asleep. By the way, just because you find her in the same hiding place in the morning that you left her in the night before also doesn't mean she spent the whole night there!

To try to help a shy cat feel more secure, try waiting until nightfall. Turn off all the lights and pull the shades. Then, wait and see if your scaredy-cat is more willing to venture out.

Try a little tenderness. Give a shy cat attention but on her own terms. Talk to her in her hiding place -- perhaps even feed her there if she doesn't come out to eat. Give her space, but reassure her with your words, tone of voice, and actions, and let her know you mean her no harm. Be patient. Making progress on socializing a shy cat can take weeks or months.

Make it worth her while. Treats, soft talk, and petting can help coax a nervous cat into society. If you find something she particularly likes -- a specific food, a rub behind the ear, grooming with the slicker brush -- reserve it to give her only on occasions of social interaction.

Don't force the issue. Let a shy cat build her confidence on her own timetable. If you try to drag her out of her safe spot and force attention on her, you may actually make her more shy -- or risk being bitten or scratched. There's no law that says your cat must greet your visitors or play with the neighbor children. If she wants to be a recluse on social occasions, let her.

When to Call the Vet

If a previously friendly cat starts acting antisocial or hides a lot, she could be signaling the onset of illness. Notify your vet right away.

A cat that is spraying can be nuisance. Learn how to handle this problem in the next section.