Sometimes, adopting a cat doesn’t go exactly according to plan. You come home and open the carrier, ready to start playing and snuggling right away — but then your new furry friend goes straight under the bed and doesn’t come out for a week!
Cats, especially adult rescued cats who may have had a rough life, need time to adjust to a new space and new people. It can be intimidating for them to enter an environment where everything is unfamiliar. But with a lot of patience and a few treats, you’ll be able to forge a lifelong bond with a scared cat.
Here are a few things to remember as you begin:
If you’ve just brought a new cat into your home, close off a small space where he or she can stay for the first several days. Large, open spaces can be scary to cats. Giving them a smaller space (like a bathroom or a guest bedroom) feels more manageable and helps them observe the household to get adjusted at their own pace. Put the cat’s food, bed, and litter box in the room for the first several days. From there, your cat can listen to the sounds of your household and slowly get used to your family.
There are other helpful things you can do to avoid overwhelming your new cat, too. For example, don’t introduce him or her to every member of the family at the same time — especially if you have kids or other pets. Instead, make a point to introduce only one person at a time and to do so in calm situations.
When your new cat is eating her food, using the litter box, and seems comfortable interacting with you, leave the door open so she can explore the rest of the house on her own terms.
Try to avoid vacuuming, slamming doors, or making any other sudden, loud noises. Even loud footsteps can startle a timid cat.
Continue with the normal sounds of your household such as the dishwasher, TV, or talking over the dinner table so your cat can get used to that background noise. But as much as possible, keep your house a relatively quiet place for the first several days as your cat gets adjusted.
Make sure you are not unintentionally scaring your cat with your body language.
Don’t stare directly at your cat or stand towering over her; this might seem threatening. When you go to pet her, approach your cat from the side and gently stroke her head or ears.
Never force your cat to be petted or held. Cats need to do things on their own time, and they like to feel in control. As you interact with your new cat, follow their lead, and let them set the pace. It may be a few days before you even try to pet them. Instead, just quietly enter the room and sit on the floor so they can get used to your presence and come greet you if they’d like.
Help your cat associate you with positive things by offering yummy treats or fun toys.
Don’t overdo it with treats — too many might cause weight gain. But a few each day can go a long way in creating that positive bond with your new pet. If your cat won’t eat the treat while you’re present, don’t leave the treat on the floor; bring it back with you later so the cat will begin to associate good things with you.
Playtime is helpful here, too. If your cat is still too shy to play with you directly, tie a ribbon to your belt loop and walk around the house to see if your cat will come investigate the tail dragging along the floor. Playing with toys will also allow you to observe your cat and get a feel for her personality.
Another way to bond with your cat is by brushing her every day. It may take a while before your cat is comfortable with this – but once they are, you can knock out grooming and bonding at the same time.
Every cat’s personality is different. In general, though, your cat will most likely start to warm up to you after a few days or, at most, a few weeks.
However, if your cat continues to act constantly frightened something else might be going on. Make sure to schedule a vet visit in case your cat has an illness that you are not aware of. There’s also a chance your cat may have suffered abuse in the past that’s contributing to its current fear. In that case, your vet can offer some helpful tips on what to try next.