Cats are creatures of habit; after all it takes dedication to squeeze all those cat naps into the day. Even a confident, sociable cat may be less than thrilled by the arrival of guests coming to stay. But if that cat is timid or anxious, the inconvenience of visitors is akin to having their world turned upside down.
Think about it. A timid cat tends to cat-astrophize about life – expecting the worst and planning accordingly is how she keeps herself safe. Only within the safety of your home does she take the alarm alert down from red to amber and allow herself to relax. But when strangers arrive with bags smelling of the scary, outside world, it literally feels as if her core territory has been invaded and her sense of security stolen away.
Why are Some Cats Timid?
There are many reasons a cat might be anxious by nature. Most often it’s a result of poor socialization as a kitten. The lack of positive interactions with people before 12 weeks of age can leave a cat pre-programed to expect the worst.
How that cat copes depends on her personality. Some cats will decide attack is the best form of defence, the claws come out and they become aggressive. Whilst others prefer to flee the scene and hide away.
What’s important to understand is that your cat’s character is hard-wired into them. Even with the best will in the world, you won’t be able to change how your cat reacts. This means the answer is to work with your cat, rather than against them, when you have visitors in the house.
In summary, never force your cat to confront her fears. Instead, give her the safety she craves, in order to cope the best way she can.
Why do Cats Find Guests Stressful?
Put yourself in your cat’s paws.
What is it about having house guests that causes her stress?
Remember that cats are creatures of habit, and you start to uncover the truth. Having guests means everything changes. From meal times to the sights, sounds, and smells in the house: everything that your cat knows and trusts is suddenly different.
In addition, there’s a fair chance your cat lacks self-confidence and feels threatened by strangers. Your cat therefore takes a double hit of stress:
- The routine she finds so comforting goes out the window
- What she fears most, strangers, invade her territory.
So what can you do to help?
Create a Cat Sanctuary
For the truly timid cat that struggles to cope, think about setting up a safe room. Is there one room in the house, no matter how small, where you could set your cat up with a bed, food, and ensuite litter box?
Your cat is going to be much happier living in a small space where she feels secure, than roaming a larger space she feels threatened in. Your bedroom may be the ideal cat sanctuary as it will smell strongly of you, from which she’ll derive lots of reassurance.
Prepare for Visitors
If a cat sanctuary isn’t possible (and let’s face it, the house may be crowded with guests) then plan ahead to help her feel more secure. Set things up a week or two in advance, so your cat becomes accustomed to the new arrangements before the guests arrive. After all, what could be more scary than hunting out the new location of her food bowl, whilst being watched by strangers?
Actions to consider include:
- Provide privacy whilst eating, drinking, sleeping, and using the litter tray. For example, if the cat tray is usually in the guest bedroom, then relocate it ahead of your visitors arriving and make sure your cat knows where it is.
- Plenty of hiding places: A timid cat feels safest when hiding, so let her do this. Create hidey holes in each and every room. A simple cardboard box on its side will do, perhaps with one of your old T-shirts inside to provide a sense of security.
- High perches: Cats feel safest watching what’s going on from a high point, up off the ground. Perhaps now is the time to treat her to that tall cat condo you’ve been thinking about buying.
- Pheromone therapy: A Feliway diffuser can help cats feel safe and secure. For maximum effect plug it in at least two weeks ahead of your expected guests. Put the diffuser in the room your cat spends most time in and preferably in a floor level socket.
- Calming food supplements: The nutraceutical Zylkene is a derivative of milk protein, which acts on the same receptors in the brain as Valium. It’s natural calming effect can be beneficial at times of stress like this. Again, start the supplement a few days in advance, so your cat is feeling chilled before your visitors arrive.
How Visitors can Help
Have a chat to your guests about how to act around your cat. For example, explain that she’s timid and tell them not to look directly at your cat. This is because a direct stare is an aggressive challenge to a duel, and hugely threatening to a timid cat. In fact, it’s a good idea if they pretend not to see your cat, this will also stop them approaching or petting your cat which could well push her outside her comfort zone.
Also, tutor your guests on making sure they never corner your cat (so she doesn’t feel trapped) and to always leave a clear escape route from the room (i.e. don’t stand between her and the door.)
If your guests are cat lovers and want to make friends, suggest that they let her come to them. To help the ‘making friends’ process you could give them a small bag of cat treats, and ask them to drop one on the floor from time to time, to awake your cat’s curiosity and reward her boldness.
Last but not least, if you have a big gathering of family or friends arriving and you know it’s just not going to work with your cat in the house, then consider boarding her in a cattery for a short period of time.
Yes, she’ll probably be unsettled for a short period of time and a little stressed, but at least she’s safe and you know she’s well cared for. And then when your guests are gone, she can return home to a place that’s secure, free from unpleasant memories of being frightened whilst there.