How long will my cat hide from me?

This is an extract from an email I received from a PoC visitor:

My new cat is hiding from me. Since I brought her home a few days ago she has hidden under my sofa almost all the time. I have to feed her by putting really nice food down beside the sofa. She refuses to come out. How long will my cat hide from me?

This is what happened to Charlie when he joined me:

I brought him home from my mother’s home. My mother had died 2 weeks earlier. He defecated and peed in his carrier on the way in the car because he was so nervous. When we got home he dived under my desk. My desk has very little space under it. It was a huge struggle for him to get into the space. After about three days he came out with difficulty and stayed on my bed for another three days at least. He would hide under the pillows.  He was fed on my bed. The food was brought to him. Then and only then did he gradually loosen up and start to behave “normally”. There was still a long way to go…(Michael).

I think my experience answers this lady’s question. It is normal for new cats to hide so it makes sense to provide something for your new cat to hide under before you go and get him if nothing suitable is available.

However, I have to mention different outcomes when we (my ex-wife and I) adopted young kittens from a neighbor in the 1980s. They made themselves at home quickly and chased around playing. Is this unusual? Probably not because they were siblings. Each gave the other confidence.

Also, when I rescued Binnie from the street outside my home, she spent the first day and night on the dinning room table and after that she was more or less settled in. At the time we had two cats: Missie and Boo Boo, the ones referred in the above pararagraph. So, I don’t believe all new cats hide.

New cat in a new home

New cat in a new home

However, it is commonplace for a new cat or kitten to hide when brought to a strange home. Experts say a new cat should be confined to a single room of the home. However, I feel that you don’t have to force this on a cat because the cat will decide for himself. However, everything he needs should be within easy reach in the room where he hides.

Should you try and interact with your new cat as he hides from you? No, is the sensible answer but once again there are no set answers. To let him get used to his new surroundings in his own time without a time scale being forced upon him is probably best. It makes sense to spend time in the room with your new cat to acclimatise him to your presence but this should be done without forced interaction. It will make him feel more relaxed that way.

Talk to him gently and reassuringly. Give him an opportunity to smell your scent. These things help him to get used to you and feel confident in his new home.

The occasional play session might loosen him up a bit and help him become more relaxed. Also try and stroke him and make contact with him in a gentle non-intrusive way, while being always ready to back off if he shows anxiety. Discovering his favourite food and giving it to him will also help with confidence.

Things will gradually change and he will come around – guaranteed. It is about patience. Humans have a tendency to be impatient seeking instant or quick results. Cat behavior is at a more natural pace.

I also remember a stray who came to me: Pippa. She came inside and hid under a table in the living room. After a while she ended up on my bed (see picture).

In strange places with strange people – giants to a cat – a cat will hide until she feels confident that the place is safe.

How long does a cat take to settle into a new home? I would say about 6 months and more sometimes. The same as for humans.

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How long will my cat hide from me? — 9 Comments

  1. Fluffy hid behind the stove for several days when we first got her. I think the removal and transfer process in a carrier can be a little off putting for a new cat. Give it a few days. Leave food and water readily available and talk not to feed into her fear. Cats can sense our anxiousness and it is off-putting think. Let us know how it works out.
    D

  2. Don’t worry about it. They come out when they’re ready. Our baby feral rescue Renny hid for almost 2 months. We’d see him sneaking along the walls at night to go eat or go to the litter box. Just don’t look the cat in the eye and pretend not to see it until it makes the first move.

    Our adult rescues were a little easier. Most came out within 2 weeks. We just made sure they had food and water in a quiet room. Most hid under Lauras bed. Then they’d venture into the edge of the living room and peek around the corner.

    Try clicker training on a cat like this. Have a treat ready to give it. And I mean a GOOD treat like a bit of baked chicken. That puts the decision into the cats hands. It just takes time. Don’t rush it.

    • Just don’t look the cat in the eye and pretend not to see it until it makes the first move.

      I think this is good advice. If you pretend not to see them they behave more freely which tells us how our presence affects our cats.

      • There’s just something that panics a scared cat when it realizes you know it’s there. The cat will bolt in a heartbeat.

        The not looking in the eye can also protect you from a dog bite. Animals take staring as a challenge. Cats run away but dogs may attack.

  3. Yours and your Mother’s Charlie [Who is now yours–aren’t you fortunate!], that swweeet little cat is looking to you for all of your Love.

  4. Michael this is one brilliantly written article with the best advice you have given.
    There is nothing to add really, time is all a new cat or kitten needs to adjust and I agree too that it’s not necessary to confine the cat to one room, unless there are other pets in the home.
    Sitting close by the cat’s hiding place, talking to him/her in a gentle soft voice, even singing is very reassuring to the cat and yes as Elisa says, not looking directly at them is good advice too.

    • Fantastic. If you approve of it, it is official approved 😉 Thanks. I feel that gentleness, patience and an acceptance that each individual cat has his/her own pace of acclimatising to a new environment are key aspects. A cat takes the same sort of time to adapt to a new home as a person. We only have to look to ourselves for answers.

  5. I have never had this happen to me but then I have usually been alone when bringing a new cat home so it’s easy to control the environment so it’s just perfect to make them feel ok. If you have a partner or other roommate etc then you can’t control how they will behave.

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