It’s a common problem: You’ve just brought a kitten home, but she’s decided she wants to stay under your couch no matter how hard you try to get her to come out. Or, all of a sudden, your usually-social cat refuses to emerge from a new hiding spot.
While some cats hide to take a break from stimulation or people, other cats may hide when they are experiencing fear, stress, pain or an underlying health problem.
Learn why your cat may be hiding, when to consult with a veterinarian and how to get a cat out of hiding.
Cat Hiding: What It Looks Like
If your cat shrinks away from you, sprints into other rooms, or doesn’t show up for her usual routine (like mealtime and potty breaks), she’s probably in hiding.
To determine whether she’s truly hiding or just relaxing somewhere, pay attention to her body language.
“If a cat’s just hiding because she wants alone time, she will look more relaxed, lying down on her side with her paws out,” says Dr. Marci L. Koski, certified feline behavior consultant and founder of Feline Behavior Solutions. Koski says this is normal, healthy behavior, so respect her desire to be left alone.
If your cat is hiding because she’s afraid or something else is going on, you may notice the following:
- Widely dilated pupils
- Ears back or flattened to the side
- Body tucked tight into a small ball or loaf shape, with her tail wrapped around her
In this case, it’s important to identify what’s at the root of this hiding behavior. There’s no specific breed, age, or type of cat that’s generally more prone to hiding than others, says Koski. Ultimately, reasons for hiding come down to the individual cat’s personality, health status, personal history, and potential triggers.
Why Is My Cat Hiding?
Cats can hide for many reasons, some of which can cause concern. Here are a few common triggers:
- They’re somewhere new. If your new cat is hiding, know this is common. This could be due to perceived threats such as a busy household, loud guests or children, other animals or even unusual sounds or smells.
- They’re stressed. Hidden-away spots feel safe to cats, so they often hide to feel better when stressed out.
- They’re afraid. Cats can become fearful for numerous reasons and may retreat until they feel safe again. Things like a washing machine, a jittery A/C unit or a roommate who has a bad habit of slamming doors could all be scary things to a cat.
- They’re overstimulated. Cats are just like us; they need alone time to recharge and relax. If play time’s gone on too long or kids overwhelm your kitty with attention, she may scurry away for a much-needed catnap.
- They feel trapped. Felines are predators and prey in the wild, so hiding spots are essential for cats to exhibit their natural inclinations. If there are no safe spots or quick exits available in your space, your cat may try to hide wherever she can.
- They are being bullied. If you’re in a multi-animal household, your cat could be hiding because she’s not getting along with another dog or cat.
- They are in pain. It’s not uncommon for older cats to develop aches and pains or arthritis. Cats hide signs of weakness in the wild by staying out of sight, so domesticated cats may also hide when they’re in pain.
- They’re sick. Wondering why your cat’s hiding suddenly or acting strange? Sometimes, this is due to a health condition in need of treatment.
Whenever your cat abruptly changes her behavior or begins hiding for prolonged periods, it’s good to reach out to your veterinarian for a checkup to make sure she’s alright, says Koski.
Where Do Cats Hide?
Warm, dark spaces are premier hiding spots for cats, says Koski. You’ll often find a cat hiding underneath your bed or couch, behind the washer and dryer, beside the water heater, inside closets, below the house or deck or curled up against something warm.
Because cats like different spots for hiding, relaxing and escaping, you may find yours has a few favorite places depending on what she’s running from or looking to do, says Koski. It’s common for cats to wander around dawn and dusk since they’re crepuscular (active at night), so you might also notice your cat hides away more often during the day.
How Long Will a Cat Hide?
Cats can hide for hours, days, or even weeks, which can feel scary for pet parents. As far as how long is “normal” for a cat to hide, it depends on why your cat’s hiding.
“If, for example, she’s new to the home, sometimes cats who are less social and tend to be more insecure and fearful might hide for days,” says Koski. “I’ve also seen cases where cats have hidden for weeks.”
Here’s how to determine when you should worry and what to do.
Is Cat Hiding a Cause for Concern?
Cats each have their patterns and preferences for normal hiding behavior. However, when their hiding habits shift or suddenly change, it’s important to pay attention, says Koski.
If your cat’s hiding behavior is accompanied by other symptoms such as decreased appetite or refusal to eat, vomiting, or not using the litter box, it could be a major signal that something is wrong. Contact your veterinarian for a prompt checkup.
Your veterinarian will be able to assess whether your cat’s hiding behavior is related to a health or medical issue or whether it may be a good idea to schedule a consult with a cat behaviorist.
How to Get a Cat Out of Hiding
It’s important to know what not to do to get a cat out of hiding. Don’t reach in and grab them or drag them out.
“That’s taking away a cat’s choice and when they lose the option to choose for themselves, you may end up being injured because the cat is afraid or angry,” says Koski.
You also want to avoid yelling, startling them, or squirting them with water, which will only make them more afraid and could hurt your relationship.
Instead, try the following strategies:
Identify and address potential threats. Could your cat be hiding due to triggers such as loud noises coming from your TV, a particularly intense candle or too much attention from little hands? Dial down these disruptions for a calmer, safer space.
Bribe her with a few of her favorite things. Try to entice your kitty to come out with gentle coaxing, cat toys or treats. Each time she emerges from her hiding spot, reward her with plenty of treats and positive reinforcement.
Bring resources to her. If your cat won’t even venture out for food or water, make sure they’re available nearby and gradually move them to their usual spot until she’s comfortable coming out for them regularly.
Make your space more cat-friendly. For a happy home, cats need numerous exits for speedy runaways, high and low hideout spots, lounging areas and plenty of toys. If possible, create secluded spaces to make her feel more comfortable and secure.
If you’re still struggling to get your cat to come out, don’t hesitate to reach out to your veterinarian or a cat behaviorist for help.
How to Prevent or Minimize Hiding Cats
While occasional and periodic hiding is normal for cats, there are a few ways you can reduce problematic hiding behavior. Here are our top recommendations to soothe angsty cats and provide safer hangout spots:
Try a Calming Product
Sometimes, you cannot remove your cat’s source of anxiety, whether she doesn’t get along with your dog, kids, loud city noises or all of the above. In this case, using a calming product may be beneficial. These can include things like hemp oil, calming vests, calming treats, or pheromone diffusers.
Provide a Safe Place for Her to Hide
A hiding spot in the center of your living room rather than inside an unreachable, dangerous part of your home? Count us in. Try a pet tunnel to give your cat a safe and accessible place to hide from time to time without resorting to unapproved hideaways.
Make Her Space Warmer
Cats often hide to seek warmth from sources like a dryer or heater because your house is too chilly for them or it helps soothe pain from arthritis. But this can be dangerous or lead to excessive time curled up in a hideaway. If you suspect this could be what’s going on, help your cat stay warm by investing in a heated cat mat, suggests Koski.
Get Your Cat Used to Her Carrier
Many cats dread the sight of the cat carrier, but keeping one accessible at all times can help reduce hiding behavior.
“You want to make it cozy and throw some treats in there occasionally to help your cat feel like the carrier is a safe space where she can go to relax,” says Koski.
As a bonus, traveling and trips to the veterinarian could go more smoothly since she feels more secure and at ease.