Does your cat make a beeline under the bed whenever the doorbell rings? Does he seem to disappear into thin air whenever a visitor enters your home? If this sounds like your feline companion, you’re not alone. Many cats are shy when it comes to visitors.
Fear of strangers can be a normal behavior in cats, says E’Lise Christensen Bell, DVM, DACVB, a board-certified veterinary behaviorist at Behavior Vets in New York, New York.
“Many cats are very particular about their friends, and it can take a long time for them to be comfortable with new people,” she says. “In addition, cats are territorial, so when non-family members come into the home, it can be very stressful for them. They may hide, hiss, and in some cases, even scratch or bite.”
While this behavior can be frustrating if you want to introduce your cat to visitors, it’s never a good idea to insist on an interaction. Instead, Dr. Christensen Bell recommends making hiding as comfortable as possible for your cat.
“Fearful cats deserve a space away from strangers,” she says. “If your cat prefers to hide, make sure elevated and floor-level hiding areas are easily accessible. If your cat has a favorite room, make it a spa! Add food puzzles, water, some tiny treats, and a litter box.”
Some cats don’t disappear completely but keep their distance from visitors while in the same room. You can encourage them to feel safe by using pheromone therapy to help them relax—a room diffuser or pheromone collar should work—and by enlisting your guests to help.
“If your cat likes to stay out with visitors, have visitors gently toss one or two tiny favorite treats to the side and behind where the cat is resting,” says Dr. Christensen Bell.
This will help your cat associate something positive—a yummy treat—with visitors.
Although your guests may be anxious to have physical contact with your kitty, Dr. Christensen Bell recommends that your company play hard to get.
“No petting, even if the cat approaches or facially bunts a visitor,” she says. “Fearful cats are most likely to warm up to you if you don’t look at them, talk to them, or reach out to them. This allows them to investigate at their own pace, smell you, and decide if they feel safe enough to spend more time with you.”
Whatever you do, don’t force your cat to be around your visitors. This will only make him feel unsafe and even more distrustful of guests. Instead, help him feel secure when people come over. Who knows? If he comes to associate positive things when company comes to visit, he may one day decide to make friends.
This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.