Will This Timid Cat Behavior Ever End?

by Wendy Laguarda
(McLean, Virginia)

Scared of me after 1 1/2 years, will this timid cat behavior ever end? I have a rescue cat who was found in a deserted house with 14 other cats. I adopted him when he was a bit over a year old. He hid under my couch for the first 6 months, but every day I laid on the floor and sang to him and petted him while he was hiding. He loved it because he purred the whole time. After six months, I adopted a kitten(male)and they became instant best friends. Now, my older cat (named Belvedere)is out and about all day with Bombay (the little one). They are both neutered and remain indoors only because they are also declawed. They have the run of all 3 floors of the house and I have beds, blankets, toys, water and litter boxes on each floor. They seem very happy. Belevedere is also vocal and lets me know when to wake up, feed him, and when it's time to go upstairs to bed at night. I love him so much -- he is the most gentle and loving cat except for one thing: he still is extemely skittish and only lets me pick him up once in a blue moon. He runs away from everyone else when they try to go near him. Although he has come out of his shell immensely in the 1 and 1/2 that I've had him, he still is so afraid of people. Can I expect this fear to ever go away and is there something else I can be doing to help him? Thank you for your advice, Dr. Neely!

Hi, Wendy,

My heart is warmed and yet I am amused also by your story. It just so happens that I have the exact same situation going on in my home right now.

I rescued a 6 month old male who was about to be euthanized by a pet store about 1 and 1/2 years ago. It was love at first sight for me, but he couldn't be held, couldn't be touched, wouldn't come near me or anyone else for close to a year. This has been an unusual experience for me because it has never taken that long before for me to gain the trust of even some feral cats I have worked with.

Your approach has been perfect and your progress is actually quite good. I know you are impatient as am I with my little one, however you have made great strides.

My kitty ran out of the room every time anyone including myself entered for almost a year. Slowly he began to come a little closer because he saw my other cats close to me and also because he has a great love of food. Any type of food. He obviously spent some time without enough food before I rescued him. Food and toys that give him a little space between the two of us have been enormously helpful in his domestication.

It has been almost 2 years and only within the last month has he started jumping up on the sofa beside me and if he is looking the other way, he allows me to pet him briefly. He loves it, but is still so shy. He will roll over and purr and appear that he is begging for me to pet him, but only at a distance that I can't quite reach to pet him again. Last week, there was real progress when I woke up one morning to find him staring me in the face. He was lying right beside my pillow and was very content and happy. He allowed me to pet him longer than usual because he moved away.

I don't try to pick him up anymore although I did in the beginning. That only made him take steps backward. If he is in my pathway as I'm making my way to another part of the house, I take great care to circle far from him around the perimeter of the room. This has given him much greater confidence that I am not coming after him and he doesn't need to run everytime someone moves.

I love him dearly and of course wish he would allow me to cuddle him. However, I am very happy for the progress we have made. I believe over time he will become even more confident and be closer to me, but I know now it can take months to years. I believe the same is true in your case.

Continue what you are doing. Don't force yourself on him. Be quiet and calm around him. If you haven't tried interacting with him using a toy or special food, try that. Also, having another cat is a great help. My little one learned a great deal about trusting me from watching my other cats who are all over me all the time.

Your cat and mine may never be cats that want to be picked up and held. However, I'm sure you know, cats can be very affectionate and loving and close to you without ever being picked up.

Keep up the good work and pat yourself on the back for saving him and giving him a happy home. I know that is reward enough.


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