Shy & Nervous Cats: How to Help

Just like humans, cats can be shy or nervous if they feel uncomfortable or unsure of their surroundings. We’re taking a look at some of the signs of shyness in cats, some of the reasons for this, and—most importantly—how we can help shy or nervous cats to feel more comfortable.

Perhaps your cat is worried or hiding when you have visitors, or maybe you’re considering adopting a cat who’s a bit on the shy side. Either way, there are things we can do to help them settle and hopefully feel happier and more comfortable in your home.


What are the signs of shyness in cats?

First up, it’s important to be able to recognise the signs of shyness or nervousness in cats so you know how best to help them. If you’re considering adopting a cat, the shelter will probably have picked up on these signs when caring for the cats and will be able to inform and advise you.

There are both behavioural and physical signs which can show that your cat might be shy or worried:

  • Hiding
  • Running away
  • Cowering
  • Flattened ears
  • Dilated pupils


Cats may demonstrate this behaviour a lot of the time, or it may be a reaction to a specific trigger (like certain sounds or people, for example). Battersea also provides helpful information on cat anxiety which can help you to understand the signs and behaviours.   


a tabby cat hiding underneath bed sheets


Why is my cat shy or nervous?

There are a few different reasons for shyness in cats, and generally they fall into three categories: lack of socialisation, previous bad experiences, or genetics.

Lack of socialisation

Shyness in cats can sometimes go all the way back to kitten-hood. If kittens weren’t socialised and exposed to a wide enough range of experiences (and people) while still young, then they’re much more likely to be afraid of these things as they grow up. 

Bad experiences

Understandably, cats are more likely to be wary of humans if they have been mistreated, harmed or scared in the past, and any bad experiences can result in them becoming more cautious.


Sometimes shyness isn’t a result of bad experience or insufficient socialisation, but instead can be genetic. Some cats can be more naturally predisposed to being cautious and reserved than others.


a young kitten looks out from between the cushions of a red sofa


How can I help a shy cat?

Whether you’re adopting a shy cat and want to help them settle in at home, or want to help your current cat feel more comfortable in situations that scare them, much of the advice is the same. 

Give them space

Firstly, it’s vital to respect their space. There are several ways that we can help shy cats to adjust and gain more confidence, but the first thing to remember is never to force a cat to interact when they don’t want to. Make sure that you give them the freedom to choose what they want to do. Patience is key!

Create hiding places

Provide some nice cosy hiding places for them, so they know they can retreat safely if they feel worried. Hiding in small spaces helps all cats to feel more secure, so for a shy or nervous cat, it can be a big comfort!

Stick to routine

Keep to a daily routine and limit any changes in the home, so that your cat knows what to expect. Sticking to regular meal times, keeping the locations of their beds, litter boxes and food the same, and ideally having a relatively reliable schedule, for example, can all help to reduce stress for your cat. 

Do it on their terms

Let your cat approach you (or your visitors) first. If we approach them directly, it can feel threatening. Let them get used to people by simply sitting near them quietly and calmly, perhaps while doing something else like watching the TV, so they can get used to your presence without any pressure or stress.


There are a whole range of useful resources out there to help, but if you're concerned about your cat and their behaviour, it's always best to speak with their vet. 

18/01/2023 by NatuTeam

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