Thinks & Blinks

Why Cats Hide & How to Help

Why cats don’t like to be held when they’re scared.

You know when you have the stomach flu, and all you want is to be left alone in misery? We’ve all been there, right? When cats don’t feel well, are scared or upset, their instinct tells them to hide. If you think about it in terms of living outside, it makes more sense. I’ll review why cats hide, when they hide, and when you need to take action to get them to stop.

Why Kittens Hide

Usually kittens are hiding because they are unsure. They have little experience with people, or life, for that matter, and don’t have any defenses against us. It’s easier to find a safe place to hide and observe. Safe curiosity. Kittens commonly run from one hiding spot to another so they can take in their surroundings from different vantage points. They want to see action, but they aren’t ready to be part of it.

A shy or scared kitten will hide like an adult cat, but unlike an adult cat, you can snuggle a kitten to help them get over their fears. They like to be surrounded by warmth and feel their mother’s heartbeat, so holding them on your chest or at your neck is ideal.

Why Sick or Injured Cats Hide

Sick kitties or cats with injuries hide instinctually to protect themselves because other animals view them as easy prey. Hiding allows them to rest and recover. Even though your cat is not in danger indoors, she may still hide because she’d hardwired to do so.

Case Study: Lucy

Cats hide when they’re sick.

When my foster Lucy started taking Prozac, she started hiding, which she didn’t normally do. Her pupils were huge, and she started attacking the pill shooter ONLY when it had the Prozac pill. Her behaviorist confirmed Lucy was suffering from serotonin syndrome, a negative reaction to an increase in serotonin which causes the heart to race. I immediately took her off of the medicine, and she was back to normal fairly quickly.

Case Study: Sprinkle

Although Sprinkle is always a bit shy, she is routine with certain things:

  • Looking out the window. She can do it for hours.
  • Showing up for meals.
  • Chirping when she’s pet.
cat with scratch on nose
Cats hide sometimes when they’re in pain or uncomfortable, like Sprinkle.

She stopped doing all of the above and was hiding + drooling + licking her gums. The only thing I noticed was a small wound on her nose. My awesome vet, Dr. Morgan Shafer, said Sprinkle likely had a bug bite on her nose, scratched it and possibly her tongue. That would explain the drooling and not wanting to eat. After coaxing her with some wet food and a dose of Cerenia for nausea, she back to normal – no more hiding.

Why Scared Cats Hide

If a cat is hiding because she is scared of a new, temporary threat (i.e. contractors in the house tearing apart your kitchen), allow her to hide until the threat is removed. It’s understandable she’d be scared of something unfamiliar or foreign. If she’s scared of a new person or animal in the home, you need to address the issue, which can be solved the same way as our next group of hiders …

Why Shy & Insecure Cats Hide

Shy and insecure cats hide, and although this is safe for them, it isn’t necessarily the best thing if there is no threat. The more you allow a cat to hide, the more the cat associates people and other pets as threats. You are sort of reinforcing this. Your cat should feel like she’s part of your home, and a hiding cat isn’t a comfortable cat.

You want to force your cat to socialize and become part of the home. Here are some suggestions:

  • Block hiding places, especially under beds, couches, coffee tables, and TV stands.
  • Add more acceptable safe areas, like cat shelves, cat trees, or window perches. The height gives them better sight and protection, as well as a space they can own and call their own.
  • Encourage playtime in the open. Teasers toys and lasers are easy ways to get the cat out from under the bed.
  • Incorporate treats and reward your cat for coming out.
  • Train your cat to do different things (i.e. high five for treats) with clicker training. When his mind is busy, he won’t think about hiding and will be more focused on the task at hand.

You may think you can’t do it, but I promise you can. If you’re having a hard time, start interacting with your cat in a small space with no hiding places – like a bathroom. Then you can graduate to other areas of the house.

Why Senior Cats Hide

When cats get older, they sometimes prefer places away from high traffic areas. Quiet locations allow them to sleep and feel safe. This doesn’t mean they are sick, but given their age, it’s important you spend time with them outside of their comfy places to make sure they are okay It’s okay to let this group chill where they want.

Case Study: Peanut

Peanut’s fave spot is in her mom’s closet, amidst a sea of sun dress skirts.

Peanut is an 18-year-old cat who LOVES the closet. The doors are open, and she’s found a nice little spot under some sun dresses where she likes to sleep. Although this seems like hiding, it’s really more of what I mentioned above, a nice, quiet place where she can relax. She lives with younger cats who can be pretty wild. If you pet Peanut, she LOVES it, and even talks to you. There’s no reason to be concerned or change her behavior because she is content and secure, but, again, because of her age, her owner keeps a close eye on her.

Don’t Forget

Always rule out medical reasons for hiding. Sudden abrupt changing in behavior should be reviewed by your vet. And never let a cat go very long without setting your eyes on him, just to make sure everything is okay and he isn’t stuck, sick, or injured.

Did you read what the vet found in Sprinkle? This is a crazy story.

By LizsKittyBootCamp

Hi, I'm Liz, and I'm a cat behaviorist who provides advice and insights on cat behavior.

One reply on “Why Cats Hide & How to Help”

[…] Although hiding for one time events, like a kitchen remodel or loud thunderstorm, is okay, hiding on a consistent basis when there is no threat is not. Why? Because it just adds to your cat’s insecurity, which does not create a balanced, happy kitty. Block hiding places to encourage your cat to interact with you, your family/roommates, and even guests. To learn more about improving the confidence of cats that like to hide, take a look at these tips. […]

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