The personality of your kitten isn’t genetic but is influenced heavily by the personality of their parents – shy cats often produce shy kittens. But also, their early environment, the amount of socialisation with people they have had and any trauma experienced can also affect their personalities. So how do you win over a nervous kitten?
You will quickly realise if your new kitten is more than just cautious around their new home. Their absence from anywhere but the back of the sofa or under the bed for more than just a short period of time is a strong indicator. Their panic when caught out in the room is another. The key to helping them overcome this is to set to work straight away – but carefully.
Kittens typically receive their socialisation stimulus in their first eight to ten weeks. If they don’t encounter people during this time, when they do run into them, they will be new, different and something to be feared. This can happen with rescue cats who have been born to an abandoned mother somewhere.
So the key is to learn the kitten that not only are people safe, they are even good and helpful. This means providing them with positive and pleasant experiences that build up a good mental image of the human. Another part of this is experiencing different things to learn them about the world – this can be the vacuum cleaner, the doorbell, meeting new people and even encountering children and other pets if there is none in the house.
Learning about the world
While forcing them to confront something fearful can simply make the fear worse, continuing with things can help them realise this is a normal part of life. For instance, if they are frightened of the vacuum cleaner, don’t just switch it off but don’t make them confront it. Just continue vacuuming as normal to show them this is what happens.
Play is another way to win over a nervous kitten and both socialises them and introduces them to new items. Instinct will kick in when a feather on a string or a fluffy toy is put in front of them that encourages them to attack it. Encourage this with gentle words and spend time with them using these toys so that the two begin to combine in their mind. Using toys to practise with the instincts is also a good way to avoid developing habits such as biting or scratching. If their play becomes too rough, stop the play so they learn that they cannot ‘kill’ everything they encounter.
Rewards can be used for good behaviour but be careful not to over-use this for everything. Reward them for special thing such as coming out for a stroke at first or sitting on your knee. Don’t just issue rewards all the time as the process will lose its impact and they won’t understand what the reward is for. Alternatively, never smack or shout at the kitten, as they won’t understand it and it will simply built on their natural fear.