A nervous kitty is often head-shy, meaning she will shy away if you try to pet her on the head. She’ll also be prone to hiding, and you might notice her slinking — walking with her legs bent so she’s low to the ground. She might also twitch her ears or lower her tail with the very tip curved upward. You can help teach kitty that she’s safe in your home and maybe even with company over time. It just takes some patience, a few training tricks, and a lot of love.

Just like people, there are many reasons that your kitty could be nervous. Many nervous cats have experienced some kind of trauma like abuse or a dog attack. Others are just not socialized, so they aren’t used to being around people and living in a home, especially if they were alley cats. They may be afraid of dogs, other cats, or even strange things like trash cans. It’s all about familiarity and instincts. Unlike dogs, cats don’t travel in a pack so when they feel threatened (even if it’s just by you wanting a pat), they’ll run and hide in a safe place.
In general, a nervous cat does best in a quiet home. In a more hectic environment, it can take a long time for your nervous kitty to mellow out and come out of her shell, but there are some ways to help her be more confident. What’s important is that you give the cat a safe place to hide and that you be patient and work with her.

Ingrid Johnson, a certified cat behavior consultant at Paws, Whiskers, & Claws Feline Hospital just outside of Atlanta, suggests techniques that can help:

“With a new cat one of the best things that you can do is put her in a small, confined space, like a bathroom, where she can hide but you can also get to force a little bit of love on her,” explains Johnson. You should have everything in this room that your kitty needs: food, water, litter, something cozy to sleep on, maybe even a scratching post and a toy or two. She could be in that space for a few days to a few weeks before she’s ready to venture into the rest the house, so you want to make it comfortable for her.”

Give your cat food on a schedule, of course, but use something high-reward like cooked chicken as a treat when you’re training. So if the cat goes from having an arched back and twitching ears to sitting calmly, give her a little piece of chicken. If she takes a few steps towards you, give her a little bit more. You want her to associate you with the positive reward.

If you feel like training alone isn’t doing enough for your nervous cat, Johnson suggests herbal remedies that you can try. There are also prescription medications that can help a nervous cat.

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