Cats can be elusive, especially when they are nervous and don’t want to be found. We understand that if your new cat spends most of her time hiding from you, you might be worried that she isn’t going to bond with you. It will take time, but you can help your cat along.
Be patient. “The new kitty is frightened and needs time to feel secure enough in her new home to come out from hiding,” says Pamela J. Perry, DVM, PhD, Behavior Resident at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. Your cat just had a huge life change. New home, new people, new pets (if you have others already). This is a lot for a cat to take in! Expect that it will take at least several days, possibly several weeks, before your cat is comfortable strolling through the house.
Make the world outside her hiding spot more attractive. “Leave tasty food and treats nearby for the new kitty,” says Dr. Perry. “The aroma will entice her to leave her hiding space.”
Allow your new kitty to explore the house at her own pace. Usually, it is best to limit a new cat to a large dog crate or a single room at first so she can learn where her food, water, and litter box are, then gradually expand her territory. When giving her access to a new room, just leave the door open and let her check it out when she wants to. Many cats may wait until evening to explore because the darkness makes them comfortable, but always make sure your kitty has a path back to her “safe zone.”
Make sure other pets are being polite. Any dogs and other cats that you have are probably very interested in the newcomer, and this attention can be overwhelming. A looming dog, whether friendly or not, can be scary for a cat and may cause the cat to hunker down and stay put in her hiding spot.
And resident cats don’t always give the warmest welcome. Your first cat may guard key resources, such as food or the litter box, so it is important to have at least two of everything so that the new cat can get to whatever she needs even if the other cat isn’t keen on sharing.
Hang out and chat. Get your new cat accustomed to your voice, smell, and mannerisms simply by spending time near where she likes to hide. Stay on the opposite side of the room at first, if possible, and read aloud or talk on the phone (light conversations only—no yelling at the FedEx driver for losing your package!). You can also work on your laptop or do some crafting or household chores. Getting to observe these activities lets your cat know that you are not a threat, and that you coming into her room doesn’t mean she’s going to be bothered.
Over time you can get more animated, moving around the room more, going in and out, and starting to make eye contact with your new kitty and move closer to her hiding spot.
You can sit in the room while your cat is eating so that she associates you with tasty food. Wait a couple days before trying this though, as initially many cats are so stressed by a move that they won’t eat in front of an audience.
Physical contact on her terms. “Do not approach,” says Dr. Perry. “Instead, let the cat be the one who initiates contact. If she approaches, calmly extend your forefinger to see if she sniffs it. If she rubs against your finger, it’s a sign that she might welcome some gentle scratching under her chin or along the sides of her cheek.” If your new kitty ducks away, don’t push the issue. She will feel more comfortable being close to you if she knows she can get away if she begins to feel uncomfortable.
The first few times your new cat hops up onto furniture near you, don’t reach out to pet her. Let her explore the couch or chair and just hang out with you. If she approaches, calmly see if she is interested in being petted. Many cats will pick a “favorite” person that they allow to pet them first, but over time, your cat will usually become comfortable with the whole family.
Engage in play. You may be thinking, “My cat is afraid of me! She’s not going to play!” But there are little games that you can play with your new cat from a distance. If she is food motivated, toss a kibble or cat treat into her hiding spot where she can easily reach it. As she gets quicker about snagging the treat, toss it so that she must inch out of her shelter a little. Depending on the room, you can get her to chase kibbles farther away from you first, and then work on having them land closer to you. You don’t want to overdo this game, because she will get full and/or bored quickly, but 10 to 12 tiny treats at a time should leave her wanting more.
You can play a similar game using rolling toys but will need several toys. Roll one gently toward where your cat is so she can bat at it then, when she grows tired of that one, roll another.
A toy on a long string or wand makes play at a distance even easier. Just wave the toy in front of your kitty’s hideaway to get her engaged and, over time, lure her out. Don’t try to touch her while playing unless she voluntarily approaches you—you don’t want her to think that the wand toy is a trap.
Using these strategies helps your cat to feel more comfortable in your home and come out of hiding. Be patient and know that soon enough you will have a furry friend running through the halls!