Shy or Fearful Cats
Cats can develop a fear of people they don't know for many reasons. Companion felines have unique personalities, and some are just more outgoing than others. However, if a cat is calm and friendly with his family but afraid of visitors, it's often because he didn't have enough experience meeting new people when he was very young. To be social and comfortable with all kinds of people, a cat must have frequent opportunities to meet numerous new and different people in low-key, pleasant circumstances while still a kitten, especially between the ages of two and seven weeks. Cats who didn't spend much time with people as kittens-for example, former stray cats-might remain skittish around people their entire lives. Even cats who did meet lots of people when young can be afraid of specific kinds of people that they didn't encounter very often, such as children, tall people or men. Having a bad experience with a person can also make a cat fearful around people. This fear might remain specific to the person involved in the bad experience, or it might broaden to include other people as well.
Other Possible Explanations for Your Cat's Behavior
Any sudden change in your cat's behavior might indicate an underlying medical condition. If you notice any unusual physical or behavioral changes, or if your cat stops eating, see your veterinarian right away to rule out medical problems.
How to Resolve the Problem
Prevention is the best medicine. If you have a kitten, give him lots of chances to meet new people of different ages, sizes, shapes, races and genders. Make sure he also interacts with people who look unique for some reason, such as people in wheelchairs, people wearing hats and glasses, and people with beards. Whenever your kitten approaches a new person, reward him with praise, attention, play sessions or treats.
If you have an adult cat who's afraid of people, the main way to help him relax around guests is to encourage him to approach them very gradually and give him lots of rewards along the way. When visitors arrive, try the following:
If you cannot feed or play with your cat when visitors arrive, if you are hosting a large or loud event, or if your cat is too afraid to come near visitors, set up a comfortable retreat for him in a quiet room with the door closed. Provide food, water, a bed and a litter box. Let your cat stay in the quiet retreat until the guests leave. During the visit, occasionally go to the quiet room to check on your cat and offer him treats or play-but keep the door closed and ask your guests not to enter. It's a good idea to put a sign on the door as a helpful reminder.