Help Newly Adopted Kittens Overcome Fear

Many an owner of a newly adopted kitten has become concerned when the new family member is found hiding under the sofa rather than coming out to play. This is especially true if the kitten seemed bold, social, and playful at the shelter, foster’s home, or the home where she was born.

The Causes of Fear

Most kittens are adopted between eight and ten weeks of age. An eight-week-old kitten weighs on average about two pounds, with 10-week-old kittens slightly larger. When you bring your kitten home she’s going to be a tiny creature in a large unknown world; that alone will inspire fear.

In addition, she doesn’t know the people in her new home, where her food is, or why she’s there without her mother and littermates. Add in excited children playing as well as the pets already in her new home and yes, she has reason to be worried.

Fear is a life-saving emotion for any animal. Fear makes an animal cautious in a potentially dangerous situation. The kitten who hides will more likely be safer from danger than the kitten who dashes out to greet the threat. Unfortunately, too much fear or fear that continues can reduce the kitten’s ability to bond with her new owners as well as enjoy her new home.

Lessening The Initial Worry

Newly adopted kittens shouldn’t be brought home and then turned loose in their new house. The new environment as well as the hustle and bustle of the new home will be too much for most kittens, causing them to run and hide.

Eventually, your kitten will adapt to her new home, but the goal is to help her adapt gradually, with as little fear as possible. To help her adjust, set up the kitten’s food, water, cat tree, toys, and litterbox in one quiet room. A small bedroom or the guest bathroom works great.

Family members can go in one or two at a time to sit with the kitten so she can get used to them. As she stops hiding and begins greeting people, start playing with her. Dangling toys, feather toys, and small stuffed toys with bells are great fun.

When she greets people happily as they come into the room with her, begin bringing her out to see the rest of the house for an hour or two at a time. Make sure the children in the family limit active play during these times, and don’t let other pets in the family chase the kitten. After an hour or two, put the kitten back in her safe spot.

When The Kitten Is Ready

Each kitten will adapt at her own pace. Some are ready to join the household in a couple of weeks while others may need a couple of months.

Watch the kitten in her times out with the family and follow her cues. For example, if she hides when the kids are playing, just put her in her room when things get too active for her.

You may find that she’ll go back to her room on her own, and that’s wonderful. Leave the door open and let her come and go as she wishes; she knows that’s her safe place.

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.