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Our 2 indoor cats (same litter) live with three people, one of the three being me. They're fully accustomed to our presence and are very affectionate, asking to be petted, sleeping with us in beds, comfortable with us walking around them, etc.

We sometimes have council workers come over for an hour or two, to do some odd jobs such as plumbing and whatnot. We also have relatives come over once or twice a year from overseas, and their prolonged stays at our house have a big impact on our cats.

Every time a new person comes to the house, the cats respond by immediately hiding under beds or behind or inside wardrobes, which is irregular to their regular napping spots such as platforms by windowsills, on bed, etc. It is clear to me they are not aware of what is going on, and they're too afraid to investigate the new voices, so they want to be hidden. They stay there for several hours even after the workers have left.

In case of relatives who stay over for weeks, the cats sometimes stay in hiding for 1-2 days straight. They do get out at night to eat and drink, but they go into hiding again the next day. They get used to the relatives after like a week, but in my opinion the warming up process takes too long, it's not normal.

From what I've observed this is a bit like dogs and fireworks, in our current state the 'big scary strangers' visiting the house every so often is inevitable, but we are worried about how the cats respond to this entire ordeal every time.

Is there anything we can do to discourage our cats' fear of strangers?

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My family barely ever has people over, so folks in the house who aren't family members is uncommon. Therefore, when we do have someone over, our normally confident and super tame kitties start looking freaked out and disappear. Not quite as bad as you're describing, but I understand a bit of where you're coming from, anyway.

I would guess that like mine, your cats are tame (friendly with you) but poorly socialized (not used to strangers). I second the first person who answered in suggesting you start by taking a look at your cat's environment to see if there isnt something you can do to make them feel safer (like providing more vertical space so your cats can be present and survey their territory without feeling trapped, and maybe eliminating access to some of the worst dark cramped hidey holes they can go into and hunker down feeling like nervous prey).

If you wanted to put in the effort, probably the best way to tackle a problem of poor socialization would be to very deliberately and carefully go out of your way to socialize them in a controlled way. Have strangers over often, single people for brief periods at first, and use the opportunity to build positive associations: visitors = good things, not scary things. The visitors should hang around chatting with you quietly for awhile to get the cats used to their presence and their voice, they shouldn't be loud or chase after the cats trying to pet them. Let the cats come to them when they're ready. When people come over, give the cats treats and/or playtime with their favorite toy. If you can get a treat they really love, and only give it to them when company comes over, even better. Get to the point where the company can get close enough to give the treats themselves? Better yet. Basically, find ways to make having a stranger in the house a good thing for your cats.

Without a lot of time spent working on it, though, it's possible they'll always be skittish around strangers. But applying the above strategy even with just your usual visitors might still help make things a bit less stressful for everyone (assuming your guests cooperate!)

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What you might try is to get a cat tree so your cats have an elevated place to hide and rest.

You can make a place on top of some furniture or put up some shelves where the cats can observe the area. This will have to be in a place where you and the guests do not have to walk past, so not in a hallway, kitchen, or doorway.

The trick is to make your cats feel safe and make them feel like they have control of the situation.

These are things your cats will get used to during the normal day when you do not have guests in the house, so there will be little change when your guests come to visit you.

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  • I was thinking about installing something like that, we had a cat tree downstairs (which they've grown out of using), but nothing upstairs which is where the cats escape to. I think your suggestion makes sense, as it would help to get them used to this option when there aren't any guests around. Thank you, will give that a go. – D. Tunus Jan 14 at 20:29
  • This doesn't help me. My cat has the same problem. He has a 'high' tree (1.5m) where he usually sleeps, but whenever someone comes over, he rushes behind the coach. Maybe 1.5m is not high enough tho – Mario Garcia Jan 27 at 15:37

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