Socializing the Shy and Fearful Cat

Socializing the Shy and Fearful Cat

By: Judy Hamontre, AVHS Vice-chair

In my article titled “You Can Teach an Old Cat New Tricks,” published March 22, I quoted Katenna Jones, a certified animal behaviorist, writing: “The benefits of cat training are vast. Training provides mental and physical stimulation as well as positive social contact. Just the act of training in and of itself is incredibly valuable for frustrated, bored, shy, and fearful cats.”

Several domestic cats who come to shelters, including our own Ark-Valley Humane Society, are shy and fearful.  Great care is taken to assess, treat them gently, and socialize these sweet creatures.

It is not uncommon for pet cats to be scared when they first arrive at a shelter. They are in new, strange, unfamiliar surroundings with people they do not know. Many of these cats shy away from strangers. Loud noises and strange scents shock their keen senses of hearing and smell, raising their levels of anxiety. The most socialized felines may display signs of fear when first in their new shelter environment.

That is why shelter staff give them a few days to adjust, soothing them with private spaces, slow approaches, and calming voices. These new furry arrivals are observed and given time and space to show their personalities.

The AVHS Animal Care Technicians follow a carefully prescribed protocol to care for, assess and socialize their new kitties, making notes of each cat’s progress. To socialize cats means to acclimate them to becoming accustomed to people, eventually enjoying human companionship.

These cats are gradually introduced to human touch, human spaces, and human sights, smells and sounds. The caring AVHS staff knows the process is affected by many factors of each cat’s life, often which are unknown, and that their time, effort and compassion will lead to a future, happy life for that pet cat.

Similar techniques can be followed for shy pet cats in your home. Allow them time and space to adjust to you and your home. Offer patience, attention and gentle love. Over time your pet cat, so well socialized in the shelter, will become part of your family. However, many of these cats prefer only their people, which requires some extra TLC when a few guests arrive.

Provide your cat with their own safe space, a place they are familiar with, their retreat. See that they have food, water, litter box, bed and toys.

Ask your guests to respect your cat’s privacy, allowing the cat to approach if they eventually desire. If your cat does appear, ask your guests to remain seated, not stare, and not make any sudden movements nor loud noises.

Continue with your conversation and see what happens. Often shy pet cats’ curiosity will win out, especially with returning visitors and they might walk by their feet or jump up on the couch where the guest is seated. Continue to discourage reaching for or attempting to pet your adorable furry friend, as that shy cat has come a long way. Reward with some treats and gentle words of praise.

Accept that your pet cat is shy and may never warm up to those outside you and your family. View it as they are particular and just want to love you and only you. Treasure that special trust and bond. Being social with you is enough.

*Note, this article touches on shy domesticated, pet cats. We also have many feral, outdoor cats in our community, it is best to not approach/corner an adult feral cat. AVHS offers a TNR program to help get these cats fixed and vaccinated.*


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