How to Train Your Cat to Stop Being Skittish

Patience will help your cat learn to be less skittish.
Patience will help your cat learn to be less skittish. (Image: BrindleBerry/iStock/Getty Images)

There are many things that can make a cat skittish, from a bad experience to a lack of early socialization. Fortunately for you and your companion, there are steps you can take to help your cat get over his fears. With a little patience and planning, your cat can be happy and relaxed in your home, even when you have guests.

Early Socialization

Socializing your cat is easiest while he is still young. In fact the ideal window is between 2 and 7 weeks old. If you have a kitten, spend some time gently handling and playing with him every day and encourage others to do the same. The more people, places and situations you introduce him to while he is young, the less fearful he will be when he gets older. If your cat is older than 12 weeks, you will need a more intensive plan to reduce his fear.

Create a Safe Space

When you're first starting out, it's important to make sure your kitty feels as safe as possible. Adding perches such as cat trees or accessible shelves can make your cat feel more in control and less fearful. Make sure there is space for your cat to get away and hide if he feels like there is danger. Never yell at, swoop down over or chase your cat, as this will increase his fear. Similarly, avoid staring directly at your cat, since this is threatening behavior. Instead, slowly blink or close your eyes to indicate you are not a threat.

People and Guests

The best way to help your cat become less skittish is through slow habituation. This simply means getting your cat used to the thing that frightens him over time. Food is a great motivator for many cats, so try leaving some choice treats like tuna or wet cat food near the person that makes your cat anxious. Distance toys, like a toy fishing rod or a laser pointer, can allow your guest to play with the cat and build positive experiences without getting uncomfortably close. Over many visits, lure the cat gradually closer with food and toys. Always let the cat approach and initiate physical contact first. Over time he will learn to associate visitors with treats and play and will become less anxious.

Sounds and Places

The same basic method can be used to help your cat get used to objects, locations or sounds that make him uncomfortable. First determine what specifically is making your cat anxious. If it is a particular room or object, slowly lure your cat closer using food and toys over many sessions to desensitize him to what scares him. Never force your cat to approach the thing that makes him nervous, as this will make the problem worse. If a particular sound, such as thunder, makes your cat skittish, try using a recording of the sound played at a low volume. Give your cat treats and play with him while the sound is playing and gradually increase the volume. Patience and slow habituation is the key to making your cat more confident.

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