Barbara has two scaredy cats. One is shy and one is really, really shy. Visitors wouldn’t even know she has cats if it weren’t for the basket of kitty toys on the kitchen floor. If people are over, both cats are hiding under the bed, frightened and annoyed.
When family comes for a long weekend, the scaredy cats stay under the bed for the entire visit. The cat-loving family, especially the kids, take a peek under the bed and try to convince the shy cats to come out. Late at night, they come out to eat, use the litter box, and scowl at the unwelcome guests as they sleep.
O’Keefe, the really, really shy cat was adopted as an older kitten, and Barbara provided a safe and loving home. So why would a cat who has had nothing but good food, love and comfort be such a scaredy cat around people?
Animal behaviorists say that the critical period for socialization is between 2 – 7 weeks of age, when their personalities are forming. If kittens aren’t held, or are not exposed to many people during this time, they could grow up to be extremely shy, timid or fearful – scaredy cats. If kittens were mishandled or had some kind of frightening experience during this time, they may be very leery of people.
O’Keefe, the bigger scaredy cat, seems to want interaction and affection, and though initially shy around her owner, warmed up in her own way. She will meow a request to come aboard Barbara’s lap, and she’ll await her invitation. Once curled up on her lap, should Barbara forget and have the audacity to pet her kitty, O’Keefe is off her lap and back hiding under the bed.
Later, Barbara adopted Caravaggio, a spunky young kitten, who loved to tear through the house as fast as he could. O’Keefe watched the kitten in wonder, and then had to join in the fun. While Caravaggio taught O’Keefe to come out and play, O’Keefe eventually taught Caravaggio that humans were not to be trusted. It wasn’t long before O’Keefe had a partner in hiding under the bed. Caravaggio became a scaredy cat.
How to help your scaredy cat get comfortable around people
Probably the worst thing for a super-shy scaredy cat like O’Keefe was for people to find her hiding under the bed. Cats need a safe place to hide and violating that only makes them less secure.
Once the family understood that a scaredy cat’s hiding place should be respected, O’Keefe became a little braver. Over time, she became comfortable sitting on the bed instead of under it. And after more time, the shy kitty would come out of the bedroom and sit in the hallway to monitor the family’s activity – just as long as everyone pretended they didn’t see her.
When scaredy cats get up the courage to enter a room full of people, the best thing the people can do is ignore them. This is the very reason why it’s always the person in the room who doesn’t like cats who ends up with the cat on his lap. This person paid no attention, so the cat felt comfortable exploring him. The people who stare, and smile and extend their hands toward the cat are actually intimidating the poor scaredy cat.
A cat needs to feel in control, so it may take a few visits out in the open living room, and leaving with nothing scary happening, for a super shy cat to be comfortable around people. And, cats are individuals. Some cats will always desire closer relationships with people than others.