“What are you doing in THERE?” – Why cats hide in strange places.

Mar 31, 2012 by Dr Steven Bailey    1 Comment     Posted under: Tips & Advice

Two glowing eyes peer out at you from under the bed. A paw darts out from under a chair to grab your ankle as you walk by. Your house becomes strangely empty when the cat carrier appears. Why do cats hide?

Despite myths to the contrary, there are a lot of normal, healthy reasons that cats may find a hiding spot. Some of these reasons include curiosity, comfort, or even boredom. Cats may also hide due to stress, age-related changes or illness.

A cat’s high level of curiosity about her surroundings drives her to explore new nooks and crannies, especially empty bags and boxes, or suitcases and garment bags. That drawer you left open while you reached for a stack of shirts to put away? Check behind it before you close it, because a cat may be settling down in the darkness. Did you leave the dryer door open? Check to make sure there are no furry feet massaging your toasty warm towels into position for a nap before you close the door and press “Start”. Did you turn away from the refrigerator while the door was open? Check for paw prints in the butter!

When curling up for a nap, they will also often find a quiet place where they are less noticeable, and may prefer a shoebox, laundry basket or paper bag. It is a confident, well-adjusted and happy cat that sprawls across the couch, or sleeps belly-up in the middle of the floor. Pregnant females looking for a nesting spot may be found hiding in strange spots, or may choose to have their kittens in previously unexplored areas – such as behind a large piece of furniture.

Cats may hide in some specific spots because of the temperature. They may seek out spots near air vents to benefit from a warm or cool breeze. They may curl up in the sink or bathtub to cool off, or worm their way under a pillow or blanket to warm up. The perfect afternoon sunbeam may end behind a chair or under a table.

Your cat also may hide because they are lying in wait for a game to begin. Some cats will find a hiding spot near a high traffic area in the house and then launch themselves out at unsuspecting feet. What could be more entertaining?

Sometimes, hiding can be your cat’s way of “getting away from it all”. When something in the house becomes too stressful, the flight or flight survival response kicks in, and many cats will choose flight before a fight. What causes stress in an animal that can sleep up to 20 hours a day? A cat’s surroundings can be downright terrifying! That brand new kitten you got? It’s gone and stirred up a whole mess of stress by using the same litterbox! The new baby in the house has totally rearranged the household sleeping schedule. The party last week interfered with kitty’s squirrel-watching schedule. The new couch smells funny. And now that your oldest child has gone off to college, the bed where kitty used to sleep is now empty. If two cats in the household don’t get along well, the more timid one may absent himself in order to avoid a confrontation. Oh, and one more thing…ever since that last horrifying trip in the cat carrier, you’ve been shoving things down your cat’s throat twice a day. Who wouldn’t hide?

Cats plagued by fleas may hide in elevated hiding spots, trying to get away from the critters in the carpets. (More information about flea control from Dr. Sundahl.)

Cats deprived of a healthy variety of changes during early growth development may never develop the normal curious and tolerant behavior expected in healthy young cats. This is often true of feral kittens that are trapped and socialized. Others will adapt, but slowly. (See Bodaishin’s story) On the other hand, some cats are simply naturally, genetically, timid cats and not likely to change.

If your cat is a timid cat, and all indications of illness have been eliminated, then behavior modification and desensitization could be considered to help the cat better adjust to the home environment. Occasionally, antianxiety drug therapy may be helpful in getting the timid cat to overcome his fears and become more outgoing.

As cats age, they may develop subtle changes in personality. It is important to determine whether these changes are normal or related to health issues. Some cats even can become senile or suffer from dementia, and brain tumors are not unheard of in cats, all of which can cause cats to become more antisocial or hide more often.

So how do you tell if your cat is just doing normal cat things, or if it is an indication your cat isn’t feeling well? If your cat is normally a social animal, making the rounds of the couches and chairs, reminding you that it’s time for dinner, and cuddling with you in bed at night and you notice that he is choosing to nap in the closet instead of eating dinner, and he curls up under the bed instead of on top of the covers, then you might have something to be concerned about. Cats are creatures of habit, and a change in their normal routine is something noteworthy. However, if your cat has always been the type to sit behind the couch instead of perching on the backrest, it is probably just your cat’s normal, shy personality.

If you are concerned about the amount of time your cat spends hiding, the location that they are hiding, or have noticed a recent change in behavior, your best course of action is to call your veterinarian for advice.

Dr Steven Bailey

Dr. Steven J. Bailey founded Exclusively Cats Veterinary Hospital in 1992. He obtained his Bachelor of Science and Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine from Michigan State University in June of 1986. After graduation, Dr. Bailey practiced emergency medicine for 8 years prior to establishing Exclusively Cats. Dr. Bailey is one of two veterinarians in the state of Michigan and the only veterinarian in Southeastern Michigan that has been board certified by the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners as a Feline Specialist (ABVP). His special interests include complicated medical/surgical cases as well as critical care, advanced dentistry, and behavioral medicine. Dr. Bailey is an active member of the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP), American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), he is a current council member of the Southeastern Michigan Veterinary Medical Association (SEMVMA). He is also an Associate Editor of the Feline Internal Medicine Board on the Veterinary Information Network (VIN), invited member of VMG #18 (The only feline exclusive Veterinary Management Group) and MOM’s group (Macomb/Oakland Management Group). In his free time, Dr. Bailey is an avid kayaker (some may even call him “obsessed”) and an instructor in both canoe and kayaking sports. He also enjoys running and spending time with his family. Dr. Bailey and his wife Liz have 2 adult children, Christopher and Kayla, 3 cats, Tic Tic, Sapphire and Lacey, and one dog, Charlotte.

Exclusively Cats Veterinary Hospital

6650 Highland Road

Waterford, MI 48327

Phone: 248-666-5287

Fax ‎206-333-1135

ecvh@exclusivelycats.com

Website: http://www.exclusivelycats.com

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  • MegaSnoopy211 .

    Thanks for the enlightening information. This is our first kitty and although his behavior is often humorous and heart-warming, sometimes it is so strange it actually becomes frightening. Unfortunately, this is one of those instances.
    We adopted our little fuzz-ball when he was dropped off and came knocking on our door one day. Days before we had lost the love of our lives, our 12 yr. old Chow Chow, who absolutely blessed our lives with his presence. To have “Loki” coming knocking was a “no-brainer”…he needs us?…here we are!
    He literally walked in our front door and now, 10 yrs. later, he’s the “King of his Domain”. He’s has always been “his own guy”…doing what he wants, when he wants and how he wants…but always made sure to let us know how much he loved us.
    He was never much of a hider though. He was the cat that sprawled out on the couch and would literally nudge you out of the way if you were intruding on his “personal space”…real character! But again, he wasn’t much of a hider.
    Once or twice since we had him, he would go and hide in our basement and, of course being first time cat parents, we panicked and stopped at nothing until we would find him …usually curled-up in a fur coat we had stored for the summer.
    But, what concerns us is the LENGTH OF TIME he hides. We monitor his food and litter box to make sure he his eating and such, which is always in the middle of the night, but, this behavior can go on for a WEEK..hiding all week, not a peep…and then just instantly stop. IS THIS NORMAL? Please help…love our lil` man. Worry always! THANKS!

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