Published by: Ingrid King. Last Updated on: February 9, 2023 by Crystal Uys
Fear in cats can manifest in different ways. Some cats will hide, others will become aggressive and lash out at their guardian. Cats may be fearful of strangers, loud noises, or simply have a fearful personality. No matter what the cause, a cat who is constantly afraid is not a happy cat.
What causes fear
There are several reasons why cats develop fear to certain things, places and situations. They may become scared by unfamiliar, loud noises in our outside the home. They may have had a traumatic experience in their past that made them fearful. Cats who were poorly socialized as kittens tend to be more skittish than other cats, and some cats may have inherited their sensitive personality.
Signs of fear
A cat’s body language is one of the most important indicators to fear. A scared cat may exhibit one or more of the following:
- dilated pupils
- ears flat against the head
- pilorection (raised hair along the shoulders, back and tail)
Identify the cause of the fear
Try to assess what is causing your cat to be fearful. Fear in cats can be triggered by anything from loud noises in or outside the home, strangers visiting, construction or remodeling, or any changes in the cat’s environment.
Be extremely careful when approaching a scared cat. Fearful cats can become aggressive and do a great deal of damage to unsuspecting humans.
Manage the fear
If your cat has developed a sudden fear response to something that previously didn’t bother her, take her to the veterinarian. Any sudden change in behavior is cause for concern and can be an indicator of a medical problem.
If possible, eliminate what causes your cat’s fear. If this is not possible, create a safe space for your cat to hide. Never force your cat to confront her fears or punish her for fearful behavior. In most cases, this will only make the cat more fearful and potentially aggressive.
Your ultimate goal will be to help your cat feel comfortable around a situation that makes her fearful. Desensitization, meaning a gradual reduction of your cat’s reaction to what she fears, can help some cats get over being scared. By using counter-conditioning, you can help your cat associate the unpleasant association with something new and pleasant, such as treats.
There are natural herbal remedies available that can help calm cats, but be cautious when choosing these products. Some herbs, and especially essential oils, are toxic to cats, who lack the liver enzyme to metabolize these plant based compounds.
Flower essences, such as Rescue Remedy, or Jackson Galaxy Solutions* are a safe choice than herbs. These remedies can be given with the cat’s water or food, or simply rubbed into her fur.
Plug ins or sprays containing a synthetic copy of the feline facial pheromone, can create a state of familiarity and security in the cat’s environment. As a result, these products can be used to help comfort and reassure cats while they cope with a challenging situation and help prevent or reduce the stress caused by a change in their environment.
In extreme cases, your veterinarian may prescribe anti-anxiety medication. These medications may take several weeks to work, and, like all drugs, come with potentially serious side effects.
Helping a fearful cat will require patience, understanding and commitment on the guardian’s part.
*The Conscious Cat is an affiliate partner of Jackson Galaxy. This means that if you decide to purchase through any of our links, we get a small commission. We only spread the word about products and services we’ve either used or would use ourselves.
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.