Once bitten, twice shy. How to gain the trust of a shy cat

As a cat owner, you want your cat to trust you, for the animal to know that you have no bad intentions whatsoever. But what about a shy cat, who seems to be afraid of everything - including you?

Timid or anxious?

There is a difference between being a “‘fraidy cat” and being "once bitten, twice shy”. A frightened cat reacts to a one-time incident such as something falling to the floor with a lot of noise. On the other hand, a fearful, shy cat is constantly on edge and sees danger at every turn, even if there isn't any. That’s stressful for everyone involved.

Like humans, cats have different characters. Some cats are naturally more shy than others. But sometimes a traumatic experience forms the basis of their personalities. This then creates at a state of chronic fear, which puts the cat in a constant state of stress.

Other reasons include poor socialisation in kittens and sudden changes in the environment, such as moving house or getting a new pet.

How can you tell a cat is frightened?

  • Licks its lips frequently.
  • Whiskers point backwards
  • Hair on its back makes jerking movements
  • Tail carried low
  • Briefly lifts one front leg
  • Big eyes with dilated pupils

How do you prevent ongoing anxious behaviour?

Properly socialising your kitten can prevent it from turning into a shy cat. Introduce your kitty to new things, sounds and people, ideally when it is between three and fourteen weeks old. But not all at once. Show it these things one at a time, don’t over-stimulate it.
First, let the cat get used to its new environment and family, then to the new things you introduce to it. Make sure you yourself are also calm during each new impression so that the kitten knows there is nothing to fear.
In addition, give your cat the opportunity to hunt. In other words, let it play. After all, your pet will feel better about itself if it is allowed to follow its natural instincts.

How do you deal with a shy cat?

Is your cat too old to socialise? Even if this is the case, you can lower its anxiousness as long as you do so carefully. Patience is an absolute must.
First, observe which treat your cat responds to most often. Is it food? Then give her a tasty reward immediately after it makes an approach, no matter how small. Not immediately out of your hand, because that can scare the cat. Is your cat more responsive to toys? Then, when it approaches, give it a toy with catnip . This way your cat quietly makes the necessary positive associations and can completely change its behaviour.
Catnip contains essential oils that can have an euphoric effect on a cat. Spraying catnip extract on toys may attract your shy cat. Catnip is not addictive and the effect does not last long. It is not a panacea: some cats show no reaction to it at all. Alternatives to catnip are valerian and matatabi.

Don’t put the cat among the pigeons

If you want to train your cat to become less shy, you can’t force it. Give your cat that space it needs to feel sure of itself. Provide several quiet hiding places where your cat can feel at ease, without a permanent stress factor, even when teaching your kitten how to socialise. Cats like to sit in high up places because they can keep a better eye on their surroundings.

Does your cat remain anxious and shy for months? Then you can seek help from a behavioural therapist or veterinarian.

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