Why is my new kitten scared of me?

Photo of Karen Dell

Karen Dell

Senior Editor • Backyard Cat Enclosures

20 August 2019

A kitten may be scared of you — or its environment — for various reasons. Depending on the reason, there are different steps you can take to help your kitten learn not to be scared of you, but rather to trust you.

Reasons why your kitten may be scared of you

  • It’s simply still getting used to its new surroundings. If you’ve just brought your kitten home from the breeder or shelter, it’s quite normal for them to be skittish and afraid. With a bit of time and patience, they’ll see that you’re not a threat and also give them food and pet them and come to trust you. Before you know it, you’ll be inseparable!
  • Your new kitten wasn’t properly socialised at a young age. Kittens learn to socialise from 2 to 7 weeks of age. If, during this time, they weren’t socialised with humans, they can be extremely afraid of them and will need a lot of patience and time to get over this fear. However, it is possible, so don’t worry! The steps below will give you the help you need to win your new ball of fluff’s trust.  
  • Previous bad treatment. If you have adopted a kitten from a shelter, there is — unfortunately — a chance that they have been through not-so-nice experiences during their short lives. It may be that they were rescued from a place where they were mistreated; in which case they probably won’t trust any human (at first). They probably also hadn’t been socialised properly between 2 and 7 weeks of age. Basically, don’t think that you, personally, did anything to scare your new kitten. If you can, try to find out what their history is so you know what you’re dealing with. There are still steps you can take to win their trust, so keep reading!

How to keep your kitten from being scared and how to teach them to trust you

These steps are not necessarily all needed for you to win your kitten’s trust, and some kittens may become socialised easier than others.
  • Slowly but surely. The most important thing to keep in mind when working with a scared kitten is to take it as slowly as necessary for them, not slow for you. The behaviour that they had learnt previously won’t disappear overnight, so don’t force them to suddenly spend all day with you, for example. That will only make them more scared and fearful.
  • Keep them in one room at first. When you bring your kitten home, it’s a good idea to have readied a specific room for them. In this room (or space, if you don’t have a whole room to use), give them a bed and place to hide (even a box will do, and we all know how much cats love boxes!). Also give them their food and their litter there; just don’t put the food and litter next to each other.  
  • Go and “visit” them. Instead of staying in your kitten’s space the whole time, leave them to have their own spot and also taking their own time to explore and get used to their new environment without it becoming a sensory overload. A few times a day — for example when you go to feed them — spend some time with them in order for them to become used to you. Speak in a soft, friendly tone and urge them to come closer to you. (It usually helps when you’re sitting or lying on the floor.) Don’t force them, and let them come to you in their own time.
  • Don’t play or pet too much. When your kitten gets tired or decide that they’ve had enough interaction with you for the time being, don’t force them to keep interacting. The most important thing you can do is moving at their pace.
  • Start a routine. Kittens love routine, so start a daily feeding, playing, and grooming routine.
  • Of course, a treat or two is also not a bad thing! Start by leaving the treat by the kitten’s food for them to have and taste. Every time you then give a treat, leave it a bit further from the food bowl and closer to where you are. Finally, offer them the treat from your hand. If you see your kitten is still afraid, don’t pet them at once, but talk to them in a friendly, soft voice. Once they’re happy to be petted as well as given a treat, you’ve really made a breakthrough!
Once your kitten is happy for you to touch and pet them (however briefly), you can start focusing on making these playing and petting times longer. You’ll see that your kitten will, after a while, not need any coaxing when it comes to playtime or grooming time.

Here are some other articles that you may find helpful:

Why Adopt An Orphan Or Re-Domesticated Feral Kitten?

Once the kittens have been tamed, however, they will form strong bonds with their humans; just like other domestic cats.  Plus, you get to save a kitten’s life!

How To Discourage Your Kitten’s Bad Behaviour

We sometimes forget that kittens are basically babies and toddlers (not to mention teenagers later on!) and sometimes misbehave. However, a lot of the time this is because they just have not yet learnt that their behaviour is unacceptable. But, don’t worry, here are some tips to help you train your kitten to know what behaviour is and isn’t acceptable.

When and How To Socialise Kittens

Exactly how much socialisation is needed by a kitten really depends on its circumstances during it’s first weeks before you adopt it. While some kittens may be used to human interaction by 10-weeks-old (when you adopt them), some may have come from a feral or rescue-situation, making them very skittish and timid.  However, that doesn’t mean that you will necessarily have a lot of problems to socialise them. 


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