Cats are peculiar little creatures. One minute they’re out there stalking shadows, playing happily and ferociously hunting anything that displeases them, and the next, they’re cowering meekly under the bed, trembling like a leaf in the breeze.
If you’ve ever spent time trying to coach a frightened kitten out from under the bed, you’ll know what we mean. So, what gives? Why do cats hide, and when should you worry?
Why do cats hide
Cats hide for several reasons. Usually, they will find a safe, snug place to hide when they feel frightened or vulnerable. In short, if your cat is hiding, it’s totally normal and nothing to be too concerned about for the most part. It’s an essential part of being a cat.
All cats are likely to have a favorite hiding spot in the home. If not, you can always create one, easily and affordably, out of a cardboard box placed on its side, with a blanket or pillow inside. This offers only one opening to monitor and a comfy spot to chill until they’re ready to come out.
Some cats are more prone to hiding than others. It doesn’t always mean your cat is feeling fearful or vulnerable. It can sometimes just be your cat’s preferred way to seek out some peace and quiet.
Cat hiding behavior isn’t necessarily something to worry about, and your cat will emerge when they’re ready and feel safe enough to do so. Some hiding behaviors are a sign of something that needs your attention.
New cat hiding
Bringing home a new cat is very exciting. But for a poor little creature, it’s a very frightening experience. New sounds, new smells, new places and spaces. It’s all very overwhelming and can leave your poor fluff feeling terrified and vulnerable.
Initially, your new cat or kitten will skedaddle the first chance they get. They will find a cozy and safe place to huddle up in until they feel brave enough or curious enough to peek out. A hidey-hole with only one access point is usually preferred, dark and enclosed. This way, kitty can monitor the single entry point and defend themselves if needs be.
Sometimes your kitten may choose to hide in an elevated position from which they can observe and assess this new place.
Having a hiding place is an essential need for cats. They must have a place where they can go to feel safe and protected. In the closet, under the bathroom vanity, behind the couch. These are all valid cat hiding places.
Some cats just naturally prefer hiding and display this behavior often. For them, this is the status quo, and it’s nothing to be concerned about. But if your cat is suddenly hiding away, it may be a sign of something you should be aware of. Any sudden change in your cat’s behavior should be a sign for you to investigate.
The following are common things that may cause your otherwise social cat to suddenly seek out a hiding place and stay there.
- Illness or pain
When a cat feels unwell or is in pain, they will usually seek a place to hide where they feel safe and protected in their weakened and vulnerable state. They will sometimes hide here for more extended periods.
It could be because they have sniffles, or maybe they have arthritis. It could be something more serious. Either way, it’s your cue to get them to the vet for an examination.
- Stress or anxiety
Loud noises like thunder or lawnmowers can also cause your cat to hide. Even changes in your movements, like a schedule change, can cause your cat to feel the need to hide.
Any changes to your cat’s routines can cause them to feel anxious and stressed, resulting in them hiding in their favorite safe spot. Usually, cat hiding behavior in response to stress is short-lived and resolves quickly. If not? You guessed it! It’s time to call in the vet to investigate.
- Pregnancy and birth
Sudden hiding behavior in female cats is usually a sign that they’re pregnant and need a safe space to deliver their kittens. This can be anywhere warm and safe where they won’t be disturbed – a linen cupboard or under the bed are common.
How to help a hiding cat
If your cat is hiding, your first step is to identify the cause of this behavior. Examine the context of the hiding. Has there been a change in your cat’s world? How long have they been hiding? Do they do this often?
If you know why your cat is hiding, the best you can do is leave them there to feel safe until they’re confident enough to leave. Trying to force or drag them out will only frighten them more and potentially damage the bond you’ve forged with your cat.
If you’re expecting visitors or any other situation that you suspect will cause your cat some distress, make sure that their favorite hiding place is free and unobstructed. Give them access to their food and water and place a litter box nearby, so they feel safer. Litter boxes are covered in your cat’s pheromones which help to make your cat feel safer. Put their blanket or toys nearby – these all smell familiar and safe and can help alleviate stress.
Keep an eye on your cat’s behaviors. Do they always hide? Are they suddenly hiding more? How is their appetite? Do they seem to be playing less? Look for other signs of illness, too, like limping or gastric problems like diarrhea.
If at any time you’re concerned that something more could be at play, call your vet. Cats don’t show their feelings well, so a cat in pain won’t look any different than normal, but their behavior and body language can provide clues.
Moving to a new house is very stressful for a cat. Expecting them to suddenly feel comfortable in this seemingly enormous new place is a mistake. Initially, it helps keep them in one room with all their familiar bits – litter box, blankets, bedding, toys. When they seem comfortable in their new room, they slowly start exploring the rest of the house.
A new pet, such as a kitten, should always be introduced and socialized slowly. Animals are suspicious of each other. It’s normal. But over time, it can get better. A little patience and some clever tricks can help.
Read more: Skittish Kitty: How to Comfort a Scared Cat
How to get your cat out of hiding
This is the bit that humans commonly get wrong. Your cat is most likely hiding to feel safe. Yanking them out of their safe place will do more harm than good. Also, you are guaranteed to get a less than favorable reaction from your cat and, potentially, some injuries in the process.
If you are concerned that your cat needs medical attention and want to take them to the vet, you’ll need to firmly but gently remove them. Grab them by the scruff of their neck (this isn’t cruel – it’s how their mamma used to carry them) and gently remove them. You can also try using pheromone spray on a towel placed near their hiding spot. If they move to sit on the towel, you can use the towel to wrap the kitty up and get them to the vet.
You could try to lure them with snacks or toys, but don’t expect too much. These temptations are usually ineffective in the face of a very frightened or sick cat. They can be useful in luring a cat out once a threat or situation has passed.
But the most important takeaway is that if you don’t need to move your cat when they’re hiding, then don’t. It’s better to leave them to come out when they’re good and ready.
Final thoughts on cat hiding
Hiding is a perfectly normal part of being a cat. It’s an essential part of being a cat, from hiding for safety to hiding in the brush to stalk prey or stalk and pounce on you. In the wild, a cat’s ability to hide can mean the difference between a successful hunt and a hungry belly.
Domesticated cats will hide for many reasons, most commonly out of fear or anxiety, or illness. Not all cat hiding is a cause for concern, but there are times when this behavior is a sign of something more serious.
Reach out to your vet if your cat is suddenly hiding (usually illness is accompanied by other symptoms like loss of appetite or diarrhea) or if they begin hiding for long periods, rarely coming out.
Cats don’t have a way of communicating their illness to us other than their behavior and body language. Pay attention to these, and if at any time you are concerned about your cat’s health or well-being, contact your vet.