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Feline Friday: Ask Amy & Teaching Shrinking Violet Shy Cats

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Tiger Lily

Is your kitty shy? How do you bring her out of her Shrinking Violet shell? (Image copr. Missi Hostrup)

Working with fearful cats can be a challenge. Does Sheba hiss at strangers? Dive under the bed when the doorbell rings? Attack other pets (or humans)? And what can you do to stop bad behavior if even a mild correction sends the cat into fearful meltdown? Alexa posted her Ask Amy question to my Facebook page and the answer is in today’s video.

We often feel that our fur-kids must have been abused and feel bad to make THEM feel bad. But they still need to know limits. One of my favorite ways to train is using positive rewards. Instead of waiting for kitty to scratch the wrong object and then interrupting the behavior–why not REWARD her when she scratches the RIGHT object? Using kitty clicker training can also build confidence in shy cats by teaching them what happens is in their paws. Over at my puppy-centric site, y’all can find similar tips for how to clicker train puppies. Yep, it builds canine confidence, too.

While a normal dose of caution keeps cats from becoming coyote kibble, extreme fear makes cats miserable and disrupts your happy home. Hiding cat may not bother you, constant anxiety increases stress that can make cats sick. For instance, stress can aggravate bladder inflammation (cystitis), which in turn prompts hit-or-miss bathroom behaviors. Even when the bladder doesn’t hurt, anxious cats use potty deposits or will increase scratching behavior as a way to calm themselves—sort of the way nervous humans bite their fingernails. Here are tips for helping your scaredy cat.

Do you have a shy cat? How does s/he react to strangers or new situations? What tips have you used to bolster confidence? Are you concerned (like Alexa, below) about damaging your pet relationship during training?  How do you avoid that?

Of course you can find lots more fur-kid care tips in the pet books. But I hope anyone with a burning furry question (or heck, ANY question! *s*) will share in the comments and perhaps it’ll be a future Ask Amy feature!

I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? I’m nearly ready to record a bunch of new ones, so be sure to get your requests in the comments. Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, listen to the weekly radio show, check out weekly FREE PUPPY CARE newsletter, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter with pet book give-aways!

About amyshojai

Amy Shojai, CABC is a certified animal behavior consultant (dogs/cats), award winning author of 30+ pet care titles and thrillers, and spokesperson to the pet industry.

14 responses »

  1. My Simba has that cystitis problem – started when I was away on vacation for two weeks, first time I had let my sister watch her instead of my grandfather. Returned about every 5-7 months after that… until Anubis moved in and she finally got used to another kitty in the house. I don’t think we’ve had to dose her with Diazepam for nearly a year now.

    Anubis, now he has trouble with strangers. He’s not so much terrified, but very suspicious, in spite of all socialization. Again, the fun of having a part-wildcat – and another reason why I don’t advocate most people attempting to own wild animals or wild hybrids, because they tend to have a VERY small circle of trust and it can be difficult when looking for somebody to pet-sit… I’ve heard of people giving up their “exotics” because they didn’t like a new boyfriend or fiancee and were outright hostile. In any case, with Anubis, anybody new in the house has to be introduced by James holding the cat while stranger pets him. We still need to reestablish that my dad is OK – Anubis liked my dad until he came over to help me fix something one day when James wasn’t home… cat heard me call him “dad”, and immediately thought I was trying to replace the One True Daddy. LOL

    For Chloe, I would probably give a gentle, quiet, “nono, do this here” and move her calmly to the right spot, to start the process. I also SWEAR by Comfort Zone now. I never expected such dramatic results, but especially with Anubis, it makes stressful situations MUCH simpler, he gets scared less often. It made the move easier, it makes vet trips easier, and it helped us keep him calm while intriducing the two cats to each other and establishing the house rules for him. It is also supposed to help discourage scratching in the areas where it is sprayed, because it mimics the facial pheremones they use to mark, which is of course one of the reasons for scratching as well.

    • Karyl, thanks for mentioning Comfort Zone. It doesn’t help all cats but certainly can make a great difference for some. Feliway is an analogue of the facial pheromones that cheek-marks territory to say “this place is safe, chill, don’t be scared.”

      I’m glad it works for you to have James hold Anubis while strangers pet him. That wouldn’t work with every cat, either–some would go bonkers and even scratch/bite their trusted human! So it’s great to hear all the differences between cats and adjust what works to our own situations.

      • Yeah, it’s part of why my biggest piece of advice is KNOW YOUR PET. Some people try to make these blanket statements that are supposed to cure everybody – you just can’t do that! It’s just as bad as a psychologist thinking that one method is going to work work everyone. I never understood why anyone sticks to one theory or technique… you use what works for who you’re dealing with, and our kitties are no different!

        • Amen and hallelujia, Karyl! You’ll notice nearly all my blogs, articles, books and the like include an assortment of suggestions for that very reason. I get quite hissed off at the one-size-fits-all mentality.

          Yes, there are “best practices” that may work with a majority. But there always are exceptions. (Wait…did I just make an “always” statement?….BAD amy, BAD amy! LOL!)

  2. Hi Amy – Great article! I’ve been following you on FB and not sure if I ought to pose a question here or on your FB page.

    I am studying animal communication and practising my skills by volunteering with the pets of friends. I am working with a 3 year old cat who was feral and was adopted 2 years ago. She has been vet-checked thoroughly and no one can offer a medical solution for her problem, which is nightmares and peeing when she has nightmares, which are occurring every night. I have had some success with the energy work, which has reduced the nightmares to every second night.

    In my communication with Lily, she indicated that she had been chased and beaten up by other dogs and cats, also had been trapped on a ledge for a long time wiating for her tormentors to leave. You can imagine the stress on the owners. Do you have any suggestions on how to help Lily heal further?
    Warm wishes,
    Carol Upton

    • Hi Carol, thanks so much for visiting the blog. Your work with animal communication sounds fascinating. So Lily is peeing in her sleep during the nightmares? Wow. I know that cats use urine–a “self scent” to help calm themselves down in frightening situations. There are some natural products like the Bach Flower Essences that have been beneficial in some of these emotional-type situations. This link as a list of some of the more beneficial ones for animals:

      The Feliway product (that Karyl mentions in her comment) also may prove helpful to help Lily feel less concerned about her environment. Good luck!

      • Thanks so much, Amy! I actually have a friend who uses the Bach Flower remedies so will see what she can suggest. I used a remedy on our little dog when we first adopted her – she was so anxious and seemed to have no house training whatsoever. After the first week using a Bach Flower combination and just lots of love and persistance, her anxiety calmed down and with that, she just started to ask to go out when she needed to. Worked wonders!

  3. I don’t have a shy kitty, but I have two really big scaredy-cats! Sometimes the ice falling in the maker scares them enough to jolt them upstairs. It’s ridiculous!

    • LOL Tiffany! Well when you think about it, the cats don’t know that the big food-machine creates ice. It might be a MONSTER inside making noises while hunting crunchies. After all, the kitties only see you open the magical box and take out tasty stuff so it stands to reason an industrious hunter might stake out that territory. *vbg*

    • LOL! One of ours gets like that… but only if he’s had dried catnip. Only the dried. We have no idea what makes it so different from fresh, but he goes totally bonkers and paranoid.

  4. Pingback: Feline Friday: Happy Cat Month « Amy Shojai's Blog

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