Oscar was rescued at about 4 months old. He started off terrified of people. With patience and dry food (his favorite), he’s become much less fearful. It’s a very rewarding experience to win over the trust of a feral cat. He still has his moments of being fearful, but he also seeks me out for affection.
There are many reasons why a cat may be fearful including lack of socialization as a kitten; negative experiences with humans; and major changes to their environment such as being re-homed. Patience with fearful cats is key. Here are some tips to help your fearful cat gain more confidence:
Provide Hiding Spots and Perches - Empty cardboard boxes and her cat carrier are examples of great hiding spots, spread throughout the home. Cat trees and perches allow cats to view the territory from a higher viewpoint, particularly important if there are other animals and/or children in the home.
Daily Routine - Keep the same schedule every day for feeding, playtime, litter box scooping, etc so your cat knows what to expect, and when. Predictability helps her feel secure and safer.
Playtime - Daily play sessions with a wand toy helps your cat feel like the predator she is, which can help increase her confidence. Move the toy like prey, providing exercise and an opportunity to strategize on catching it. Always let your cat catch, attack, and bite the prey which can be highly satisfying. Follow with mealtime or treats.
Synthetic Pheromones - Can help create a soothing environment. Try Feliway Plug-Ins or Spray.
Enrichment - Provide lots of things to do such as puzzle feeders for dry food or treats, odor enrichment (catnip and silver vine), cat grass, toys etc. will give your cat fun things to focus on and an opportunity to act out natural behaviors.
Your Movements - Approach a cat sideways, speak in a soft voice, and avoid direct eye contact - a sign of aggression for cats.
Highly Fearful Cats - If your cat is constantly hiding, try setting up a sanctuary room with all of her resources (food, litter box, beds). In addition to everything already mentioned, spend time in the room daily doing a low key activity, like reading. Toss treats to your cat. Never force contact. Let her decide to come to you.