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Got a Scaredy Cat? How to Help Your New Feline Overcome Fears.

Working with a shy or fearful cat takes time and patience, but the experience is rewarding. For a nervous or under-socialized cat, the world can be a frightening place. If a feline feels threatened—even if fears are imaginary—he can quickly retreat from social activities and spend all day under the bed or in a closet. But pet parents have plenty of resouces to help timid kitties gain confidence and live a peaceful, happy life among humans and other pets.

Determine the source

First and foremost, try to determine the source of your cat's fears. Loud household appliances, your teen's rock music played at top volume, or even a blow dryer can startle a kitty. Do what you can to soften the decibels: close the kitchen door when using the blender, forgo obsessive cleaning or ask your teenager to use headphones while your cat is acclimating to the household.

Fear of dogs? Stranger danger?

If it’s the dog who's nosing at her food dish or invading her space, it’s best to separate the two until your cat gets used to the household. If it’s new people she’s not used to, don’t drag her out to show off your newest family member. Just ignore her and let her burrow under the loveseat and come out when she's ready or the company is gone.

Take him higher

Anxious or not, most cats like vertical space when things get stressful. Being able to observe the playing field from a higher vantage point makes cats feel safe. A cat climbing structure that is at least 6-7 feet tall is best, some very sturdy shelves, or even the top of a refrigerator can make your kitty feel more in control. He'll be able to observe the panorama below and determine for himself that he's not in enemy territory.  

Give kitty a room of her own

While a cat is assessing her new surroundings the best course of action is to give her a space to call her own. Set up a room or sheltered area with food, water, a cozy sleeping spot, toys and a clean litter box. A corner of your office where you can shut the door, a spare bedroom or a little-used bathroom will do nicely.

It’s recommended that the person she is the least fearful of make regular visits and spend time in the room with her. Not attempting to pet or engage her, just being a comforting presence, so she begins to realize that when her pet parent is there, nothing scary happens.

She’ll let you know when she’s ready to join the general population, when she starts venturing out of her kitty den and begins exploring other rooms. But don’t be in a hurry, there is no set time limit to how long it takes to socialize a nervous kitty. Two steps forward and one step back may be the rule. But the first time your once-nervous Nellie sidles up next to you on the bed and gently headbutts your arm, you'll know it's all been worth it.