Shy kitten? Tips from a foster volunteer to help build trust

by | Cat Care Interesting Pet Planning |

There is nothing so rewarding as watching a timid, shy cat flourish into an affectionate, loving companion animal. This journey takes time, patience and lots of edible and tangible positive reinforcements. 

Where do you begin if you have a timid, shy cat or kitten in your life? Perhaps you are fostering one, or maybe you’ve just adopted a cat who is still learning to trust you. Love and patience  are the main ingredients required. Everything after that is just a bonus. 

Time to settle in

Be sure to give your new arrival lots of time to settle in and adjust to their new surroundings. As time goes by, it might be wise to bring out some interactive toys combined with tasty treats. These are good introductory activities and rewards. Remember to talk in a calm, soothing voice. Be sure not to make any sudden movements that could frighten them. 

Feeding time is an excellent opportunity to bond with your cat. Slowly dish out  some delicious canned   food (but not the whole can) and he or she likely will soon be very interested. The trick is to make positive associations between yourself and desirable items, such as food, treats and playtime. Spend as much time as you possibly can with your new addition so they adjust to you being around. If possible, even sleep in the same room with the cat or kitten so that he or she will bond even closer to you. 

Adjusting to the environment

It’s important to note that every kitty is an individual and connects with humans at different times and in different ways. Some may take a week or two, while others gradually bond over months or even years. 

We suggest limiting the cat to one room upon arrival for a few days. This helps to prepare a sanctuary or “safe zone.” Preparing a sanctuary that is quiet and predictable is important to help your shy cat to adjust. You can then gradually increase access to the rest of the home/apartment. 

Generally keeping the house nice and tranquil will help them to settle into their new surroundings and become familiar with the new sights and sounds. Don’t be alarmed if your kitty is not very hungry when arriving at your house. It may take time for them to adjust and they will eat when they feel it’s safe to do so. If after 24 to 48 hours he or she is not eating the tasty treats you are offering, contact your veterinarian.

Hiding spots

Cats often feel safe and secure if they can hide. It may be advantageous to provide  a few hiding spots such as a cardboard box. To ease the cat’s stress, a cat pheromone product called Feliway® is often recommended as it alleviates their anxiety. It is also shown to eliminate unwanted behaviours, like urinating outside of the litter box. 

In time, and by using the above techniques, you may make progress with your feline companion. The truth is that he or she may always be a little on the shy side, but shy kitties can make excellent companions, too. Every day, you get to see the progress they are making. So every day is exciting and full of surprises. 

Interested in becoming a foster volunteer? Visit to learn more.

Amanda Gordon is a long-time donor and foster volunteer with the Ontario SPCA Muskoka Animal Centre. She has two furry family members, Buster (dog) and Chipotle (cat), and has a soft spot for adopting senior dogs with special needs.