Cats are often aloof, taking their own sweet time to make friends with people. Those cats are confident in their cathood, though. They know it’s important for their reputation to maintain an air of unavailability.
Some cats, however, haven’t learned that lesson and they are downright shy. Often, they weren’t well socialized as kittens or they may simply have a genetic predisposition to shyness. Russian Blue cats, for instance, are one of the breeds that tends to be uncomfortable with meeting new people.
If your cat is shy, you will probably never turn him into a social butterfly, but you can take steps to help him feel more comfortable in his own skin. Whether he’s a kitten or an adult cat, the following tips may help.
Start slow and start small. Limit your cat to a single room or area of your home. A little-used guest bathroom is a possibility, but if you don’t have other animals who would be miffed at being shut out, your bedroom is an excellent choice. It smells strongly of you, so your cat can get to “know” you, even when you’re not in the room. And sleeping in the same room with you is a good way for your cat to develop a bond with you without feeling anxious that you might approach him when he’s not feeling like interacting with you.
For similar reasons, your home office is also a good choice. You will be focusing on other things while you’re there, giving your cat a chance to watch you and get to know your habits without feeling threatened by your attention.
Sit on the floor and let your cat come to you. Entice him with an interactive toy that still offers some distance: a big peacock feather or a fishing-pole toy that he can bat at without getting too close to you. Toss out some treats to entice him to come closer. If he moves toward you, don’t reach for him. Take a cue from dog trainers and use a clicker (a small metal noisemaker) to let him that you like what he did, then toss him another treat. Click and treat every time he comes closer until he’s willing to get close enough to sniff you. Wait until he has done this several times before you very gently waggle your fingers at him and maybe give him a scratch under the chin.
Groom your cat. In most species, grooming is one of the ways that relatives or friends spend time with one another. Remember how nice it felt to have your mother brush out your hair? Your cat will appreciate the massage-like feel of being brushed or combed and come to look forward to spending that time with you.
When he starts responding to his name, your cat is showing that he is comfortable with you. That’s a good time to start letting him explore the rest of the house. Be sure he has easy access back to his “safe” room in case anything frightens him.
The most important tip? Be patient. Getting to know a shy cat takes time, but you will often find that it is well worth the effort.