Scaredy Cat? 7 Tips to Ease the Angst


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Does your new kitten hide under the bed? Do your adult cats disappear when visitors ring the doorbell? Does the new puppy send kitty into hiss-terics? Learning why cats act scared helps you know how to avoid “fright night” triggers.

Why Cats Get Scared

Scaredy cats react with fear to unfamiliar people, places or situations, because if they haven’t had a good experience—so they assume the worst. Many kittens are clueless but as the cat matures, this “stranger danger” behavior protects kitties so they don’t walk up to hungry critters, dogs or people.

Cats identify friends by smell. But if they haven’t cheek-rubbed, groomed or slept together, strangers “smell funny” and therefore are suspect. Kitties only used to women may fear men with lower voices or with beards. Kids move and sound differently than adults and can be scary to cats. New dogs or cats often intimidate them, especially when the kitten has never seen a dog before!

A strange environment turns up kitty nerves because the boogyman might lurk in some unknown spot. Your cat won’t know the escape routes or safety zones, so fear becomes the default emotion.

Fearful cats that can’t run away may use aggression to protect themselves from perceived danger. A panic attack shuts down the brain so that the cat literally can’t think and instinctive fight-or-flight takes over. Use these tips to transform shivers to purrs.

Cute little Siberian kitten isolated on white background

Scared Siberian kitten. Image courtesy of

7 Confidence Boosters to Reduce Feline Fear

Socialize Kittens. The prime socialization period for kittens is two-to-seven weeks of age. When you first adopt your kitten, expose youngsters to happy, positive experiences with a variety of strangers and other pets. That helps them learn that other people, places, and critters can be fun and not scary.

Offer Safe Retreats. Let the cat or kitten hide. Forcing interactions just makes the fear worse. Give time for the pet to cheek rub and become familiar with the new place. Cats prefer to hide in dark places where they can’t easily be seen, and inaccessible places they can’t be reached and/or can most easily defend so offer some neat options.

Use Play. When cats engage in fun games their brains can’t be happy and scared at the same time. A long distance interactive toy like fishing-pole lures teach cats you are fun to be around, but without having to get too close. You can even sit on top of the bed, and “tease” the cat that hides underneath without scaring the kitty by reaching under to grab him.

Offer Treats. If your cat loves food, offer smelly treats to diffuse the angst. Have visitors drop or toss treats when they arrive at the door, so the doorbell means “food” instead of “stranger danger.”

Get On Kitty’s Level. To a little cat, humans look imposing especially when we stare, follow the cat, and try to pet them. Just think of that giant-size hand coming down toward your head! Instead, sit on the floor, and ignore the cat—no eye contact which can be intimidating—and lure the kitten or cat with treats or a toy. Let the cat approach and control the interaction.

Diffuse Cat Fights. Fearful cats act like they’re wearing a “kick me” sign so other felines pick on the victim. Offer lots of cat trees and hiding spots for escapes, multiple litter boxes and feeding stations so they don’t have to argue or interact too closely. Try putting a bell on the aggressor-cat’s collar to give the fearful cat warning to get out of the way.

“Doctor” The Angst. Feliway, a synthetic feline facial pheromone, comes as a plug-in or spray that helps ease tensions related to territorial and environmental stress. Rescue Remedy is a natural remedy that helps some anxious cats when added to the water. You can find Feliway and Rescue Remedy at pet product stores. In severe cases, your veterinarian may prescribe anti-anxiety medications for the scared cat.

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Some cats are simply less touchy-feely than others and never will be lap snugglers. These tips won’t turn all cats into social butterflies, but they can help dial down the fear. Refer to one of the books, click the covers above, for more specific tips about dealing with feline fear. Patience and giving your cat time to learn she has nothing to fear goes a long way toward turning up the purrs.

Are your kitties Christopher Columbus Cats ready to explore the world, or Shrinking Violets? How did you manage the fear? Do tell!

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Scaredy Cat? 7 Tips to Ease the Angst — 12 Comments

  1. One of our rescue cats was found by my son as a little kitten, sitting on a neighbor’s porch, meowing pitifully. When he went close, the kitten ran to him. And Bandit (as we named him) loves Ian. He knows who brought him home.

    He’s scared of everyone else though. Totally scared of all the humans, though I have caught him sleeping with our beagle.

    Slowly over the last year or so I’ve been working on him. It is amazing how effective treats are in getting a cat’s attention.

  2. Do you think Feliway or Rescue Remedy would help an 8 year old cat that seems to be stressed with my sons going away to college and being home less often? She is grooming her right side to the point of hairloss. The vet checked everything and we’ve tried changing her food to eliminate food allergies.

  3. “A panic attack shuts down the brain so that the cat literally can’t think” Fun fact (or not so fun if you’ve been through it): This happens to humans too when panic attacks get bad enough (it’s part of why telling us to “calm down” does absolutely nothing – and if we’re coherent enough to register what you said chances are it will actually make it worse because we’ll start to panic about the fact that we’re panicking and embarrassment just escalates the whole mess).

    Thankfully none of my kitties have been super-scared but we did get the Comfort Zone diffusers when we were introducing our two babies together all those years ago.

    I don’t think it will help the Simbakitten though, as her issue seems to be more one of overstimulation. She freaks out at loud noises but doesn’t stay scared for too long.

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