Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
I let my 6-month-old cat leave the safe room when she felt comfortable. She has has a hell of a time exploring the kitty proofed apartment. However, she retreats underneath couch (which I left unblocked, so she has somewhere to hide) when she is seemingly tired or skittish. I need to leave the apartment and go to sleep, so I desperately need to get her back in the safe room. How do I do this without scaring her or forcing her?
Thomas: Well, Kathryn, we’re not sure from your letter why you need to keep your new cat in her safe room whenever you’re asleep or not home. Do you have another cat you’re concerned about?
Bella: If your 6-month-old is the only cat in the house, she actually needs to have the chance to explore the whole place on her terms. The safe room is a great idea for when you first bring her home, but if she’s the only kitty, it’s good to let her out to check out her new home after a couple of days.
Thomas: If you’re concerned that she may not know where her litter box and food are, you can always put another litter box in one of the common areas so she doesn’t have to go too far in order to do her business.
Bella: Since you’ve said your apartment has been carefully cat-proofed, we don’t think you need to worry too much about her getting in trouble or getting hurt while you’re away.
Thomas: But if you do need to coax her out, the best way to do so is with a toy.
Bella: Few cats can resist the allure of a “thing on a string,” so that’s what we recommend.
Thomas: If you use a toy like Da Bird or Neko Flies (both of which we love) or even a little toy mouse on the end of a shoelace, and you make it move like an object of prey, your kitten will come out of hiding to check it out.
Bella: It’s just feline nature!
Thomas: Playing with her using one of these toys is also a great way to build her confidence and get her out from under the furniture when you’re home, too.
Bella: In this video, a little British Blue kitten is playing with a thing-on-a-string toy, and you can see how it gets him excited and wanting to explore!
Thomas: So, Kathryn, coax your cat out of hiding and build her confidence by playing with her, and you’ll soon see that she settles happily into her new home.
Bella: And make sure you play with her every day so she can get her crazies out in a healthy way that doesn’t involve knocking things over. Also, give her plenty of toys she can play with on her own.
Thomas: You should see Bella playing kitty soccer with her toys, running all over the house, hurling them up in the air and catching them … it’s so much fun she even gets me going sometimes!
Bella: Don’t forget to put the thing-on-a-string toy away in a closet when you’re done using it. You don’t want her to get into trouble and eat the string or anything.
Thomas: That’s right. Eating string and ribbon can be very bad for your cat because it can get stuck in her intestines and cause a blockage.
Bella: So, Kathryn, we hope that helps.
Thomas: What about you other readers? Do you have tips on coaxing a shy kitty out from under or behind the furniture? Please share your ideas in the comments.
Love these suggestions! I’d also add that you can train her to go back to her safe room, by using treats. Either call her name or even use a bell, then give a treat. Do that a couple of times, really timing it so that the cue is right in front of the getting of the treat (within a second). Then start giving it later and later. Once she has clearly linked the two together, take a couple of steps back, and offer the treat after giving the cue. Do this in separate sessions, building it up and going at her pace. Make also sure that you don’t overstuff her on treats in one session or it will lose its appeal. Increase the distance each time, and back up again if she’s not responsive. Eventually, you’ll be able to call her or ring that bell in the safe room and she’ll come running for her treat ;)
Bonus points: it’s an excellent way to call her in whenever you need her (for meds, veterinary trips, checking on her if she’s been gone too long). Just make sure you occasionally call her in for no reason other than a treat. Feel free to occasionally do a treat and occasionally no treat – it’ll keep it interesting and fun in a later stage of the training, maintaining the behaviour. Very handy for outdoor kitties, but equally useful for indoor ones.