Where is that darn cat? Do you have a cat that hides when you would like to snuggle? Or disappears when you have company?
Even affectionate, well-socialized cats like to hide. But sometimes hiding more than usual can indicate a problem.
What is going on when cats hide?
Predators and Prey
The wild relatives of domesticated cats are both predators and prey. So cats have instincts that their wild ancestors needed to stay alive. Hunters need to hide to sneak up on animals that are potential meals, and hiding helps keep prey safe from becoming a meal.
If you have a pampered house cat that is getting enough food, they still might enjoy hiding in dark, enclosed spaces for a lot of the day. A lot of cats lead nocturnal lives, which means they are more active after dark.
But often cat owners notice that their cats really go into hiding when people come over.
Most cats enjoy stable environments where they know everyone, so it’s normal for them to hide when strangers visit — or when a new person (or animal) is added to a household.
This article recommends that short-term visitors approach the cat’s hiding spot and let the cat decide if it wants to come out. People can try to lure cats out with a treat or toy. But it’s not good to force it. Cats like to be in charge of their interactions.
If a new human is moving in or staying for a while, the cat might appreciate being able to smell a piece of clothing or a towel with their scent for a day before they make friends.
What if the cat pees on the towel? Well, you get the hint. It’s going to take some time.
Cats love to have spaces that they can get into to feel safe from the world. There are lots of fancy cat trees, “catios,” and furniture available. But a cardboard box with a blanket is often just fine for a hiding place.
I’ve noticed lots of cats enjoy looking down on us from high cat trees or shelves. They also love looking out windows, which my friend calls “cat TV.” They love to look at the birds, squirrels, and chipmunks outside and dream of hunting and catching them, while making chattering noises.
Moving with Cats
Moving is a major disruption for all creatures, but cats are particularly sensitive to changes in their environment. Be sure to set up your cat’s litter box and safe space as soon as possible after moving from one place to another.
Normal Hiding vs. Stress Hiding
If a cat is hiding more than usual when only your household members are around, it can indicate stress or a health problem. If that’s the case, pet parents should think about what might be stressing them out. Did another animal or person move in and intrude on their territory? Is there construction, or other loud noise, happening nearby? Did you dare to use the vacuum?
Cat owners should pay attention to how much the animal is eating, drinking, peeing, and pooping in a 24-hour period. This can give you hints about their health, stress, or access to food, water, or the litter pan. It’s definitely harder to know how one cat is doing if you have more than one cat.
My cat Pearl usually pees about 3-4 times a day (we use clumping litter so it’s easy to tell) and poops once a day. Sometimes it seems like she’s not drinking any water, and other times, she takes long drinks from the shallow, stainless steel water bowl. Eating isn’t usually a problem for her, but she has had times when there’s less in the litter box and more food in her shallow, stainless steel food bowl. The last time she looked “off” I used the Feline Grimace Scale - a tool for assessing acute pain in cats based on their facial expression.
One of the worst things that can happen is if your cat can’t pee because of a urinary obstruction. It is painful for them and scary for you. This life-threatening and more common in neutered male cats. Other painful events can include urinary tract infections or urinary tract inflammation. You can only know what it is if you take your pet to the vet for an exam and then discuss any tests and treatments they recommend.
If your cat can’t pee, they can’t tell you about it. Watch when they use the litter pan. They have a specific posture when they pee as compared to when they poop. They will get into the position to pee and nothing, or only a little bit, will come out. They are more likely to hide from you because they are in pain and turn to prey behavior.
If you notice that your cat can’t seem to pee, it’s really important to get them to your vet’s clinic (or an urgent care or emergency care clinic) as soon as possible, because it can be fatal if it’s not treated.
Partnering with Pet Parents
Your veterinarian is a great resource for talking about your cat’s health and behavior.
They can help make sure there is nothing physically wrong and talk with you about changes in the environment that might be affecting their behavior. If it is stress related, there are medications, enzymes, and supplements that can help calm a kitty’s nerves.
Then they continue being adorable, posing for photos, and ruling our lives.