How to Pet a Scared Cat

Written by missy zane
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How to Pet a Scared Cat
Befriending a scared cat takes time and patience. (street cat gaze image by Maya Tairy from

You've just adopted a beautiful adult cat from a shelter, and all you want to do is touch her. But she's terrified and hides when you approach. It's not unusual for cats to be frightened in new surroundings. And some cats are naturally shy and fearful because they were taken away from their mothers and litter mates too early, or were not socialised properly as kittens. But with time and patience, even the most fearful cats can learn to trust.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Cat treats
  • Interactive wand, fishing rod toy or a long shoelace
  • Large dog crate

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  1. 1

    Think like a cat. Humans look huge to cats, especially when the person is walking towards them. Unfamiliar scents are also frightening to cats, since they recognise their friends more by scent than sight. Understanding how your cat thinks will help you befriend her.

  2. 2

    Learn "catspeak." Blinking at the cat tells her you trust her and want to be her friend. Turning your head away from her is a way of saying you don't mind if she shares your space, and you won't harm her. Looking a cat straight in the eye sends an aggressive message --- you're not afraid of her, and you will start a fight if you have the opportunity.

  3. 3

    Sit or lie on the floor near the cat. Getting down to the cat's level will make you appear less threatening. While you're on the floor, talk to the cat. Tell her how beautiful she is and how much you love her.

  4. 4

    Reach out with a closed fist rather than an open hand. Some cats will "head bump" a closed hand, thinking it's another cat's head.

  5. 5

    Make a trail of treats from the cat's hiding place to you. Do this consistently. While it may take several days, the cat will eventually eat her way to the spot where you're sitting on the floor.

  6. 6

    Don't try to touch the cat when she approaches your spot on the floor. Look the other way and let her approach you first. Eventually, she will rub against you and accept petting, even if just for a few seconds.

  7. 7

    Try to pet the cat in her hiding place. Don't force her to come out. Scratch her behind the ears or under her chin without removing her from her hiding place. If she's just out of reach, she should follow a trail of treats and eat her way close enough to you to be touched.

  8. 8

    Play with the cat with an interactive wand, fishing rod toy or a long shoelace. This is a way to interact with the cat without actually touching her. Drag and wiggle the toy along the floor, rather than making it sail overhead. Some cats are frightened by toys flying through the air.

  9. 9

    Put the cat in a large dog crate with her food, water, litter box, toys and a cushy cat bed. Cover part of the crate with a sheet so the cat has a hiding place. Since she can't avoid you when she's in the crate, the cat should become used to being touched.

Tips and warnings

  • Feral cats and kittens over 10 weeks of age will be happiest if trapped, neutered, vaccinated and returned to their outdoor home with a human caretaker to provide food and shelter. While they may bond with one person, they're never comfortable living indoors in close proximity to humans.
  • Never chase and try to catch the cat to pet her. That will just frighten her more.

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