Our Cats Are Terrified of Strangers. Help!

Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:

I have two cats that are terrified of strangers. We are planning on going away this summer with the entire family. The problem is if I have someone come into the house to feed them, they will run and hide under my bed and not come out for hours. They are fed raw food, which is a problem because it can’t be left out long. Help, I am stressing out! Any suggestions?

~ Charlene

HART cat snoozing in a shadowy corner

Some cats don’t like to come out and meet people. Photo © JaneA Kelley; all rights reserved.

Siouxsie: Wow, Charlene, you’re definitely in a bind here — but we think we can help you.

Thomas: First, we strongly recommend that you hire a professional cat sitter to take care of your kitties while you’re away.

Bella: The reason we say this is that cat care professionals will know some tricks to coax frightened cats out of hiding and make sure that they eat.

Siouxsie: Cat sitters also won’t leave until your cats eat their food — especially if it’s raw food!

Thomas: Many sitters are fine with feeding a raw diet. Our cat sitter has no problem feeding us our raw food. In fact, she’s kind of happy that Mama feeds us raw because she thinks it’s very healthy.

Bella: When looking for a cat sitter, get recommendations from your veterinarian or other cat-loving friends and colleagues. Your favorite pet store may also have information about sitters. You can also look in the Yellow Pages or on Craigslist for a sitter, but it’s definitely best to find one who is recommended by trusted people.

Siouxsie: We’d recommend that you look for a pet sitter who is experienced with and likes cats. Some, like our good friend Adrianna of Lucky Cat Sitting in Seattle, only take care of cats.

Thomas: We actually interviewed Adrianna a few years ago, and in that post there are some very good recommendations in that article about what to look for in a cat sitter.

Bella: Because your cats are so scared of strangers, you should discuss that with your sitter and arrange at least a couple of meetings with the sitter in your home before you go away. If your cats see you interacting with the sitter, they’re more likely to view her or him as a trusted friend.

Siouxsie: You’ll also want to take some steps to help your cats feel more confident. Mama wrote a good article for Catster about some ways to get a scaredy cat out from under the bed and into your life.

Thomas: When your sitter visits with you before you leave, she or he should spend time coaxing your cats out to play or tempting them from their hiding places with irresistible treats.

Bella: Feliway, a synthetic “happy cat” pheromone, can be very helpful as well. Buy a couple of plug-in diffusers and place them in the room where your cats hide and in a common area they enjoy when you’re around.

Siouxsie: Another thing: Don’t do the laundry before you go away. Your cats will feel comforted by the familiar smells of their people while your family is off on vacation and the sitter is taking care of them.

Thomas: Mama always leaves her pajamas on the bed when she goes away, and she doesn’t change the sheets until she gets back home. We like that.

Bella: One more thing … your cats will pick up on your emotional “vibes,” so you need to be confident and welcoming to the sitter. You’ll also need to do your best not to make it a big deal that you’re going away.

Siouxsie: The more you worry about them and the more you prepare them for your vacation with an “Oh gosh, this is going to be horrible” attitude, the more likely they’re going to feel the same way.

Thomas: Do some stress relief exercises of your own. There are lots of resources online for good tools to reduce your tension and anxiety.

Bella: And most of all, enjoy your vacation! You deserve it, and you’ll feel a lot better knowing that a cat sitter is looking after your babies while you’re away.

  • Cherie

    We have 4 furr babies that of course DO NOT handle change well so we actually did interview and had a CATS only cat sitter come to our house a few weeks before we were going to be gone and she became familiar with them (we have 2 that are extremely shy) they warmed up to her but even still when she came to the house twice a day 2 out of 4 were there to greet her and by her 3rd day all 4 were out and rubbing and getting treats She kept a daily log on who did what and what was going We were happy with her but scheduling in advance can sometimes be problem
    We have found a lady (now a friend) who comes to the house twice a day to see the kids she plays with them with the feather wand, and cat fishing toys and loves on them and they all meet her at the door and sing to her she spends at least 45min each visit We are so greatful for her-When we get home now the kids greet us just as if we have only been gone to the grocery store..so much less stressful for EVERYONE
    Karen is our Wonderful friend who loves our babies <3