Dear Doctor – Our experts address feline shyness

Puzzled by super-shy cat


[From Tufts May 2011 Issue]

I adopted my cat, Flower, about 2 years ago from a shelter. She was there for six months and was 8 years old at the time. She was in good health except for having feline herpesvirus that my veterinarian treated. Flower has been receiving lysine ever since and is doing well.

Since I’ve adopted her, Flower has never made any vocal sounds. I find this unusual, since my previous cats were quite vocal. She also spends her entire life upstairs and refuses to come down and socialize with my husband and me. We have no other pets and no children. She is somewhat receptive to me when I go to see her, comb her and give her affection and treats, but her acceptance is limited. After a while, she will get up and walk away, which is my cue to leave.

I would so appreciate if you could let me know if there are any other cats who are not vocal, and do you think she will ever become more social? Her breed is mixed. She is also an indoor-only cat.
Ruth Roschak

Dear Ruth: Thank you for your question. It sounds to me that your cat, Flower, has had a tough time in an earlier part of her life. Sometimes, when cats or other animals find themselves in a hopeless situation, they shut down, seemingly expecting very little out of life and lacking joie de vivre. This may account for her reclusive nature and her unwillingness to speak up.

She is lucky now that you have provided a good home for her and at least she feels secure in the upstairs part of your home. In order to expand her horizons, it is important that you don’t try to coerce her into new situations, but rather make the circumstances conducive to her becoming a little more adventurous. Two techniques that you can use to help achieve this end are counter-conditioning and clicker training.

Counter-conditioning literally means conditioning an opposite response. So you could, for example, arrange for her to find delicious food treats at the top of the stairs, positioning these food treats progressively further down the stairs as days progress until she is finally receiving them on the ground floor. The other technique, clicker training, is wonderfully explained on Karen Pryor’s website, Both you and your husband could get involved in this positive method of training to everyone’s benefit, including Flower’s.

In answer to your final question, there are some breeds of cat who are quieter than others. The Chartreuse and Russian Blue cats, for example, are not big talkers, but these are relatively uncommon breeds and probably do not factor in your cat’s mix.
Nicholas Dodman, BVMS
Animal Behavior Clinic Director
Cummings School of
Veterinary Medicine at
Tufts University


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