What a fearful cat needs is choice. If he feels he has the choice to move closer and check things out or interact with you, then he’ll be more relaxed about it. A cat who feels he has no choice will always feel backed in a corner and will look for the first opportunity to bolt for cover.
Keep treats on-hand and whenever the cat makes even the smallest positive step, reward him with something yummy. Clicker training works well in this type of situation. You can click and reward for any behavior you’d like to see again, such as when the cat walks in the room or pokes him head out from under the bed.
If your fearful cat won’t take the treat from your hand, then gently toss it closer to him. If the treat consists of wet food, place a little on a chop stick in order to put a distance between you and the cat. Many times with fearful cats I’ve taped soft-tipped baby spoons to the end of a chop stick in order to give the cat a larger amount of wet food.
Use a fishing pole toy to encourage your fearful cat to play. The pole puts a distance between you and the cat so he’ll be able to stay in his comfort zone. If he’s more comfortable being partially hidden under the bed or behind a chair you can still offer playtime opportunities with the fishing pole. The movement you do should not be frantic or over-the-top though. A fearful cat doesn’t want to view the toy as an opponent. Make your motions low-key and easy for the cat to conquer his prey.
Choose your interactive toy based on your cat’s personality. If he’s extremely frightened, you may need to start with something like a feather and gradually work up to more challenging toys.
If you want your cat to feel comfortable venturing out from under the bed, create secure paths to resources such as the litter box, scratching post and feeding station. If he doesn’t feel safe then you’ll never see him during the day because he’ll only wander out to eat or use the litter box in the middle of the night when the family is asleep. Locate resources so kitty doesn’t have to walk across the house to reach them. You can even create little tunnels along the way so the cat remains partially hidden. You can use soft-sided fabric tunnels (available at your local pet product store and online) or you can make your own by connecting several paper bags that have the bottoms cut out. You can also use boxes or even large cardboard tubing.
Observe and respect your fearful cat’s body language. A contributing factor to his fearful behavior may be that his communication signals haven’t been respected. If your cat’s body language is saying “please don’t come closer” and you continue to move toward him then he’ll soon learn to dart away.
In addition to the hideaways, the cat tree and conducting interactive playtime mentioned previously, pique his curiosity and trigger his desire to play by creating a more interesting environment overall. Place puzzle feeders around and distribute interesting little toys for him to bat at for solo playtime. This will help him begin to form a positive association with his surroundings.