Pet Keen is reader-supported. When you buy via links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you. Learn more.

Why Is My Cat Scared of Strangers? (5 Possible Reasons)

scared cat with his owner

Vet approved

Dr. Paola Cuevas Photo

Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Paola Cuevas

Vet, MVZ

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

Learn more »

Every cat has their own personality. One cat may love strangers and wants to be the center of attention any time someone comes over. Another cat may hightail it out of the room as soon as the doorbell rings. Sometimes, both cats can live in the same household!

Many cat owners want to know why their cats are so scared of strangers, especially if they are loving and affectionate when company isn’t around. In this article, we look at five possible reasons that your cat feels the need to run and hide whenever someone new walks through the door and what you can do to help them feel more comfortable.

Sometimes, though, cats are most comfortable when they are left alone, so it’s important to remember that cats may not act the way that you want them to with company. However, you can work to help them feel safe and secure in their home when you have guests.

divider-cat

Five Reasons That Your Cat May Be Scared of Strangers

Shy cats that are scared of strangers are not uncommon. Here are five possible reasons that this is happening.

1. Limited or Lack of Experience With People

cat hiding under furniture
Image Credit: PollyDot, Pixabay

One common reason your cat is scared of strangers is that they did not receive adequate socialization when they were young. Socialization is important between the ages of 2 to 7 weeks.

If you’ve recently adopted a cat or rescued one from the streets, you may not know much about their background. Older cats that haven’t been socialized well won’t have the experience that they need to be confident and calm around people. Cats can be scared of men if they’ve previously only lived with women and vice versa. If cats have only ever known adults, they may be scared of children.

What You Can Do

If you’ve recently adopted a kitten or young cat, socialize them as much as you can. Introduce them to as many people as possible, including children. Give your cat a chance to listen to radios, televisions, phones, people talking and laughing, and other noises. The more people and sounds that they are exposed to, the better.

If you’ve adopted an older cat that is scared of people, this process may take longer. It’s not impossible to help your cat used to new people, but it’s important to understand that it may never happen. Use treats and toys as motivators for good behavior. Encourage guests to give your cat treats too.

Don’t force your cat to come out of its hiding place. If the cat does emerge and makes an appearance, don’t crowd them. Allow the cat to observe from a distance until they feel safe enough to approach. If they do come over, give them treats and praise. Don’t attempt to pick them up or force them to hold still as guests pet them. This can cause them to be more fearful.


2. New Environment

scared kitten hiding
Image Credit: Khamidulin Sergey, Shutterstock

If you’ve just moved to a new home and are wondering why your cat is hiding during the housewarming party, it could be because they don’t understand where they are yet. This is true for a cat that’s always been fearful, but the behavior can also be seen in cats that are usually social. A new place means your cat doesn’t have a regular routine yet or know all the good hiding spots where they feel safe. Adding new people to that mix can be overwhelming and confusing.

What You Can Do

Give your cat time to adjust to the new situation. Help your cat feel more comfortable when they run away and hide. For example, if your cat heads to your bedroom to hide under the bed, move their food and water bowls into the room with them. Offer them their favorite treats and close the door halfway. Let them have time to decompress and realize that nothing is happening to them.

Your cat may remain in that spot until your guests leave. If they do emerge and show themselves, don’t make a fuss over them. Reward your cat with treats and praise the longer they stay out so they can view this as a positive experience.


3. Traumatic Past

A cat hiding under a couch
Image Credit: Rawpixel.com, Shutterstock

Cats can have abusive and neglectful pasts that may take a long time to overcome, if it ever happens at all. Some cats have been treated horribly and may be scared of people as a result. Even if your cat has overcome their fear enough to trust and love you, that feeling may not extend to everyone. Cats identify the people they know mostly by smell. If a person smells unfamiliar to them, it can be scary.

What You Can Do

If you can identify what seems to scare your cat the most (adults, children, men, women, etc.), you can expose your cat to them gradually. If your cat is scared of your toddler niece, for example, don’t allow the child to run and grab the cat. Instead, have them over to your home regularly, staying for small periods each time.

If your cat does not instantly retreat to a hiding place when they’re over, give them treats and praise. Then, allow the cat to observe you and what’s going on without being touched or crowded. The longer your cat stays out, the more you can reward them. If the cat leaves to find a hiding place, let them stay there until they feel comfortable coming out again. Maybe they won’t, but by repeating this process as often as possible, they can eventually learn that having people in the house isn’t so scary.


4. It’s Too Noisy

Does your cat like to come out and greet people but initially runs away when they arrive? It could be because of the noise. Cats don’t like to have their routines interrupted. When guests come over, they usually ring the doorbell or knock on the door. They could be talking or laughing loudly. Items may be moved about and shoes, with new smells attached, are on the floor. Purses and bags are set down.

All this activity can be too much even for a social cat and definitely for one that’s already scared.

What You Can Do

Let the commotion die down. Once people settle in and relax, your cat may come out from their hiding place and join the festivities. They also may come out and just want to watch what’s happening without being directly involved. When they do emerge, offer them treats, toys, and praise. Encourage your guests to talk gently to the cat and offer treats. If the cat approaches one of your guests, allow them to investigate the person slowly. They should let the cat smell their hand before attempting to pet them.


5. It’s Their Personality

cat hiding outside
Image Credit: Maciej Czekajewski, Shutterstock

Some cats, just like people, may have timid personalities. If kittens are born to feral mothers, they are taught to fear people from birth. If kittens have fathers with shy personalities, they also often will.

What You Can Do

Give your cat a safe space in the home with a soft bed, litter box, food, and water. This can be the area that your cat hides in if they want to. The space should be calm and inviting for your cat, out of the way of foot traffic and noise. If they know that they have this space to go to when they feel like it, they will be more relaxed in the home. Make sure that this space is undisturbed and that respect is always shown for your cat’s privacy.

divider-cat

Conclusion

It can be confusing to see your normally active and social cat run and hide as soon as the doorbell rings, but knowing the reasons that this happens can help you make them more comfortable. Some cats are shy by nature and don’t want to be around strangers. Others have been abused, and their trauma prevents them from trusting new people quickly.

When you know more about why your cat is scared of strangers, you can help them learn to overcome their fears so future visitors will be less overwhelming.


Featured Image Credit: Jaromir Chalabala, Shutterstock

Our vets

Want to talk to a vet online?

Whether you have concerns about your dog, cat, or other pet, trained vets have the answers!

Our vets
Did you know: an average of 8 cat foods are recalled every year?
Get FREE Cat Food Recall Alerts, exclusive content, insider pricing, care guides, sale alerts & more! Sign up for our Kitty Club!
Get FREE Cat Food Recall Alerts Get alerts