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Fearful Cat


When your cat feels threatened, he or she may have a variety of responses. Generally, cats follow a pattern or display one of three reactions: fight, flight, or freeze. Each cat has a preferred way of dealing with a crisis. Knowing how your cat reacts to a perceived threat and what may cause your cat to consider a situation threatening helps you better understand your cat.


Common fearful reactions include hiding, freezing in place, loss of bladder and/or bowel control, and aggression. Aggression can manifest in spitting, hissing, growling, swatting, biting, scratching and puffing up of fur. These are all normal behaviors, if your cat feels scared or threatened. Your reaction to your cat's behavior is most important. Wanting to help and comfort your cat when he is frightened is natural; however, it isn't necessarily the best thing to do. Providing your cat with a safe and protected place (a box, space in the closet, under the bed) is often the best decision. Allowing your cat to deal with his fear is healthy, as long as his aggression is not destructive and/or directed at you or other pets.


Many things can trigger fearful behavior in cats. The trigger could almost be anything, and, until you learn what it is that initiates this behavior in your cat, you need to closely observe him or her when faced with new situations. Common triggers can be a particular person, a stranger in your home, another animal, a child, loud noises, household appliances, and so on. It is important to note if your cat's behavior changes when faced with potentially frightening situations. In other words, the vacuum may draw an initial fearful response but gradually change into acceptance. By noting your cat's ability to adapt to scary situations over time, you can learn quite a bit about his personality.


What can you do to reduce your cat's anxiety or fear? To help him become more confident and secure, follow the steps described below:

  • Schedule an appointment with your veterinarian for a thorough physical exam to rule out any medical reasons for your cat's fearful behavior. Cats very often show symptoms of sickness in their behavior, and any sudden behavior change could mean that your cat is ill. Common symptoms that appear in sick cats include unusual aggressiveness, frequent hiding and eliminating outside the litter box.
  • If your cat is healthy but hiding, leave him or her alone. To force your cat out of his hiding spot will only encourage fearful behavior. Make sure he has access to food, water, and a litter box from his hiding place, and avoid "checking in" on him. By giving him space, you will not be conceived as a threat, therefore giving him a sense of security.
  • If you have identified a specific person or circumstance that stimulates fear in your cat, minimize contact with that particular person or situation.
  • Keep your cat's routine as regular as possible. Cats feel more confident if they know what to expect daily. Feeding, playing, cuddling, grooming, and napping generally round out a cat's existence. Interfering with your cat's routine may cause him to behave as though threatened.