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From Super Shy To Super Fly (Helping Shy Pets Be More Comfy When You’re Away)

Through years of fostering extremely timid cats from the Feline Friends shelter, I’ve learned some useful techniques for gaining the trust of shy and fearful cats. I’ve also tried dozens of products that claim to help shy animals and have a list of some products that actually do help. I also know how reassuring it is to find a pet sitter who can relate to your shy pets because my own cat, Andy (AKA His Royal Shyness), is fearful of most humans. I’m grateful that his pet sitter is soooo gifted with shy animals. Now Andy actually runs to the door to greet her and he flies through the air as he reaches for toys she uses with him!

The best way to help shy or fearful animals be more comfortable while you’re away is to choose their pet sitter wisely, as some do better with outgoing cats.  People who have the most success in caring for shy pets seem to demonstrate certain qualities. They…

  • Know the pets’ routines, personalities, likes, and dislikes. Their sitter knows which treats are each animal’s favorites, keeps their usual meal time routines, and avoids sounds or scents that make your pets uncomfortable or anxious.
  • Allow shy animals to go at their own pace, leaving pets undisturbed when they’re hiding. It’s better to tempt timid pets into coming out on their own, than to pursue those who are hiding.
  • Avoid making loud or unexpected sounds, such as whistling, ringing cell phones, and wristwatch alarms. Their sitter keeps the TV and radio at volumes the animals are used to.
  • Spend time sitting quietly within sight of the pets to demonstrate that this is a human who comes in peace.
  • Put treats in places where they’ve spent time. That way, after the sitter leaves, the pets will get tasty rewards for investigating those places. They’ll soon learn that this human brings good tidings.
  • Avoid using catnip or honeysuckle until cats trust them. Calming scents, like lavender or chamomile, are better options.
  • Recognize the difference between a shy animal hiding from them, and a lethargic one who needs to be taken to the veterinarian.

Before leaving, there are a few things you can do to help your pets become more comfortable and brave while you’re away:

  • Invite their sitter to visit a few days before you leave, so your pets have a recent memory about this person being your friend. For extremely shy pets, consider having their caretaker make several pre-vacation visits. The more your animals see you interact with their sitter, the more comfortable they’ll be with their new friend. One of my clients says he’s convinced this was the key to his extremely shy cat learning to trust me. I visited several times for an hour or more before the human went away. The client says “I believe this is the best idea by FAR… I would tell anyone who might be interested that it is well worth the cost, especially if the cat is ultra shy as in the case of Tinny… it simply made common sense to have him learn to know and love you over a long period of time, rather than to view you as another scary stranger the first time you came over to take care of him in my stead.”
  • Create new safe hiding places for them in each room where their sitter will spend time. No need to spend money – just turn paper grocery bags or cardboard boxes on their side and lay soft blankets inside. Draping sheets over a chair is another quick way to create a safe cocoon.
  • Place recently worn, unlaundered clothing in their safe hiding places and also in places where they usually nap or cuddle with you.
  • Use calming massage techniques, acupressure, or compression if your pets are comfortable being touched. I highly recommend the local classes and private lessons taught by Marnie Black.

Pet supply stores carry quite a few products that help overwhelmed or scared animals and I’ve tried most – if not all – of them. The products that I’ve found useful with almost every shy pet are:

  • Calming treats (Pet Naturals brand makes my favorites).
  • Pheromone sprays or diffusers (Comfort Zone by Feliway). Begin using pheromones a couple weeks before you leave. If your pets usually wear collars, switching to a pheromone collar during your trip is the most effective way to use pheromones.
  • Lavender and/or chamomile sachets. Place sachets near places where their sitter will spend the majority of their time.
  • Flower essences (such as Bach Rescue Remedy) that are added to their food or drinking water. Very effective, inexpensive, personalized blends can be made by Lin Gregerson.

A couple more products that can sometimes help shy pets are:

  • Herbal calming sprays or diffusers (such as NutriVet brand) with lavender and bergamot.
  • Chew-toys help some dogs and cats reduce anxiety.

To find out which of the calming products help your animals the most, try one or two items on a day when you have guests over. (The pheromones need a couple weeks to begin making a difference, but other items might work immediately.) Once you know which things work for your specific pets, have some of those products on hand for your sitter to use while you’re away.

I’d love to hear from you if you know of other tips that I can share with people who have timid pets. I’m passionate about gathering and sharing information that can make life easier for our fearful family members.

(Note: I do not accept payment for mentions or reviews of products and services that I write about on this site.)

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