Peek-a-boo – hello kitty, I see you!

Why do cats like to hide away? And what should you do if your timid tabby spends hours tucked away out of sight rather than enjoying time with you?

Posted: 03 July 2020

Peek-a-boo – hello kitty, I see you!

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Even the most confident of cats need some me-time to feel safe and secure and will take themselves off somewhere quiet and private to recharge. That’s why all cats deserve a cosy hideaway to withdraw from the world when they need to.

Rehoming charity Battersea advises: “Hiding places are one of your cat’s basic needs. Providing a selection of possible options, such as some open cupboard doors, areas under beds, cardboard boxes and gaps behind sofas will give your cat a choice of places to go when they feel scared.”


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If you have more than one cat, make sure that there are enough options to prevent the more assertive cat from taking up all the locations and excluding the others. 


There are all sorts of reasons why a cat might go into hiding. The most obvious is that they do it to feel safe, and to protect themselves from whatever it is they perceive as dangerous or stressful. 

Battersea says: “Cats as a species are self-reliant, so when faced with a difficult situation, your cat would naturally prefer to avoid it rather than charge in and fight. They may be frightened or just wary about something unfamiliar and might want to keep out of the way, just in case.” 


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Even elderly cats need private hideaways. However, stiff and painful joints make jumping up onto high places difficult – and felines love an elevated position where they can observe what’s going on without being seen. Provide several warm, ground level places, ready stocked with soft bedding and, if possible, construct some gradual steps (using a sturdy box or stool) up to your cat’s usual high place, so that they have the choice.


Feline welfare charity Cats Protection adds: “Hiding is a way of helping shy cats cope with being afraid or anxious. If your cat disappears to a cupboard or under a bed when a stranger enters the house, try to leave them to it.”


Some of the things that may cause your cat to hide include:

  • People – cats often hide from visitors
  • Unexpected noises they’re not used to, such as fireworks
  • Recent changes at home, which could be anything from new furniture, a new carpet, building work or a new baby
  • A new pet at home or nearby – cats don’t like sharing resources such as litter boxes, food bowls and special sleeping spots
  • A recent change to your routine. Being creatures of habit, if your schedule changes, then this may up your cat’s stress levels 

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Never disturb your cat while they are using one of their hiding places (unless it’s essential) and avoid disrupting or cleaning the areas too frequently or they won’t feel safe and secure there.


Cats are all individuals, and it may be that you have a cat that’s simply timid by nature. This can be down to a combination of genetics, a lack of interaction with humans during their formative, first eight weeks of life or a bad experience. Cats Protection states: “If your cat hasn’t been exposed to a full range of experiences (from unfamiliar sounds to a wide range of people), the likelihood of it being scared of these experiences will increase.”

However, there are lots of ways that cat guardians can help a shy, nervous or timid cat come out of their shell. Cats Protection recommends:

  • Providing plenty of refuges where they can hide. Cats de-stress more quickly if they can hide, preferably somewhere high and dark, such as behind sofas or on shelves
  • Preventing other cats from entering your home by windows, doors or cat flaps. Make sure your cat is not being bullied in the garden or intimidated by other cats through windows or doors
  • Maintaining daily routines so your cat knows what to expect
  • Using synthetic scent pheromones (such as Feliway or Pet Remedy ). These can help reassure your cat and reduce stress
  • Sitting quietly near your cat so they can get used to you in their own time. Ignore them while you read a book or take a nap so they don't feel pressurised or anxious in your presence. Do this while they are eating, or give them a small food treat so they associate you with a positive experience
  • Letting your cat approach you. Direct approaches are extremely threatening, so don't force attention on your cat
  • Blinking slowly at your cat. Narrow your eyes so they are half open and then turn your face away slowly to reassure your cat that you’re not a threat

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Don’t stroke your cat he or she is hiding. Your attempt to comfort them may accidentally increase their stress levels. Wait for your cat to come out of their own accord and ask for attention from you.


As your cat gains confidence, start talking to them quietly in a calming tone, rewarding them with a treat if they approach you. At first, give the treat as soon as they approach, but gradually increase the time between the approach and the treat. Over a period of weeks, work up to calmly stroking your cat once or twice before giving the treat. Use small toys you can gently throw for them – such as a ball of foil, scrunched up paper or a ping pong ball – so they get used to the idea that you’re fun (and safe) to be around. Fishing rod toys allow your cat to interact with you without feeling threatened by close contact.


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Due to their instinct to be self-reliant, injured or unwell cats will often seek out a safe and enclosed space where they can remain until they feel better. If your cat continually hides, it’s best to consult your vet to rule out or diagnose any medical issues.


Please note, that due to coronavirus restrictions, veterinary practices are abiding by set protocols, in line with national guidelines from the British Veterinary Association and the Government. Urgent cases and emergencies will still be treated – but check with your local practice about the procedures they have in place to keep people, as well as animals, safe.


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Sources: Battersea.org.uk, cats.org.uk

 

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