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.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the signs of extreme fear in cats?
Cats can display a range of behaviors when they are afraid or anxious. A frightened cat may retreat to a hiding place, such as under a bed or in a closet. If a cat feels threatened or cornered, it may become aggressive and lash out with its claws or teeth. Piloerection refers to when a cat's fur stands on end. It's a sign of extreme fear and is often accompanied by hissing or growling. Cats may tremble or shiver when they are extremely afraid. Some cats may yowl or meow loudly when they are frightened, while others may become completely silent. A cat's heart rate may increase significantly when it is afraid or anxious. In some cases, a frightened cat may lose its appetite and refuse to eat. Not all cats will display these signs when they are afraid, and some cats may exhibit only a few of these behaviors. Also, certain medical conditions can cause similar symptoms, so it's always a good idea to have your cat checked by a veterinarian if you notice any significant changes in its behavior.
How do I help my cat overcome fear?
Helping a cat overcome fear can be a gradual process that requires patience and consistency. Try to identify the specific trigger that is causing your cat's fear. Is it a particular sound, object, or situation? Once you know what is causing your cat's fear, you can begin to address it more effectively. Provide your cat with a safe and comfortable space where they can retreat when they feel scared or anxious. This can be a cozy bed or a quiet room where they can relax and feel secure. If the fear is related to a specific object or situation, such as a vacuum cleaner, try exposing your cat to it gradually. Start with the object at a distance and gradually move it closer over time. Reward your cat with treats and praise when they remain calm. Use positive reinforcement to encourage your cat's brave behavior. This can include treats, praise, and playtime. Be sure to reward your cat immediately after they display brave behavior so they associate the positive reinforcement with their actions. If your cat's fear is severe, you may need to consult with a veterinarian or a professional animal behaviorist. They can provide additional advice and support to help your cat overcome their fear.
Does catnip help cats with anxiety?
Catnip is a herb that contains a natural compound called nepetalactone. This compound can produce a euphoric response in cats, often resulting in playful or relaxed behavior. However, catnip is not a treatment for anxiety in cats, and its effects on anxiety are not well studied. Catnip may help some cats to feel more relaxed and calm, but it can have the opposite effect on others. Some cats become overstimulated and hyperactive when exposed to catnip. Additionally, the effects of catnip are typically short-lived, lasting anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours. If your cat is experiencing anxiety or stress, it's important to identify the underlying cause of their anxiety and work to address it directly. This may involve creating a safe and comfortable environment for your cat, providing plenty of opportunities for exercise and play, and seeking veterinary care if necessary. In some cases, medication or professional behavioral therapy may be necessary to help your cat manage their anxiety.
What helps anxiety in cats naturally?
There are several natural methods that may help to reduce anxiety in cats. Create a safe and comfortable space for your cat to retreat to when they feel anxious. This can be a quiet room or a cozy bed where they can relax and feel secure. Feline pheromone sprays or diffusers can help to create a calming environment for your cat. These products release a synthetic version of the pheromones that cats naturally produce when they feel safe and secure. Regular playtime can help to reduce your cat's anxiety by providing a healthy outlet for their energy and reducing boredom. A healthy diet can help to support your cat's overall health and well-being, which may help to reduce their anxiety. There are several relaxation techniques that may help to reduce anxiety in cats, such as gentle massage, soft music, or gentle grooming. CBD (cannabidiol) is a natural compound found in the hemp plant, and it is often used as a natural supplement to help manage anxiety, pain, and other conditions in both humans and animals. There is some evidence to suggest that CBD may also be effective in reducing anxiety in cats. While CBD is generally considered safe, it can cause side effects in some cats, such as lethargy, diarrhea, or changes in appetite. Additionally, some CBD products may contain THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), which is the psychoactive compound found in marijuana, and this can be toxic to cats. Therefore, it's important to choose a CBD product that is labeled as THC-free and to monitor your cat closely for any adverse reactions.
What is feline PTSD?
Feline PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) is a condition that can occur in cats who have experienced a traumatic event or a series of traumatic events. This can include abuse, neglect, or an accident. The symptoms of PTSD in cats can vary but may include avoidance behavior, hypervigilance, aggression, fear and anxiety, and urinary or fecal issues. If you suspect that your cat may be experiencing PTSD, it's important to seek veterinary care as soon as possible. A veterinarian can help to diagnose the condition and develop a treatment plan to help your cat manage their symptoms and improve their overall quality of life. Treatment for feline PTSD may include medication, behavior modification, and environmental modifications.
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.