Adopting a Fearful Cat

August 2019

Audience: Foster Caregivers, Public, Shelter/Rescue Staff & Volunteers

Fear is common and a perfectly normal, innate, and adaptive behavior of all animals. Although it's possible that a fearful cat has suffered abuse or bad experiences, most of the time fear results from a lack of exposure with positive experiences. Fear also comes from being in a new and unknown environment, or it could be part of a genetic predisposition. Most cats are fearful at first in a new environment and will adjust in time. However, if fear isn't addressed, it can develop into serious behavioral and health problems.

How to set up a new home for a fearful cat
Fearful cats usually do best in relatively quiet homes or quiet areas of the home. Most fearful cats are not suitable for young children. Most children want to engage with their new cats and loud noises or sudden movements can further frighten the already fearful cat. However, with gentle care, many fearful cats become more confident as they get used to their living space and daily routine. The amount of time it takes a cat to settle into a new home varies from case to case. Some cats may take a week; others may take months, depending on the individual personalities.

Confinement to a small, quiet room with appropriate hiding spots will help your cat get through the transition to a new home. Be sure to place food and water, as well as the litter box, within easy reach of your cat. Keep the cat confined until they feel comfortable and shows signs of wanting to explore further outside their surroundings.

Over time, gradually increase the space you allow your cat to explore the rest of the house. Always make sure they have access to their initial safe space. Many fearful cats bond to their caretakers and make wonderful pets, but may always remain shy towards strangers.

Patience and understanding are essential with fearful cats. They will give you plenty of love and purrs in return!

This document created by the San Francisco SPCA with a grant from Maddie's Fund®.

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