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Adopting a Shy Cat

Adopting a new cat should be an exciting time in your life! We all have visions of bringing home a sweet, cuddly friend that will delight us with their antics and spend time with us on the couch.

 

You should absolutely consider how your cat’s personality will fit in with your household. If you have a busy house with an active family, then perhaps a nervous cat isn’t the right fit. If you are a single person and out of the house a lot, then a young, active cat would probably not be happy in that type of environment.

 

Gray and black cat looking handsome
Boomer and Impy were the best boys

Sometimes, we go into adoption with a perfect cat in mind but come home with something entirely different. In 2023, I lost my two elderly cats within a few months of each other. I knew I would adopt again, but I wanted to give myself some time to grieve. While I was without a cat, I was thinking about what I wanted in my next cat.

 

I wanted two cats so they could have company, and I know from experience that cat introductions can be very difficult. I don’t have the time and energy for kittens, so I decided that I wanted to adopt an adult



bonded pair. I love tabbies, in particular the orange ones, so I thought a male pair of tabbies would be great. As far as personalities go, I was interested in a pair that was well-socialized and confident.

 

As I started looking, the only pairs I was finding were kittens. I was tempted, but then I

White and black cat looking at the camera with a blep
Who could resist this face?

came across this sweet-looking cat that had already gone through a lot in her first two years. She was found when she was in labor and having a difficult time birthing her kittens. She ended up having a C-section to save her life. Then, it was discovered that she had skin cancer in her ears, and they had to be removed.


I am also a cancer survivor and had to have a double mastectomy, so I understood what it feels like to have your body altered to save your life. I thought she was adorable, but I knew that many people would not be interested in adopting her because she isn’t conventionally cute. So, I ended up setting up a time to meet her!

 

When we met, she was very nervous and hid the whole time. I was able to see that she was very docile, and from the videos that her foster mom made, I could see that she was playful and affectionate when she wasn’t stressed. It was a big decision (adoption is for life!), so I took the night to think about it.

 

This cat wasn’t what I was planning to adopt, but I knew from my many years of cat sitting and forming relationships with shy cats that I’d be able to bond with her and give her a good life. Her foster reported that she got along with other cats, so adopting a second cat would still be an option.

 

a room filled with cat toys, beds, ramps, and boxes
Cat room is ready for the new arrival

Before bringing her home, I set up a cat room with everything she would need to settle in and decompress. She had places to hide, food, water, litter (all away from each other), toys, vertical space, beds, and a cardboard box to sit in.

 



When she arrived, she was so nervous that she hid UNDER one of the cat beds. She was obviously over her fear threshold, so I let her be alone and didn’t force my attention on her. I gave her a few days and only entered the room to refresh her food and

water and clean her litter box.


a cat bed on the floor. the cat is hiding underneath the bed.
There's a cat under there!

After the first night, I could see that she was coming out to play. I saw that as a sign that I could slowly start interacting with her. I gave her space and always let her retreat. I wanted her to know that I respected her boundaries and that she was safe. She actually started to open up to me pretty quickly, especially after I discovered how much she loved brushing.

 

She was starting to get comfortable with me, but the new space still made her nervous. I let her start exploring slowly on her own in limited spaces. Too much space too soon can overwhelm a cat, so I left all of the doors closed and only let her explore the spaces I couldn’t close off. Once she seemed a little more confident, I’d open a door to a room. Each time I did, she seemed surprised that there was even more space!

 

As she relaxed and became more confident, she was open to playing with me. Playing is so important because it builds a cat’s confidence, lowers stress, and creates a bond with the person.

 

Once we started playing, I noticed that she really started coming out of her shell. From there, I started clicker training with her, which is another stress-relieving, bonding activity.

 

She’s been with me now for just over two weeks, and the change in her personality has been astounding. She wasn’t the cat I was planning on adopting. Many people might not

consider a shy cat, but if you have the right type of household and have the patience to let the cat warm up to you at their own pace, a shy cat can still form a strong bond with you.

white and black cat laying next to a computer and making biscuts
Frankie, helping me write this blog post

 

In less than two weeks, Frankie has shown me how playful and affectionate she can be. She has actually become so needy that I am now considering getting her a cat friend, which brings me back to the beginning where I didn’t want to do an introduction. Stay tuned for updates.


Update: After a recent vet visit, Frankie's age is estimated to be more like 6 years instead of only 2!

I'm currently in the process of looking for a companion for Frankie, but haven't found the right match yet. The hunt continues!




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