Helping a shy cat

How to Help Your Shy Cat Adjust to Their New Home

| March 4, 2022

When bringing a new cat into your home, excitement can take over. You will likely want to show them around their new digs to show how much love you have to offer. Although this will happen eventually, it’s important to make this transition as stress-free as possible for you and your new cat.  

While each cat will adjust on their own time, there are some things you can do to gradually help a shy cat begin to trust you, come out of their shell, and feel less anxious. Here are some tips to get you started.  

Prepare a sanctuary rom   

The sanctuary room is a cat haven, full of climbing spots, hiding spots, toys, a litterbox, and water and food bowls. This  room is intended to be your new cat’s space. Depending on how shy your new cat is, they may benefit from spending a few days or  weeks in here before having full access to the home. All interactions while the cat gets comfortable will occur in this space.  

When picking which room to use, the general rule of thumb is to pick a quiet, low traffic room – like your bedroom or a bathroom. And don’t worry, you won’t have to sleep on the couch if you set up the sanctuary room in bedroom. You can continue to use the room as you normally would.   

Click here for more information on how to setup a sanctuary room. 

Provide hiding places

Providing cats with hiding opportunities helps them cope with stress in a healthy way by concealing themselves from whatever they find threatening – and it could be as simple as giving your new cat a cardboard box.  

Dr. Jacklyn Ellis, Toronto Humane Society’s Director of Behaviour, published an article about this in the Journal of Applied Animal Behaviour Science. You can find a link to her abstract here. Her research found that providing a hiding box is effective in reducing stress in both shy cats and bold cats. Even for those cats who did not use the box as frequently, by having the hiding box there as an option, their stress was reduced significantly. 

Use food to build trust

Instead of leaving food out all the time, schedule meals so that your cat starts to associate your presence with the delivery of food. If your cat seems to respond well to food, carry some treats with you to gently toss nearby your cat when you pass them, or enter the room they may be in. 

Encourage interactive play

Some cats love to play and regular play sessions can help bring them out of their shell. The toy could be as simple as a string on a stick – this will put some distance between you and your cat while your cat gets comfortable. Gently move the toy to spark your cat’s interest – your cat may only be comfortable with reaching out with their paw while remaining hidden at first but keep it up! 

Have slow introductions

Introduction to other pets and people should happen gradually. It is best to do pet-to-pet introductions after the cat is already comfortable with you and their new home. Slow and steady wins the race! Here is more information on how to introduce your resident cat to your new cat. 

Be patient

You cannot rush the trust-building process. It may take your new cat anywhere from days to weeks for them to fully settle into their new home. Rushing the process will only damage your relationship long-term. It’s important to let your cat set the pace.  

This journey takes time, patience, and lots of positive reinforcement, but seeing your once shy cat grow into a confident and loving  companion animal will be well worth it.