Shy and Feral Cats

MEOW Foundation primarily rescues stray and abandoned Calgary cats. Many of these cats have had little or no experience with humans, or have been strays for a very long time. Some of our cats, called feral cats, are not domesticated and are not used to living in a home with people. This doesn’t mean they’re aggressive! Rather, they’re timid and afraid of people and will typically do their best to avoid human contact.

Many of our cats are shy or feral, but they are still deserving of a forever home. While there are some cats who will likely never want to be touched or held by humans, most will get more comfortable in their new home over time, although it may take weeks to months, sometimes even years.

If you’re considering adopting or have recently adopted a shy or feral cat, congratulations and thank you for giving a cat a second chance. Read on for more information on how to make the transition as smooth as possible for you and your new feline friend.

Manage Your Expectations

It’s important not to expect too much too soon from your new cat. Shy cats need time and patience to learn to live with you. They may regress initially, becoming temporarily even more shy when they first come home. Imagine yourself in their place: You’ve just arrived in a new place and you’re completely surrounded by an alien species! It would take you a while to learn to live comfortably in this new environment. But having companions certainly helps; that’s why shy or feral cats usually love living with others cats. They can also often form close relationships with dogs.

A shy cat generally won’t enjoy new people, fast movements, loud noises, doorbells and the like. They prefer small areas and hidey holes to feel safe and secure. They may never feel comfortable with visitors to your home, preferring to retreat if strangers arrive. They may bond with one or many people in the family – it simply depends on their personality.

Giving your new cat time and being patient with him or her will go a long way!

Welcoming a Shy Cat Home

As with all newly adopted cats, MEOW recommends preparing a safe starter room for your new cat. Keep in mind that shy cats are nervous and like to hide, so remove as much large furniture as you can – it’s hard to interact with a cat hiding under a bed! Cardboard boxes or sheets draped over chairs make ideal hiding spots when you first bring your new cat home.

Shy cats may not eat much for the first couple of days and may have gastrointestinal upset from stress. If your cat has not eaten in 48 hours, try extra tasty treats like canned tuna or salmon.

Cats thrive on routine. Establish a predictable schedule of feeding and visiting so they know what to expect.

If you’re considering playing music to calm your cat, note that contrary to popular belief, feral cats find human music an extra stress in their environment. There is music specifically composed for cats that uses feline-centric sounds. The benefits have been independently verified by the Journal of Applied Animal Behaviour Science. Cats really do prefer their own music!

Getting to Know Your Shy Cat

Quality time with people is very important for your cat to feel comfortable. Slow movements, speaking softly and making eye contact with lots of blinking will keep your cat feeling relaxed and show him or her that you’re not a threat. Yawning and slowly looking away can also help them feel more comfortable. Bring a tasty treat with you each time you visit; that way, they will begin to associate your presence with something fun.

Show your cat anything new you bring into the room, whether it’s a book, phone or a glass of water. Cats are very curious and will learn that new things you’re bringing in are not a threat.

Spending time together doesn’t mean that you have to be petting or holding your new cat. Consider reading a book aloud or talking on the phone so the cat gets used to your voice. Sit or lie on the floor rather than standing.

Petting Your Shy or Feral Cat

Many shy cats are not used to human touch. So go slowly and build on each day’s success gradually! Start by using a wand toy, long feather such as a peacock feather, or petting stick. First, set your petting stick, feather or wand on the floor so the cat can see and sniff it. Then use it to touch your cat lightly around the cheeks and chin. Keep it short – 30 to 60 seconds at most. Then put the petting stick down and talk to your cat. Repeat a few times each day.

As the cat gets used to the touch of the petting stick and begins to indicate this is a pleasurable experience (your cat may lift their head so you can stroke their chin or rub against the wand on their own), begin to slowly introduce the touch of the petting stick to the top of the head, the back and other areas of the body.

With time, you may be able to slowly move your hand down the length of the petting stick until you fingers are helping the wand pet the cat. The goal is to be able to introduce your hand and fingers as the “substitute” petting stick once the cat likes and it used to it.

Moving Beyond the Safe Room

When you and your new cat have established a trusting relationship, the cat is ready to begin exploring your home. Be sure to begin this process when you are home to supervise.

Begin gradually, closing doors to most other rooms so the cat begins their orientation in stages. Too many spaces at once can be frightening for them. Don’t let a shy cat into the basement until they’re very comfortable with you, or else you risk them hiding in rafter or other small places where you can’t reach them.

Full house privileges may take up to a few months depending on your cat’s personality and life experience. Take your cues from them and don’t rush! See our resource on welcoming a new cat home for more information.

Feline Companionship

Very shy or feral cats are often used to other cats and may be very lonely on their own. With very shy cats, we recommend a quick integration process (1-3 days) unless there are significant problems. See our resource on welcoming a new cat home for more information.


MEOW Foundation is Calgary’s only dedicated cat rescue. We have been rescuing and adopting cats, including shy and feral cats, for over 20 years. If you’ve been struggling integrating your shy or feral cat into your home, contact us!