When my oldest cat was ill, she spent a few days hiding under my son’s futon. She turned her back firmly to me and spent about three of the longest days of my life, sleeping and losing weight. When she finally started feeling better, she came out, started eating again, and stopped freaking me out!
But cats don’t always hide for bad reasons: my friend has a cat who hides simply because she hates people. My young cat hides because she is getting ready to ambush a toy. And all of my cats have curled up in improbable places to have a nap. As you can see, the reasons for cats hiding are varied!
So why do cats hide in dark places?
Wild cats will hide for many reasons, including giving birth, shelter from predators, and have a safe place to nap. Cats particularly like places with walls so that nothing can sneak up on them
Cats Hide in Dark Places Because Their Instincts Tell Them To
A major reason why cats hide in dark places? Simply because that’s what they have evolved to do!
Boxes are particularly beloved by cats because the cardboard is insulating, there are four ‘walls’ they can use to protect themselves, and they can peer over the top to spy on the humans and other animals. If you have cats who love boxes, make sure there are enough to go around of different sizes. They are also good for makeshift scratching areas and a fun place to play.
My old cat used to love boxes (she can’t climb in them as well anymore) and she would use them until they flattened out and then get huffy when I took them away!
In these cases, there’s probably nothing at all to worry about. Cats will hide in dark boxes or under the bed because they want somewhere safe to have a nap.
Overwhelmed by Too Many People or Animals
My new cat mostly gets along with my youngest child, but when she gets annoyed with him, she’s learned to get out of his reach. As a result, we often find her in the hall closet, snoozing among the towels. It’s warm, soft, and well out of the reach of little hands.
This is a good thing – I’d rather she hid in the towels than scratched the toddler.
Cats will often go hide when they have had enough of other people or animals, particularly if those people or animals are strangers to them. You’ll often find them under the bed, in closets, and anywhere else away from the bustle and noise of the extra people. As soon as it quiets down, your cat will generally come back out again.
It is important to track this behavior though and make sure it isn’t being caused by poor socializing or high levels of stress. Poor socializing can cause cats to hide whenever anyone other than ‘their’ people are around, which may not be desirable behavior for you.
And high levels of stress can cause health problems in the long term and should be addressed. Giving your cat space to hide along with a source of water and food can be helpful. Treats when people come over might help to reinforce positive behavior.
Time to Play!
While some cats hide when they’ve had enough of playing, other cats like to play hide and seek! They’ll hide when getting ready to ambush a toy (or an unwary foot) and then burst out of hiding to ‘attack’.
In this case, you’ll often see your cat ‘hiding’ behind curtains and under bed skirts, just waiting for the perfect moment to leap out. Cats also like doing this because the low light of their hiding spot gives them an advantage when hunting insects – their eyes simply do better in low light than in bright light.
Cats often hide because they are afraid. This is particularly common when you are moving to a new home. It’s extremely common for cats to hide somewhere in the old house or in the new house and it can take days for them to come out again, often only coming out at night when needed.
New noises, new scents, and new people (like the movers) all conspire to make cats feel threatened, so they will retreat to a hiding spot.
One of our cats once hid under the basement bathtub for three days when we moved, and we were worried she’d starve to death under there. (It didn’t help matters that she had trauma around moving since we were her fourth or possibly fifth home. My other cat mostly sulked and tried to hide behind a mattress).
Illness or Dying
More serious reasons why cats hide in dark places is because they are ill, injured, or dying. Cats that are sick or injured are going to do everything they can to hide the fact that they are incapacitated, (like my cat did). As a result, they will try to hide and avoid everyone and everything, including their favorite people.
In this case, it is very much instinct driving them to act this way – an ill cat in the wild is a cat that will soon be killed by predators if it doesn’t find a place to hide and recover. If you notice your cat is suddenly hiding for no reason that you can see, you may want to check out its litter box, eating habits, and talk to a vet.
Cats will also sometimes go hide when they are dying. In this case, they simply want somewhere peaceful to living out the last days or hours of their lives. Make sure their usual hiding places are comfortable and accessible.
What to Do When a Cat is Hiding
If you don’t think there’s anything wrong with the cat, and the hiding place is safe and won’t harm anything, leave it! Cats feel a lot more secure and happy when they have places to hide. They’ll also keep using that spot, as opposed to somewhere they really shouldn’t be using.
If, on the other hand, the hiding place is not so good (like clothing drawers or under bathtubs…) then, be patient and encourage your cat to come out with treats, food, and toys.
There’s no point in yelling or trying to grab the cat as you may get scratched or bit, the cat may go farther out of reach, and you will reduce the trust between yourself and your pet. And don’t panic – cats can get into even the most cramped-looking spaces and be perfectly comfortable.
But if you try messing around with their hiding place, you may inadvertently cause them harm. If you need help getting your cat out of a bad spot (such as walls or piping), call a professional and then make sure your cat cannot keep going back into that area.
Cats just enjoy hiding in dark places! Their favorite spots will be safe, warm, away from people and other animals, and make them feel secure. It’s important for cats to have secure spots to go to so that they can manage their stress, have a good place to nap, and sadly, perhaps have a safe place to pass away.
Where does your cat like to hide? What was the weirdest hiding place? (Under the bathtub won that prize for my cats!)
Pam is a self-confessed cat lover and has experience of working with cats and owning cats for as long as she can remember. This website is where she gets to share her knowledge and interact with other cat lovers.