There are several reasons cats hide, and most cats include hiding as a normal, healthy activity in their repertoire of feline behaviors. First, cats are both predators and prey in the wild – they are instinctually driven to hide and conceal themselves when they are sneaking up on a prospective prey item, and avoiding being prey for other predators (i.e., any carnivore that is larger than they are). They are excellent survivalists and hiding is a key tool for finding food and staying alive! Second, hiding in the home can be a stress-reducing, relaxing thing to do. Many locations are warm, dark, and safe-feeling. A good hiding spot can be a welcome refuge from a noisy family or the pesky dog. And what cat doesn’t love a private nook in which to relax and take an uninterrupted cat-nap? Third, cats may hide when they are ill or not feeling well. If your cat all of a sudden decides to start hiding for long periods of time or changes her hiding behavior, you will want to make a trip to the veterinarian to make sure everything is ok.
In my home, each of our five cats hide for various reasons, and in conjunction with their different personalities. I’ve noticed that Abbey likes to sleep under our bed during the mid-day hours quite regularly, but she’s not hiding from anything in particular. On the other hand, Oliver does not like strangers in our home. As soon as he hears the knock at the door or the doorbell, he vanishes! He’s our most expert hider, and considering his size (um, large), that’s quite an accomplishment. His favorite hiding spot right now is in the upstairs hall closet, in the back, nestled on our “clean” (now furry) sheets. It gives him comfort to find a safe spot, and I have no desire to take this refuge from him when visitors appear in our home! So, if you are observant, you can detect when and why your furry friends are most likely to hide, and determine whether or not it is something to be concerned about.
Should You Worry About Hiding?
While hiding behavior is a normal part of being a cat, hiding can become excessive and be cause for concern. Hiding is excessive if it interferes with the daily activities that your cat needs to do, including eating, drinking, and urinating and defecating. If you notice that your cat has not come out of her hiding spot to eat in the past day or so, you may want to take her to the veterinarian. Similarly, even if your cat is eating and using the litterbox, hiding can indicate other problems. Behavioral issues should not be ignored; your cat may be hiding as the result of being bullied by another cat, for example. In this case, you will need to make resources available in multiple locations and restrict interactions with the bully cat so that the shier cat can get what she needs without fear…and this includes playtime and enrichment activities that prevent boredom and relieve stress.
The more observant you are of how often and where your cat is hiding, the better you’ll be in tune with how she’s feeling. Any change in the regular behavior of your cat could be cause for concern, and this includes the desire to hide. As mentioned above, cats will hide if they are not feeling well or are ill. This could be a protective survival instinct, as animals who are perceived as weak in the wild are easier prey for predators. Best stay hidden if you’re not feeling well! Cats are excellent a hiding their pain, so when it gets to the point that they themselves are hiding, you’ll definitely want to make seeing the veterinarian a high priority.
Patterns in Hiding Behavior
In your observations, you might notice that your cats hide more frequently during specific times of the year, or even during the day. Pattern hiding behavior likely depends on where you live, your home environment, and your cat’s preferences. During the winter, cats may seek out warm places (e.g., near the water heater or dryer), or if a cat is somewhat shy, she may seek out a hiding spot when the family comes home from work and school and the noise level in the home increases. Further, cats are generally diurnal creatures, becoming more active at dawn and dusk, when their prey is most active in the wild. If noise and activity is not a concern for your cats in the morning and evening times, you might notice her playing more during these hours, and sequestering herself away during the day or night. Cats may prefer one hiding spot for lounging, and another spot for escaping. And, these spots can change over time!
Good and Bad Hiding Spots
Generally speaking, it is up to the cat guardian to decide whether or not to allow a cat to hide in a particular spot, as long as it is safe. If there are places where you don’t want your cat to hide, try to give them an alternative that has similar qualities to where they are trying to hide. Do they like small, dark spaces? As I described earlier, Oliver likes to hang out on the second shelf of my linen closet (he opens the sliding door himself!), on top of a pile of clean (now furry) sheets. I’m fine with him being in there, because it’s safe and comfy. But if I wanted to provide him with an alternative, I might give him a cardboard box with a sheet inside it, placed in a nearby location.
To deter cats, do not startle them out of a hiding spot, yell at them, or squirt them with water – this can only create fear and damage your relationship with the cats and make them want to hide from you. Instead, you can restrict access to the hiding spot with a door that they can’t open. If there’s no door, you can use scents that cats don’t like (like orange, peppermint, and cinnamon) in the area, or place a vinyl carpet runner in the area with the nubs pointed up (so it’s uncomfortable to walk and lie on). Sticky paws, or double-sided tape, spread on cheap placemats or cardboard and placed in the off-limits area can also deter kitties from cat-naps!
There are a couple of places that are NOT good hiding spots for cats, and present real dangers to kitties who might be looking for a warm place to hide. I’ve heard of cats being electrocuted behind clothes dryers and killed when they were locked in clothes dryers hiding in a pile of warm clothes that needed further drying. If you have a laundry room or laundry closet, please keep the door closed so that your cats can not access these machines! As an alternative, if your cat enjoys hanging out in soft, warm clothes, you can now purchase cat beds that have heating pads in them that only heat when there is pressure on them (i.e., when your cat is sitting on it – this is the model my cats have). You can put some old towels or t-shirts in the bed to make it more “laundry-like”, and set it in a warm, sunny window, or keep it in a dark area if that is preferred.
You can also give your cats some fun places to hide that they don’t have to seek out to find. A simple cardboard box tipped on its side with a cat bed in it will suffice for many felines, and you can put it just about anywhere. Or, if there’s a piece of furniture (like a bed) that your cat likes to hide under, you can put a towel or blanket there so that her nap spot is a bit comfier (and easier to clean). You can also hang a blanket or towel over the seat of a chair to make an instant tent. And providing fun new places in which to explore and nap will not only give your kitty another place for security and quiet, it’s also a nice form of enrichment.
The key with hiding behavior in cats is to be observant of any changes, but recognize that your cat may want places to hide – and that’s ok! Let your feline explore safe places to hide, and know where these are in case you need to find her quickly. Letting your kitty hide comfortably and safely is a great way to let your cat be a cat!