Taming Your Little Lion (The Fearful Cat)

Why Are Some Kittens Fearful?

Fearful behaviour in kittens can be caused by various factors. Insufficient exposure to humans and/or a variety of stimuli during kittenhood as well as traumatizing events in their lives, can teach them to react fearfully towards people or new situations. At the Regina Humane Society, typically these are kittens that were born to a wild mother and have had little to no human contact.

What is Cuddle Therapy?

When these types of kittens are encountered at RHS, they are placed on a regimen of “Cuddle Therapy”. The process is essentially to handle and love the kittens as much as possible so that they become accustomed to handling and become less afraid of people. Kittens learn that the people providing them food and love are not bad, and very soon start to come around and allow handling. With every interaction, the kittens become more brave and social. Once a kitten allows handling and interacts with their handler, they are made available for adoption. That is where YOU come in! These kittens are started on the road to socialization, but it is important that the adopter continue to work with these little guys so that they do not regress. With a little time and patience, these kittens will be happy, well socialized animals and a joy to their adoptive families.

How to Introduce a Fearful Kitten to a New Home

Fearful kittens usually do best in relatively quiet homes. They are often not suitable for young children as children can easily scare them with loud noises or sudden movements. Many fearful kittens that come to the RHS slowly become more confident as they get used to their living space and daily routine. Going to a new, strange environment can throw some of these kittens off and cause them to regress at first. However, if you follow the procedures outlined in this handout this should only be temporary. The amount of time it takes a kitten to settle into a new home varies from case to case. Some kittens may take a week; others may take months, depending on the individual personalities.

Bring your fearful kitten home to a secluded room set up specifically for the kitten. This “home base” provides a quiet place to adjust to new surroundings. Include a litter box, food dish and water bowl as well as a cat bed and some toys. Make sure the room is warm and comfortable. The first step is to calm the kitten and help her feel secure. Your new kitten will become curious about the rest of the house before you know it.

How to Establish a Trusting Relationship

Many fearful kittens bond to their caretaker(s) and make wonderful pets but retain shyness with strangers and hide when people come over.

Tips that Will Help to Bring Your New Kitty Out of Her Shell
  • Establish a schedule for feeding, litter box cleaning, and visiting time. Training a kitten involves first obtaining the kitten’s trust. Once this animal sees you as a provider, she will warm up to you. Visit the kitten at regular times each day to care for her basic needs. A desperately afraid animal also seeks something to ease that desperation. Be calm, encouraging and supportive.
  • Always talk softly and move slowly around the kitten. Avoid staring at her, since this can be perceived as a threat. It helps to get down to the kitten’s level when interacting with her instead of towering over her. Gentle handling, petting around the face, head and ears are the best calming tools for frightened kittens.
  • Food can be used as a bonding tool by feeding the kitten special treats at a scheduled time, in addition to offering dry food at all times. This will help the kitten make a positive association between you and the food. Try a particularly smelly brand of wet food or traditional cat treats, it can take some time to determine what kitty likes best.
  • Never attempt to pull the kitten from her hiding place or force her to be held. This will increase her fearfulness and may even result in bites or scratches. When she is ready she will come to you. Until then, gently pet her in her hiding place.
  • Encourage play with interactive toys (e.g. cat dancer, fishing pole type toy), but make sure that the toy you are using is not big and scary. Some kittens are very play-motivated and regular play sessions can help bring them out of their shell and out of hiding.
  • Try not to startle the kitten. If you have to do anything noisy in the house (e.g. vacuum, moving furniture, having a dinner party), confine the kitten to her “safe” room.
  • Once the kitten has full access to the house, move the dishes, litter box, toys, and bed to permanent locations in the house. You may want to leave a litter box in the “safe room” for a bit to make sure that she has access to a litter box should she become frightened again and retreat to her room again. Leave the secluded room door open so your kitten can hide if she wants to, but encourage your kitten to be part of the family. Recognize that adjustment to a new home takes time, especially for a frightened animal. Remember to maintain the same reliable schedule of feeding, litter box cleaning, playtime and grooming.
  • Lavish love and attention on your new kitten. Regardless of your kitten’s history, your care is what matters now. Keep earning your animal’s trust with daily care, playtime and routine.

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