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Why Are Some Cats So Skittish?

Does your cat run and hide the moment anyone comes over to visit? Do loud noises make your cat dash under furniture? Are you worried something may be wrong with your cat?

It may be worrisome to see your cat so skittish. However, this is usually not a problem. Your cat may be timid by nature or reacting with fear to changes in the environment. 

There are some ways to encourage your cat to be more sociable and to help you interact with a skittish cat. Read on for more information!

Is being skittish natural or behavioral? 


Like humans, cats are born with different personalities. Some cats are just naturally more skittish than others. 

Genetics plays a role in whether or not you get a bold, daring cat or a more timid, skittish one. 

You first need to determine whether these behaviors are brand new or have always been there. This can be tricky with a new pet, so patience is important. 

A naturally shy cat will always act that way around strangers; however, the cat should eventually warm up to you and stay out and enjoy being petted while you are around. 

Shy cats are very at ease around people they are comfortable with.


On the other hand, some cats are skittish because they have not been exposed to other humans. This can be due to the cat having been born feral. 

Feral cats are wild and afraid of humans. This makes them more apt to hide and hiss when humans approach. 

Even a young feral kitten may have already picked up on these tendencies from its mother. 

A cat can also lack socialization due to being at a shelter. Some shelters don’t get much foot traffic, so the cats are not used to humans. 

The previous owner could have had few visitors. It’s also a possibility that the cat could have been abused in the past. 


Another reason your cat may be skittish is because of the environment. If there are loud noises or insufficient spaces for your cat to hide, it can make your cat nervous. 

Even a slightly louder air conditioner can often cause a cat to run and hide.

Loud, boisterous guests can be intimidating. Tall guests can seem more predatorial, as well as males. Kids can touch and pick up cats, adding to a cat’s anxiety. 

Yet, other pets can also bother your cat and make it feel unsafe. 

Some cats don’t get along well, and one will pick on the other. Dogs can occasionally take to bullying a new cat, too.

Difference between a shy and a scared cat

Shy cat 

A shy cat is not very different behavior-wise from a scared cat, but the main difference you want to notice is whether this behavior is consistent or not. 

There are some clues that your cat may just be skittish by nature. For example, bolder cats usually react aggressively when they get scared, whereas shy cats just hide. 

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Shy cats prefer quieter environments and places of comfort when facing the unknown, like a visitor. 

If you have a new cat or kitten, watch how they act over time. If the cat comes out once the environmental change has passed, your cat is just shy. 

There is nothing wrong with this behavior as long as the cat is hiding in a safe place. The cat is just protecting itself in the way that it sees fit.

Scared cat 

Scared cats, however, will stay hidden even when it’s just you. If you’ve got a new cat and your cat constantly hides, give the cat some time to get used to you. 

Don’t try to pull the cat out of its hiding spot; it makes the cat even more afraid. A skittish cat may try to make itself seem as small as possible. 

When a cat is fearful, it will have wide, dilated eyes. It will also flatten its ears, stiffen its whole body, and tuck its tail. 

If you have adopted a cat from the shelter, it may be scared for a week or more, especially if it is an adult cat. 

Give your cat time to get acquainted with you before worrying about this behavior. 

Scared cats may even forgo food and water for a few days. They will more than likely come out at night. 

Watch for signs of your cat getting out once you go to bed. If they are, they will eventually come around you. 

Helping your cat to be less skittish

Can you train your cat to be less skittish

Training a scared cat to trust you.

If your cat won’t come out to play even when it’s just you, try slowly socializing your cat. You can sit in the room quietly with your cat each day. 

Talk to the cat while you are there to help it learn the cadence of your voice. Build routines that the cat can become familiar with. 

You can even feed the cat in its hiding spot to help build trust. 

Then, once you’ve built some trust, you can even begin to offer toys and treats, but don’t force it. Let the cat come to you on its own.

Socializing a skittish cat to strangers. 

If your cat isn’t fond of strangers, it’s ok for your cat to hide. 

However, if you have a kitten that you are trying to train to be more social, there are some ways you can warm your cat up to strangers. 

First, bring your cat out, supervised, into an area where the cat feels comfortable. Allow the cat to smell the environment. 

Then, introduce a new person at a distance to start. Reward the cat when they don’t panic. Let your cat lead the way. 

If the cat will, let it sniff the visitor. It may take several visits before the cat is ready for that. 

Once the cat does anything that shows progress towards socialization, reward them with a treat. Eventually, the cat will become comfortable with the visitor. 

Give your cat a safe place. 

To help your skittish cat to feel safer in your home, you may need safe places for the cat to rest. 

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If your cat hides in an unsafe place, make sure to block off access to that area to prevent injury. 

Cat trees are a great addition because they give the cat the higher ground advantage. Then, your cat can observe the action without feeling intimidated. 

Make sure there are rooms where your cat has safe hiding options away from guests. This gives your cat the option of getting away when they feel overwhelmed. 

Even if you have no other pets indoors, ensure no other cats bully yours in the yard. This can cause your cat to be afraid, even indoors. 

The same idea goes for children. If a child chases and pulls the cat out of its hiding spot, that can make it even more skittish, causing it to hide and avoid socializing. 

Offer treats and toys. 

To help socialize your skittish cat, rewards such as treats, affection, and toys encourage social behaviors. 

Every time your cat acts socially, provide your cat with its favorite reward. Rewarding your cat also helps create a bond between you and your pet. 

Also, having items with your cat’s scent on them will help your pet feel more at home.

Is skittish behavior a problem? 

Is skittish behavior a problem

Take care of your skittish cat’s needs. 

Even if you and your skittish cat coexist happily, certain tasks may become frightening for you if you have a skittish cat. 

For example, clipping your cat’s nails, cleaning its ears, bathing the cat, taking the cat to the vet, or giving the cat medication can become challenging when the cat hides in response. 

Take it slow and use caution. Skittish cats can lash out if they feel cornered. You need to have a trusted friend that the cat tolerates to help you. 

When performing a difficult but necessary task, gently wrap the cat with a towel or blanket to calm it. 

Reward the cat with its favorite treats after you are done caring for your pet.

When it’s time to take your cat to the vet. 

If your cat is normally social but has started to become more skittish, it is time to take your cat to the vet. 

Cats don’t always show symptoms of illness in ways that humans might. Behaviors can tell you a lot about how a cat is feeling. 

Drastic changes in behavior can be the cat’s reaction to an illness. Watch if your cat is eating, drinking, and using the litter normally. 

If the vet checks your cat and it does not have an illness, the behavioral change may be due to an environmental change. 

Cats are susceptible to their environment. You may want to identify any changes that have occurred and try to make the cat more comfortable with those changes.


In general, if your skittish kitty is a little more on the shy side, there is nothing wrong with that. 

Let them be if their behavior isn’t hurting themselves or anyone else. Cats come in with many different personalities. 

Some cats are loud or bold; others are timid and quiet. Embracing your cat’s natural abilities will help you bond better and live happier.