While most cats are initially wary of unfamiliar noises, people or events, they eventually adapt as they get used to the stimulus. Nervous cats remain anxious. A nervous cat is in a constant state of anxiety. This level of stress can lead to physical illness, especially lower urinary tract disease. Helping your cat overcome her nervousness will not only make her more confident and comfortable, it will also improve her health. Unfortunately, working with nervous cats can be challenging, as cats may express anxiety through aggression.
What makes a cat nervous?
A cat’s personality is shaped by genetics, environment and early life experience. Some cats are naturally more fearful than others. The cat’s genetic make up predisposes her to be cautious. This can be seen especially in feral cats.
Lack of early socialization also contributes to fearfulness in cats. Kittens who have been frequently handled by humans tend to be more confident as they grow up. Kittens who haven’t been socialized before the age of 8 weeks may take longer to acclimate to living with humans, and they may remain fearful.
If the cat had a frightening experience in the past, it will try to avoid it from happening again.
How to help nervous cats
Helping a nervous cat gain confidence requires patience and persistence on the guardian’s part. While it is tempting to reassure the cat when she’s nervous, this merely reinforces the timid behavior. Use positive rewards for calm behavior instead.
Remain calm, and don’t make the cat the focus of the household. Cats are sensitive to the energy in a home, and the tension created by cat guardians tip toeing around the house and speaking in hushed voices so as not to scare the cat will only increase the cat’s anxiety levels. Extracting the cat out of hiding places only serves to increase the cat’s anxiety.
Interactive play can be a great way to bring timid cats out of their shell. Structured play time, 10-15 minutes twice a day, using fishing pole type toys, are a great way to build confidence for the cat and to enhance the bond between cat and human.
Use food treats to create positive associations for the nervous cat. Treats can encourage your cat to explore new areas of the home, or to spend time in the same space with you. Offering treats directly from your hand may increase the bond between you and your cat. Be careful when using treats so you don’t inadvertently reward timid behavior.
Natural remedies to help nervous cats
Synthetic pheromone plug ins such as the Feliway Comfort Zone can help create a sense of safety and familiarity in the home. Natural remedies such as Rescue Remedy or Spirit Essences Stress Stopper can also help.
Enlist the help of a feline behaviorist
In extreme cases, you may want to enlist the help of a feline behaviorist. A behaviorist can evaluate your unique situation and provide strategies to help your cat become less nervous.
This article was previously published on Answers.com and is republished with permission.
About the author
Ingrid King is an award-winning author, former veterinary hospital manager, and veterinary journalist who is passionate about cats.