by Barbara George
Tellington Ttouch Behaviourist
There is a difference between timid or fearful cats who run away when new people arrive, and shy cats that would like to interact but only when they feel safe. They may sit in the doorway or creep behind the furniture when you would rather they came out and showed off their beauty and personality when guests arrive.
There are many possible causes of shyness in cats, including little or late socialisation, personality, fear of noise, and bad experiences with people. They may also be wary of a particular type of person, or someone who looks different to what they consider normal, for example someone using a walking stick or wearing a large floppy hat.
Forcing a shy cat to interact can make them more fearful and less likely to be social. Encouraging them in a safe way will, in most cases, help them to interact in their own time.
Create safe spaces for them to observe without being seen. Behind the curtains on the windowsill or underneath a chair are options. There must always be a path by which they can reach these safe spaces and get away if they feel uncomfortable.
People should not engage with, or look directly at, shy cats; the perfect example is those who do not like or are allergic to cats – cats are often attracted to them first because there is no interaction and no challenge. Sit quietly, carry on with the conversation, only look at the cat for a short time and with half-closed eyes or slow-blinking.
Know what motivates your shy cat – typically food and games. A stressed cat will not eat; even the most interesting treat will not lure her out of hiding. A stressed cat may play to release stress or create a diversion. Guests can initiate a game while continuing with the conversation and not focusing on the cat. If she feels safe she will come out to play. Encourage her to come closer but do not touch her unless she initiates contact.
Initially the interaction may be of short duration and at a safe distance. As she learns to trust and feel safe she will come closer and be more open to gentle touch. Start by rewarding every interaction, no matter how short or how far away, with praise and treats, gradually moving to only rewarding contact or playing.
Patience, time, and opportunities to socialise are the key ingredients for converting a shy cat to a friendly, social cat. Natural calming remedies or a pheromone diffuser can help to make the process easier.
Cats must always have the opportunity to move away safely when they need to. Force and punishment will make the cat more wary of people and new situations.