Unfortunately, our pets are unable to explain their emotions and feelings to us. Cat behaviors can be complex and confusing, even for experienced pet parents. This article will help you identify symptoms and common causes of fear in cats. Often, cats recover naturally from a scare or upset. But your vet can help you decide if a treatment plan may help alleviate ongoing symptoms of fear or anxiety. See a vet immediately if you notice extreme behavioral or personality changes in your scared cat that last for more than a day or if your cat stops eating or drinking.
Symptoms of fear and anxiety in cats
A cat who is feeling afraid or scared may display several of the following symptoms:
- Hiding: hiding in places like beneath a bed or table, not coming out for food or treats
- Excessive vocalization: unusual amounts of crying, meowing, or yowling
- Aggression: aggression in cats may be indicated by hissing, scratching, biting, fluffing up in size, or bullying other pets. Note: any cat who feels scared may react with aggression to being picked up or petted. Use caution when approaching a scared cat.
- Slinking: moving slowly, crouched close to the ground, often with a tail tucked between their legs
- Behavior changes: disinterest in food or drink, anything out of the ordinary for your cat’s personality
- Improper elimination: urinating or defecating outside the litter box
- Trembling: visible shaking
- Panic: escape behavior or out-of-control activity
- Dilated pupils: contracted black pupils during the daytime
- Jumpy: reacting strongly to sudden noises, touches, or movement
- Destruction: excessive or abnormal scratching of furniture or belongings
- Anxiety: symptoms of fear with no identifiable stimulus. Anxiety can also manifest as excessive grooming or licking of objects.
Common Causes of Stress or Fear in Cats
- Household changes: Cats may have an aloof reputation, but they are very sensitive to household changes. This could be anything from furniture being moved, a different brand of cat litter, or a person leaving or joining the household. Think about whether anything’s changed in your cat’s daily routine.
- New pets: Have you introduced a new pet into the household? Cat relationships have hierarchies. Always introduce new pets carefully to make it as positive an experience as possible.
- Outside animals: Your cat may be noticing a “threat” from outside the home. A cat or other animal could be in the yard or marking near your house or apartment. Someone in your household could be introducing threatening scents by playing with other animals and bringing those scents home.
- Improper human contact: Children or adults engaging in mishandling or improper behavior with a cat can lead to distrust of social situations. Babies and small children should always be supervised around pets.
- Loud or sudden noises: Noises like thunderstorms or fireworks can startle cats and inspire a fear response. If your cat finds a noise startling enough, it can even trigger a phobic response that lingers after the original event.
- Phobias: One traumatic event in a cat’s past could result in that fear resurfacing irrationally as a phobia. Common cat phobias include thunderstorms and vacuums.
- Socialization issues: Feral cats or cats who lacked socialization at a young age may exhibit fear of human contact throughout life. Ask about a cat’s history before making the decision to adopt, so you can be prepared for any behavioral concerns.
- Health problems: If you can’t find any environmental stressors for your cat, their health could be causing the symptoms. Pain can manifest as fearful symptoms in cats. Your vet might encourage a complete health screening.
More on Cat Behavior
The Benefits of a Playful Cat
Cat Depression Treatments - What Are Your Options?
Why Do Cats Scratch?
This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.