It can happen at any time. You’re catching up on emails or cooking dinner or binge watching the latest season of “Love Is Blind,” when suddenly you realize you haven’t seen the cat in, what has it been? At least a few hours. Off you go to check all the normal cat hiding places: under the bed, in the closet, and even behind the shower curtain where they hid that one time. Panic starts to set in when you still can’t find them. Are they stuck? Hurt? Did they slip out of the house somehow?
Don’t freak out. A cat hiding is a totally normal thing (most of the time), and they’re pros at finding places to stow away unseen for hours on end.
We spoke with cat experts to learn more about why cats hide, what are the most common cat hiding places—so you can look there first before running all over the neighborhood—and when cat hiding may actually warrant concern.
Why Is My Cat Hiding?
Hiding behavior in cats is usually normal and harmless, says Marci Koski, a certified feline behavior and training consultant with Feline Behavior Solutions. In fact, it’s an instinct they’re born with.
“Cats are both predators and prey in the wild,” she says. “They are instinctively driven to hide when they are hunting prey and avoiding being prey for other predators.”
To feel safe
“Hiding makes them feel like they’ve got their back covered and they’re safe,” says certified cat behavior consultant Ingrid Johnson. “It’s a self-preserving behavior for when something unfamiliar is going on around them.”
Illness or pain
Dr. Gabrielle Fadl, director of primary care at Bond Vet, says that cats will hide when they’re “feeling sick or unwell.” Since cats can be prey in the wild, their instinct when hurt or ill is to hide from potential predators.
And cats might not go to their usual favorite places when they’re sick. “When they don’t feel well, they’ll try to remove themselves from their normal environment,” Jonhson explains.”They’ll go to weird places. It’s almost as if they’re trying to not alert other members of the household of their illness.”
Other symptoms of pain or sickness include:
- Lack of appetite
- Unusual aggression
- Avoiding people
- Lip licking
- Digestive problems, like diarrhea or vomiting
- Increased vocalization
- Going outside of the litter box
Stress or anxiety
Along with being sick, another instance when cats will hide is when they’re “stressed or anxious due to changes in routine or environment,” Dr. Fadl says. Some situations that can cause stress for cats include major life changes, like moving to a new house or adding another person or pet to the household.
A recently-adopted cat might hide, too, because “they are in an unfamiliar environment and may feel overwhelmed and anxious,” according to Dr. Fadl. Coming into an entirely new place, such as going to your home from the shelter, is scary and stressful for cats, so they’ll often try to find places away from others while they get used to their new home.
“Cats hide when they are stressed or anxious because it is a natural instinct for them to seek out safe and secure places where they can feel protected,” Dr. Fadl adds. “Hiding allows them to withdraw from stressful or threatening situations and helps them to feel more in control of their environment.”
Dr. Fadl says that additional signs your cat is stressed include:
- Hiding or avoiding interaction
- Decreased appetite or changes in eating habits
- Increased vocalization, such as meowing, hissing or growling
- Excessive grooming or loss of fur
- Avoiding the litter box
- Aggressive behavior
If your cat hasn’t been spayed yet, her hiding behavior could indicate that she’s pregnant. Mom cats want to protect themselves and their kittens from any possible harm, so they’ll sometimes sneak away.
“Pregnant cats may hide because they are seeking out a safe and quiet place to give birth to their kittens,” Dr. Fadl notes. “Hiding allows them to avoid disturbance and minimize stress during this important time.”
Common Cat Hiding Places
Most cat parents know cats love cardboard boxes. Not only do they provide a sense of security but they also provide warmth.
“Cardboard boxes help them regulate body temperature without expending energy,” Johnson says. “It’s a very common hiding place and something you can encourage your cat to spend time in regularly without much work.”
The closet might feel comforting to your cat because “it’s scent-heavy and often smells a lot like the owner,” Johnson says.
The closet is also appealing because it’s dark, and there are lots of soft articles of clothing—plus an option to climb up high: “Some cats like to climb and scope things out from above,” says Johnson.
Behind or under furniture
Most pet parents have probably found their cat hiding under the bed at least once. Hiding under furniture, like your bed, couches or chairs, is common because it’s dark and quiet, and they’re not likely to be disturbed down there. Some cats also prefer low hiding spots because “they aren’t capable of jumping or they just don’t like height,” Johnson says.
Both Koski and Johnson agree this is a fairly benign hiding place, unless it’s a piece of furniture that could be dangerous, like a recliner or a couch with a pull-out bed. Cats should be dissuaded from exploring the nooks and crannies under these types of areas because the moving parts can injure them.
Cat’s like to feel warm and cozy, which can lead to curling up near sources of heat, like a furnace or heaters. Another toasty place you might find your cat? The dryer. Plus, it has the added bonus of being full of soft, cuddly clothing and towels.
Warning: These kinds of hiding spaces are dangerous for your cat.
On the other hand, cats will sometimes look for cool rather than hot places, especially if they have fallen ill. “When they’ve got a fever, or they’re nauseous, or they’re close to dying, cats will seek cool rather than warmth,” Johnson says. If they’re lying in the corner on a cold floor, this could be a sign that your cat needs to be examined by a vet.
Of course, this is not a definitive list, and cats are finding new hiding places all the time. Screen shot this short list for easy reference next time you can't find kitty:
Warm or cold places
In the sink
Behind the fridge
In suitcases or bags
Under the porch
Under indoor or outdoor plants
In a car wheel or under the hood
In laundry baskets
In the washing machine or dryer
In dressers or wardrobes
In box springs
Should I Be Worried if My Cat Is Hiding?
As Koski mentioned, hiding is usually nothing to fret over. But there are some instances when it might be an issue, such as:
- Hiding in unsafe places
If hiding is a new thing or if your cat is showing other symptoms of pain or illness, such as not eating, you should take them to the vet to make sure there isn’t something more serious going on.
Why Is My Cat Suddenly Hiding?
If your cat started hiding all of a sudden, that also could be a sign that something’s wrong. Koski and Johnson agree that you should consult your vet if the hiding behavior is new or if it has suddenly and significantly increased.
“Any change in the regular behavior of your cat, including the desire to hide—or if hiding interferes with daily activit[ies] that your cat needs to do, including eating, drinking, and using the bathroom—could be a cause for concern,” Koski says.
What Should I Do if My Cat Is Hiding?
There are some steps you can take to prevent your cat from hiding in places where you don’t want them.
Get a cat tree or condo
Give your cat a safe place of their own with a cat tree or condo. “Cat trees and condos can provide a great alternative for cats to hide and feel secure,” Dr. Fadl says. Cats need a place to go when they’re feeling tired, overwhelmed, or stressed, and cat trees are an ideal solution because they allow them to escape up high away from others in the house. Condos also provide an enclosed space to help cats feel safe, like their den or a covered area would in the wild.
Plus, “cat trees and condos can provide exercise and entertainment for cats, helping to keep them happy and healthy,” Dr. Fadl adds.
Get a heated cat bed
If your cat is hiding in the dryer or another heated space that is not safe, Koski has a great alternative: a heated bed. Some are self-warming, heating up from your pet’s own body heat, and others are electric. Throw in a towel or pet blanket for some added comfort.
Try cat pheromones
If you think your pet is anxious or stressed about something, try synthetic cat pheromones. Cats rub their face to release their scent, aka pheromones, on areas they want to mark as safe, like your couch. “Cat pheromone sprays mimic the natural pheromones that cats produce when they feel calm and content,” Dr. Fadl explains. “By releasing these pheromones in the environment, the sprays can help to reduce anxiety and stress in cats, promoting feelings of relaxation and well-being.”
Get a cat cave
Cat caves are covered pet beds that look like little tents. Similar to cat condos, enclosed cat beds make a great hideout for your kitty when they want to take a nap or relax away from people and noises.
Use a cardboard box
A smart way to recycle packages is to let your cat use boxes as places to rest or play. “Cardboard boxes are great places for cats to hide,” Koski says. “You can use them as alternatives to hiding spots you don’t want your cats to be in by decking them out with familiar bedding, treats, catnip, or toys.”
Try strong scents
There are some at-home remedies you can try to keep your cat away from certain places, too. Koski recommends deterring your cat with scents like citrus, peppermint and cinnamon. Smells like these are usually too strong for cats, so your pet likely won’t go near them.
Warning: When it comes to scents, steer clear of essential oils. Some, like citrus oil, peppermint oil and cinnamon oil, are toxic to cats.
You can also try commercially available sprays specially made to keep cats away from unsafe places.
Don’t scare your cat
What you shouldn’t do when trying to stop your cat from hiding somewhere is scare them. “To deter cats, do not startle them out of a hiding spot, yell at them, or squirt them with water,” Koski says. “This can only create fear and damage your relationship with the cat.”
The Bottom Line
Next time your feline friend is MIA, you’ll know the cat hiding places to look for them—and why they’re hiding in the first place. And if you think your cat might be hiding because they’re sick, find out how to know when you should take them to the vet.
John Gilpatrick contributed to this article.
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