Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in the September/October 2015 issue of Catster print magazine. Click here to subscribe to Catster magazine.
Hiding, growling, swatting, and hissing: Cats who are naturally shy and high-strung might show these behaviors when they’re feeling afraid and insecure. Often mistaken for being aloof and/or aggressive, the “scaredy cat” is merely a timid cat who feels most comfortable in a stable, predictable environment.
When these cats feel extreme fear and anxiety, most of them tend to hide, but they might also become aggressive if they feel cornered. Often they end up being mislabeled as mean when they growl or swat out of fear, but this behavior is merely their natural fight-or-flight response to new people, places, or things.
What makes some cats bold, some calm, and others afraid is a complex question. I believe some of their behaviors are genetically influenced, while others are learned and shaped by environment.
For example, I have four feline siblings who were brought to me at seven weeks old as feral kittens, and I raised all of them in the same loving way. Three of them are loving cats who enjoy being petted; the fourth, Brownie, is still reclusive and runs away if I stand up while she’s in the room.
A common thread among scaredy cats is poor or no socialization early in their lives. Kittens separated from their mothers and siblings too early in life are prone to behavioral issues and lack of social skills, often causing them to become more fearful of people and other cats. This is also part of Brownie’s issue, because she and her siblings were found abandoned when they were four weeks old.
Abuse is another factor that can alter a cat’s behavior. A cat who has been abused can become fearful, reacting to new situations by hiding or being aggressive.
Fear triggers depend on the individual cat, but some common things tend to cause fearful reactions.
You can do certain things to lessen your scaredy cat’s fear and help him become less shy:
If your cat’s fear seems to be getting worse, take him to the veterinarian to rule out health issues. Medication might also help calm him.
Accepting your cat the way he is and his behavior for what it is will do much toward helping your scaredy cat feel more secure. He probably won’t become fearless, but he will feel less afraid whenever he is by your side.
About the author: Rita Reimers’ cat behavior counseling sessions have helped many kitties remain happy in their forever homes. Visit her website, the Cat Analyst, to learn more about her services and to read her cat behavior blog. Rita is also owner/ CEO of Just For Cats Pet Sitting . Connect with Rita on Facebook and Twitter.