Understanding Scared Kittens: How to Get a Scared Kitten to Trust You

Dr. Ragen T.S. McGowan, PhD
By Dr. Ragen T.S. McGowan, PhD
Updated: 6/3/2024
Close-up of a small blue-eyed kitten with a concerned look

If your kitten is scared of you (or other people or pets), it’s not always clear how to help them. As a pet owner, you want to ease their fear but your pet may be too anxious to let you get close to them.

Fortunately, there are ways to help a scared or skittish kitten to feel more comfortable in your home. It may take some time, but with persistence and patience, you can increase your chances of building trust with your feline companion. 

If you’re wondering, Why is my new kitten scared of me?, read on to learn possible explanations.

Why is My Kitten Scared of Me?

If you’re curious how to help a scared kitten, it’s useful to understand what’s causing their fear. Here are some potential reasons why your kitten might be apprehensive around you.

They’re Not Socialized

Your kitten may be scared due to a lack of socialization. Kitten socialization is a process in which cats are introduced to different people, animals, experiences and sensations. The goal is to help them feel comfortable in a variety of situations. Critical socialization occurs between two to seven weeks of age, although cats can still be socialized later in life.

Separation From Their Owner

If you found a seemingly lost kitten, it’s possible they’re distraught over being separated from their owner. How do you know if the kitten belongs to someone else? 

  • Have your veterinarian see if the kitten is microchipped
  • Contact local animal shelters
  • Look for “missing cat” flyers near your home
  • Check online neighborhood forums 

They’re Not Used to Living With People

If you adopted your kitten from a shelter and they previously lived outdoors, they might be reluctant to adapt to their new human housemates. Not to mention—it can be challenging to become an indoor cat after living a more unstructured lifestyle.

Personal Preferences

Some cats prefer solitude while others favor certain people and animals over others. If your pet seems to avoid members of your household, or they tend to get into fights, take note. Remind your family—especially young kids—to be gentle and give your kitten space if they seem like they need it.

Trauma or Abuse

Unfortunately, kittens who are abused by people may associate negative feelings with humans. So, if you’re wondering, Why is my kitten afraid of me?, and you can rule out other explanations, it’s possible your feline companion had a traumatic experience in their past.

Illness

If your kitten isn’t feeling well, they may find a private space to hide. This is instinctual, as cats feel that sickness makes them weak and vulnerable to predators. If you think your kitten is sick, contact your veterinarian. 

Identifying Scared Kitten Behavior

Decoding kitten behavior can help you understand your pet’s feelings. If you’re wondering if your cat is scared, look for signs, such as: 

  • Hiding  
  • Cowering, flat ears and/or a tucked tail 
  • Shaking 
  • Running away 
  • Hissing, scratching, growling or presenting an arched back

Note that fear can cause submissive behavior in some kittens and can lead to aggression in others.

How to Calm a Scared Kitten

If your kitten seems scared, remain calm. Cats can be sensitive to the moods of people around them. If you’re nervous or frightened by their behavior, you might make them more afraid.

Give your kitten space and don’t force interactions between you. If they need to relax, it may be best to leave them alone for the time being.

How to Approach a Scared Kitten

When approaching a scared kitten, go slowly and be patient. Similar to how you might introduce a kitten to your home, felines who are skittish need time and space to become comfortable in their environment. 

Here are some tips for how to comfort a scared kitten: 

Give Them Their Own Space

Let your kitten inhabit a low-traffic room in your home and restrict access from other people and animals. Put out their food and water bowls and litter box, and block or cover any areas where they might want to hide. Adding their crate to the room is also a good idea, if they’re trained to use it. 

Let Them Acclimate to You

In short sessions, spend time in the room every day but don’t try to pet or call to your kitten if they’re scared of you. You can simply sit quietly. Ideally, they will eventually come to you, though probably slowly at first. When they feel comfortable enough to approach you, offer them a hand to sniff. 

Introduce Contact

Remember, when trying to comfort your scared kitten, don’t rush contact. After they’ve become comfortable with your presence, you can try to gently pet them. Pay attention to their reaction, though. If they recoil or run away, they’re not ready to be touched. Let them retreat and continue to let them spend time in your presence without any contact.

How to Get a Scared Kitten to Come to You

It’s recommended to let your scared kitten approach you on their own within their private room or defined space. However, if they continue to be reluctant, you can entice them with cat treats.

If your pet comes to eat the treat, speak calmly and softly to them. If they don’t appear, take the treat with you when you leave. The goal is to get your cat to associate you with the positive experience of eating tasty snacks.

How to Bond With a Scared Kitten

Play is a good way to bond with your skittish kitten. Once they get used to your presence and begin to trust you, try offering them toys. Again, it’s a good idea to start slow. As your pet approaches you, calmly show them the toy. Let them sniff and investigate it. If they seem interested, gently pet them with it in areas such as their face or head. (Like using a cat carrier or litter box, kitten training can also include learning to play.)

It may take them more than one session to become interested in the toy. When they seem ready, you can be more proactive and encourage them to play with it. 

Shake the toy to make sounds and movements. You can also throw the toy or a treat for the cat to chase. Just make sure they’re paying attention, so they know where to find it. Additionally, never throw a toy directly at your kitten.

Pro tip: Similar to introducing treats to your kitten, don’t leave toys behind when you exit their space. The goal is to build a positive connection between you and your pet’s toys. 

How Long Will My Kitten Be Scared of Me?

How long your kitten remains scared of you depends on the individual cat, and the reason for their fear. If they’re afraid of you because they weren’t socialized, this may be easier to overcome with proper training than if they experienced trauma with humans, for example. 

When to Seek Professional Help

If you’re wondering how to care for a scared kitten because you’ve tried a slow, patient approach and your pet is still afraid of you, it might be time to contact an animal behaviorist. Additionally, if you suspect your cat is acting skittish or hiding due to a health reason, talk to your veterinarian.

For more expert tips on your feline companion, explore our other kitten behavior articles

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