What makes your cat shy?

Most of the time we want a friendly, cuddly cat that naturally seeks to be close to people. Former strays and cats born in the wild, of course, have a harder time - it often takes a long time to build trust. With time and patience, however, even very shy animals can bond closely to a person - how to explain how it works.

By Lurleen Kleinewig

Most animal lovers are not aware that there are an estimated two million stray cats in Germany alone. The cats live largely in secret and often eke out their existence under poor conditions. Those who are captured, medically treated, neutered and released for mediation when reintroduction is not possible usually find it difficult to find a home and sometimes wait years for new "can openers". The daily stress in the animal shelter is also extremely difficult for them and often leads to the fearful animals withdrawing even more.

Former strays and cats born in the wild or their descendants either do not know the people or have had bad experiences. Mistrust and fear are very deep, so a lot of patience and empathy are required to turn a hissing tomboy into a people-related sofa cat. Beginners in particular are usually overwhelmed with this task. There are only a few “golden rules” to be observed in order to win a furry friend for life. Anyone who has ever taken in a shy cat will confirm that these animals bond very closely to "their" people as soon as they have overcome their reservations.

Cats are highly adaptable, and they are born opportunists. You can make use of these two properties. Anyone who also has a “We have all the time in the world” attitude is perfectly equipped.

The right way to deal with each other

What exactly do I do if I have decided to take in a shy cat?

Regardless of whether the animal is to live as a house tiger with a free range or as a pure free-range tiger with a family connection, e.g. on a riding stables: it makes sense to initially provide the cat with a separate room in which it can adapt to its new surroundings - and not finally to their new person - can get used to. In the case of future court cats in particular, it is important that the cat has “arrived” before it is released into the wild again, otherwise there is a risk that the animal will never be seen again. You should plan up to four weeks for this, depending on the individual behavior of the cat.

The room must be equipped with sufficient hiding places according to the needs of shy cats. This can be, for example, a cozy place under the bed, a scratching post with a large cave or a transport basket with a blanket and no door. Food and water bowls as well as a large cat toilet without a hood, but with plenty of litter, should be set up at a sufficient distance from each other. A small carpet on the floor and various toys complete the facility.

In order not to unsettle the cat, the same person should always feed and clean the litter box for the first few weeks. It is recommended to stay in the "cat room" several times a day for a few minutes and to speak to the animal in a friendly voice - preferably in a higher pitch. Singing or reading to frightened cats has also proven its worth. A treat in between can also have a positive effect.

Under no circumstances should you try to touch the animal or even to bring it out of its hiding place - that would permanently destroy the basis for any trust. If the cat makes eye contact, you can wink at it and focus on a point next to its eyes. Shy cats in particular perceive direct stare as very threatening. Please always keep a certain spatial distance at the beginning and also pay attention to the feline body language: big ears, crouched posture, averted gaze mean that the cat feels harassed. Then immediate withdrawal is advisable in order to avoid any panic reactions.

Curiosity wins

When the cat is more relaxed and open-minded after a few weeks, you can start letting it explore the apartment. For this purpose, your room door will be opened - initially only for a limited time. After a while, most cats develop innate curiosity and venture outside to see their surroundings. Often the first tour ends quickly and the animals quickly flee back to the safety of the familiar room. Then the door can be closed and the next release will be offered at a later point in time. If the cat doesn't dare to leave the room, it is probably not ready - you just try again the next day.

Little by little, the cat will extend its trips outside of the usual room. To be on the safe side, leave the door open at the beginning so that there is always a possibility of retreat. In the first few weeks, the animal should not run around freely in the apartment without supervision, especially not if other members of the same species are still living in the household. It must be ensured that the cats largely accept each other before they are left alone with each other.

For farm cats that are released completely into the wild, it is necessary to set up a permanent feeding place in a sheltered place that is easy to find and easily accessible. It is also advantageous to condition the animals during their acclimatization period, e.g. to the rattling of a dry food can, so that they can be summoned at feeding time.

As the shy (apartment) cat gradually integrates into the daily routine of the household, it will also turn to its human more often. Always let the cat approach you, never the other way around! Often there are tentative advances after a relatively short time, for example during cozy evenings on the sofa or in bed at night when the cat is allowed into the bedroom. Always let the cat go when it has had enough, and don't push yourself. The owners of former “scarers” know how these once fearful animals mutate into real cuddly monsters as soon as they gain confidence. However, they prefer to fixate on a single person.

Should you be looking for a new four-legged friend, open your heart to a shy cat from the shelter - one day she will thank you with unwavering affection.


This article first appeared in ARKO, the magazine of our animal welfare association, issue 8, December 2016.

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