Don't worry if your new kitten won't come out of hiding; this behavior can be a coping mechanism for a scared or anxious pet. Whether they are hiding under the bed, behind the couch, or somewhere else in your home, understanding the reasons behind the hiding can help you find the best way to comfort and reassure your furry friend.
Coping With a Kitten Who Won't Come Out of Hiding
Although you may feel like you're the only feline enthusiast who has ever faced this problem, you really aren't alone. Most people have been through this same scenario when dealing with a kitten. As soon as you turn your back, kitty has split to parts unknown, and you may not see them for days.
Admittedly, the situation can leave you feeling frustrated and a bit like a failure, but your kitten's behavior actually has less to do with your personal appeal than you may realize. Let's take a closer look at the situation from a couple of different perspectives.
Dealing With a New House Pet
Bringing home a new kitten can be a wonderful experience, especially as you and your new charge become better acquainted. However, every kitten's personality is unique, and you can never predict how an individual is going to react to their new surroundings.
Some kittens are quite bold and will begin to claim your house as their territory from the moment they step in the door. This might even include introducing themselves to your other resident pets in a less than gentle way. On the other hand, some kittens are very wary when entering new territory, and even more so when there are already other pets in residence.
In situations like these, many new kittens will immediately search for small, out-of-the-way nooks to hide. Unfortunately, unless you happen to see your pet dart into their chosen hidey-hole, you may have no idea where they have gone. You may also not see them again for days, but rest assured that given enough time and patience, they will eventually emerge in your presence.
Tips to Prevent a New Kitten From Hiding
Here are a few tips to follow anytime you bring a new kitten home.
- Before opening the carrier and letting your kitten loose in the house, make sure the environment is secure. Close all doors leading outside or to potentially unsafe rooms like the garage or crawl space.
- If possible, confine your kitten to a small room with easy access to their litter box, food, and water for the first couple of days. This will give them time to become acclimated in a quiet environment as they become used to your household's typical noise levels. This also helps litter box training to get off to a good start.
- Before you do anything else, introduce your kitten to the location of their litter box and food dishes. This way, if your kitten does happen to pull a vanishing act, they'll know where to go to take care of business after everyone has gone to bed.
- If your kitten does hide away in your home, don't try to drag them out of hiding. This may actually upset them more than necessary, and they will likely disappear again at the very next opportunity.
- Instead, go about your business, talking calmly to yourself as you do. This will give your kitten a chance to become used to your voice as well as your "vibe."
- Watch for signs that your kitten has come out when no one is around. You might find the litter box has been used or that the levels in the food bowls are lower than they were.
If you provide a calm and non-threatening environment, your kitten should gradually begin to come out of hiding more frequently and for longer periods, eventually taking their place in the household hierarchy.
If They Continue to Hide
You've been patient and done everything correctly, and yet the kitten still hides away. What's to be done? Quite a lot as it happens. The key to success is building the cat's confidence and using their natural sense of curiosity to distract them out of hiding. The Cats Protection League makes some suggestions about how to do this:
- Spend time in their company: Yes, you do that already, but do you do this lying on the floor? People are giants to cats and kittens, so make yourself less threatening by lying on the floor. This makes you less imposing for them to investigate.
- Don't look directly at them: A direct stare is a challenge to a fight. Much as you are besotted with the new addition, avoid staring. Instead, turn your head to one side and watch from the corner of your eye.
- Make yourself super irresistible: Find the tastiest, scrummiest, most irresistible cat treats you can find. Whilst lying on the floor, head averted, toss a treat or two close to the cat. Now close your eyes and have a nap. The idea is not to react in any way if they venture out to snag the treat. This will build their confidence. As t hey grow bolder and emerge more often, gradually reduce the distance you toss the treat. Eventually, you should be able to rest a treat in your palm and have them take it.
- Use scent handshakes: For those times you can't spend time with them, pop an item of your clothing in their bed or hide. This helps them get used to your scent and accept you.
- Up the ante with pheromones: Feliway is a synthetic cat pheromone, which sends out a scent message telling the cat they are safe. Spritz your hands and clothes with Feliway spray, to make yourself the cat whisperer, and use a plug-in Feliway diffuser near their bed.
Know that some cats require an endless supply of patience. Some cats are so anxious or fearful that it takes weeks, months, or years to win them over... but you will get there eventually.
The Cat That Starts Hiding
If your normally sociable cat starts to hide, the first thing to do is ask yourself, "Why?" Chances are, they feel threatened, frightened, or anxious, and are obeying their natural instinct to go to ground. Instead of forcing them out of hiding, be a detective and seek clues as to what's changed in their world. It might be a stray has invaded their space, you may have remodeling work going on, construction outside, or they don't like the new dog.
Gradual or sudden hiding could also be an indication of illness in cats. A cat who doesn't feel well won't venture out as often and may take to hiding in comfortable places away from others. Even if your cat doesn't appear sick, a trip to the vet can reveal any hidden ailments or give you peace of mind that your friend is well.
Animal Planet suggests once you've identified the cause of the hiding, think about how best to correct it. This may take lateral thinking, such as confining the cat to one room with full en suite facilities, until the building work is finished. However, one thing's for sure: Never force them out of hiding. In fact, the opposite is true. Try providing them with extra hiding places (empty cardboard boxes work well) in each room. Cats enjoy perching, so cat trees with covered landings can serve as a great vantage point to view the entire room. Then they will be more likely to venture out again, knowing they're never far from safety.
Socializing a Stray Cat
Socializing a stray cat or feral cat is usually more difficult than making friends with a kitten that is already used to living with people. If you happen to come across a stray holed up under your porch, in your bushes, or taking up residence in your garage, it's very important that you don't try to pull the animal from their hiding place. This is only likely to make them fear you more. It's more productive to win the kitten's trust in stages until you can convince them that you only have the best of intentions.
- Begin by setting out food and water near their hiding place.
- Be sure to speak softly to them as you do so and every time you pass their location.
- Eventually, you should be able to remain within their sight when they come to the dishes.
- Try to decrease your distance just a little each day until you are within arm's reach of the kitten when they dine.
- When you are within this range, begin bringing an especially tempting treat such as a sardine. If you're lucky, you may be able to coax the kitten a little closer, even if you have to drop the treat on the ground to convince them to take it.
- If all goes as planned, the kitten will eventually be willing to take the treat from your hand. If you are slow and gentle, you may be able to touch the kitten briefly at this point.
- Continue on this path until the kitten allows you to pet them freely. Once you can, the kitten will likely stop hiding and seek out your company of their own free will.
- Stray kittens can carry diseases, so it's a good idea to protect yourself and any other pets until the kitten has seen the vet.
- Once they trust you, bring them in for a wellness check and to be spayed or neutered. Even if you can't keep the stray cat indoors as a pet, sterilizing them will help to keep the homeless population down. Many Trap, Neuter, Release (TNR) programs will take care of the cost so you don't have to.
Time and Patience
It is a cat's natural instinct to hide when anxious. However, there are no short cuts, and forcing them to leave a sanctuary will only traumatize them. Follow the tips above, be patient, and eventually, you will win their confidence. The end result is a beautiful relationship with your fur-friend based on mutual trust and understanding: a wonderful thing which is worth waiting for.