How To Get A Shy Cat Used To New Surroundings

CitizenShipper CitizenShipper · Updated July 1, 2024

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Moving houses, or moving between houses when you’re heading off to your summer (or winter) retreat, is something that we humans get better at with practice.

Often, it’s the same way with your pets – but there are exceptions to this, with some cats, in particular, finding it difficult to adjust to new surroundings.

Their usual instinct in such a situation is to run away and find a quiet, dark place in which to hide. They’ll want to be out of harm’s way while they gather themselves and work up the courage to come out and start exploring.

Of course, as we’re asked to help plenty of people with relocating to a new neighborhood by transporting either their belongings, their pets, or even both, the drivers who work through the CitizenShipper platform often have some good advice to pass on which might help you draw your reticent cat out of themselves, and get them to exercise their curiosity.

kitten transportation
A new, unfamiliar home presents a huge set of challenges to a small, shy cat. Giving them places where they can feel comfortable and be away from other distractions will greatly help them to acclimatize.

We also saw a recent article on, which addressed this very topic, and had a number of useful tips to pass on.

So when your cat is retreating into her own little space and won’t come out, try these:

1. Keep your patience. However hard this might seem, you should try your best not to let your own frustration at your cat’s behavior show. Try to put yourself in their situation, and remember how you felt when you found yourself in totally alien surroundings. Homing in on what helped you overcome such similar feelings might also help you understand your cat’s feelings and what might help you calm their fears.

2. Avoid making lots of noise. Playing your music collection at high volume through your smart speaker might be a way of helping you when you have some hard work to get down to – but it will sure terrify your poor cat! So when you’re doing some heavy lifting, or home improvements, try to lay off the iPod, and appreciate how nervous your cat will be feeling.

3. Remember that no one’s to blame. You wanted to give your furry friend a happy and comfortable home – but at some times there has to be a little disruption as you pack and unpack, and get things just how you want them. So don’t go on a guilt trip, because there’s a real chance that nothing you’ve done has made her like she is. Just accept that she’s having it a little tough, and part of the reason for that might well be something that’s totally out of your control.

4. Use a quiet, soothing voice to talk to your cat. Think of your poor, nervous little cat as a baby. Adopt an even, soft tone and explain to her what you’re doing as you’re trying to help her, using her name regularly to reinforce that this is all for her benefit.

5. Remember how you first introduced her to you and your surroundings. You probably started by setting aside a small place of sanctuary for her, such as a small bedroom or bathroom, where she could orient herself before deciding when she was ready to venture further afield. Put down her food, water, toys and a litter tray, and let her get her bearings in a relatively small area. Then let her build up the confidence to spread her wings.

6. Encourage her with food. This one is usually a sure-fire hit, especially if your cat has a favorite brand or flavor of cat food. Put a dish of her top choice down in a place somewhere in the open, show her what it is, and then let her find it herself. Whereas you can easily show a dog where its food is and it will happily take its lead from you, cats like to exercise their independence and sniff it out for themselves.

7. Play aloof and let her come to you. A difficult one to pull off, but when she’s slowly emerging from her hiding place, don’t rush towards her with your hand outstretched. Keep that hand relaxed and close to your body, with your palm facing the floor, and let her decide how close she wants to get.

8. Get her to play – gently. A slow, careful play session with the feather on the end of a teaser toy could pique her interest. Move it in tiny, jerking motions around the floor to get her attention. If she shows interest in the toy, carry on playing with her, at the same time gently praising her. Then give her a little treat to reward her bravery.

9. Set up a safe space high up off the floor. Even the most nervous cat will feel reassured by having a place up on high which she can retreat to and watch what’s going on around her in safety. A tall cat climbing frame, or even the top of a wardrobe or set of bookshelves is often just what they’ll need.

10. Stay positive in the face of any setbacks. Your shy little girl might react badly to something you do during this process. Don’t take this personally – just resort to doing something which you did previously which she responded to more positively, and see whether this gets her to forget your small slip-up.

11. Bring in a synthetic pheromone. These are man-made chemical compounds which mimic the smells which cats associate with feeling happy and comfortable. Cats leave tiny traces of their own version of these familiar, reassuring smells on you and items of your furniture as they rub up against them to mark out ‘their’ space. You can buy a diffuser which will spread these smells around your home when plugged into an electrical socket. There are many reports of them having a calming effect on cats which have been fighting, or which are nervous for another reason.

12. Banish the clutter to offer escape routes. Don’t block off access to shelves or out-of-the-way spots with piles of stuff. The more little nooks are available to your cat to retreat into, the more they will use them.


shipping a cat
As they slowly find their own little refuges, your once-reticent little cat will start to feel more confident, especially if they can see what’s going on all around them.

Finally, you might have to be prepared to go back to square one if you suddenly have visitors to your new base. They might bring out your cat’s nerves and see them running for their place of sanctuary all over again.

I can speak on this one from personal experience, because we have a friendly one-year-old male cat, Charlie, in our house, who came to us after being rescued from a tough start in life.

He was slow to begin to socialize, and has needed quite some encouragement to bring him out of his shell.

But on hearing visitors to our house, he will dart for his nearest ‘safe space’, often only emerging once he knows the visitors are off the premises.

There’s no substitute for regular practice to get a cat used to these kinds of invasions of ‘their’ territory – and in time, they should overcome their flight instincts.

Just be understanding and patient. Eventually, your cat will realize that you’re on their side, and they have nothing to be worried about.