A grey cat hissing with his mouth open.
People become fearful of their own cat's behavior. Photography ©izusek | Getty Images.

What to Do When You’re Scared of Your Own Cat

Scared of your own cat? You’re not alone! Whether it’s a fear of your new cat or a fear of a cat you’ve had forever but who doesn't seem himself, there are reasons why cats act out and ways to address these behaviors.
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I can’t imagine being scared of my own sweet kitties. As a catsitter, there are times when I’m greeted by a snarling Tasmanian devil of a cat, but these are not my own lovebugs. Are there people who are actually scared of their own kitties?

Well, all you need to do is watch the opening sequence to Animal Planet’s My Cat from Hell to see that, yes, this really does happen, and it’s not as uncommon as you might think.

Scared of your own cat? Mostly, this happens for one of these reasons:

Angry brown cat starring from a ledge.
When your cat doesn’t feel well, she’ll not only get grumpy, but she may have to tell you to leave her alone by getting a little rough. Photography by ©marieclaudelemay | Getty Images.
  1. Fear of your new cat: You’ve brought home your first cat and have no prior experience with cats, how to read them or how to handle them; or you’ve brought a new cat home, and — surprise! The cat has major anxiety issues.
  2. Fear of your resident cat: Your current cat is exhibiting sudden behavioral changes that have come (seemingly) out of nowhere.

Fear of your new cat

Brand-new cat owners who have not spent much time around or had much experience with cats might sometimes act anxious around their new feline buddy.

Anxiousness often translates to a cat as intimidation and fear, which can raise the kitty’s own insecurities and fears about being in a new place with strange people, and she may act out with aggression.

Even experienced cat owners might find themselves perplexed by the behaviors of a new feline addition to their household if they have adopted a fearful cat. A cat that has been mistreated, neglected or has lived her entire life in a rescue shelter might have poor socialization skills and more than a healthy fear of humans.

The aggressiveness some new cats exhibit usually settles down once the kitty has time to become comfortable in her new surroundings with her new people. Yes, it can be quite intimidating to adopt a cat only to find her hissing, growling, spitting and lashing out once you get her home.

Fear of your resident cat

When a cat who has been in the home for a long period of time suddenly begins acting out with aggression, there might be a few reasons for this behavior:

1. Moving to a new home. Being in a new place with new smells, sounds, sights and maybe even new people can be very intimidating to your cat. It’s like you took away her security blanket, and now she doesn’t know what is in “her” territory.

2. New cats, other pets or people. An interloper suddenly enters your cat’s domain. She might react with aloofness, or she might actually attack the new cat, other pet or even a new person in an effort to protect her abode. She might be so upset that her anger turns toward you if you try to calm a disagreement between your cat and another cat, pet or human.

3. Boredom. If your cat is home alone all day with no toys, no cat tree, nothing to look at, nothing to play with, not even another cat, then yes, she is going to be full of pent-up energy and raring to go once you get home!

Sometimes, that play energy can turn a little angry and aggressive. Certain high-energy breeds such as Bengals need mental stimulation, or they will get bored and might even cause some damage to your home.

4. Undiagnosed illness. When we humans don’t feel well, we might get grumpy, but we can tell others why we’re acting that way. When your cat doesn’t feel well, she will most likely get grumpy, and the only way she can tell you to leave her alone is to get a little rough with you.

I once was called to do a behavior session where one of the three cats suddenly began attacking one of his feline buddies. It turns out that the aggressor had arthritis, and the other cat had accidentally caused him pain during playtime. It took quite some time and effort to get them to become friends again.

What to do about aggressive behavior

A grey grey starring at a feather toy in front of her.
Take the time to get to know your cat, especially if she is new, but don’t force it. Playtime is a nice way to bond with your cat and also help her use up her energy. Photography by ©willcao911 | Getty Images.

1. Vet checkup. Get to the veterinarian to make sure your cat doesn’t have any underlying health issues that could be causing her angry outbursts.

2. Identify the cause. If your cat gets a clean bill of health, try to figure out why she might be acting this way (see above).

3. Calming products. Try some herbal calming products to help take the edge off your cat’s anxiety. If those don’t work, your veterinarian might be able to prescribe something to help calm the situation.

4. Spend some time with her. Take the time to get to know your cat, especially if she is new, but don’t force it. Playtime is a nice way to bond with your cat and also help her use up her energy and work out her frustrations.

5. Get her a buddy. If you have a single cat, consider getting her a friend to keep her company while you’re at work.

6. Catify your home. As my colleague Jackson Galaxy says, one of the best things you can do for your cat is to catify her environment. Give her cat trees, places to climb, cozy places to nap, plenty of toys and things to do so her mind stays sharp, and she gets to be active in the way cats are in nature.

What not to do if you’re scared of your cat

1. Yell at your cat. Yelling at your cat only causes her more distress, and she might actually attack you — or at the very least hide from you.

2. Punish your cat. Punishing your cat will only alienate her. I once conducted a behavior session for a couple where the man was always getting nipped by one of the cats. The reason? He was yelling at the cat and smacking him to get him to calm down. Not cool!

3. Run away or act scared. If you act like you’re afraid of your cat, she’ll sense this and have the upper hand. She’ll use her aggression to keep distance between you, and you’ll be stuck in a standoff situation, maybe for life.

4. Ignore her. When your cat first gets aggressive, its OK to walk away from her and withdraw your attention, at first. But, if you just ignore her and leave her shut in a room all alone because you are scared of her, she will become an aloof, unfriendly, mad cat forever.

As you see, there really is nothing to fear. Meet your cat on her terms and see things from her purr-spective. It won’t take long before you both lose your fear of one another and become best pals for life.

Thumbnail: Photography ©izusek | Getty Images.

Rita Reimers’ Cat Behavior Coaching has helped many cat owners better understand their feline friends. Visit RitaReimers.com to read her cat behavior blog or to book a cat behavior coaching session. Rita is also the CEO/owner of JustForCatsPetSitting.com. Connect with her on Facebook and on Twitter at @thecatanalyst.

Editor’s note: This article appeared in Catster magazine. Have you seen the new Catster print magazine in stores? Or in the waiting room of your vet’s office? Subscribe now to get Catster magazine delivered straight to you

Read more about cat behavior on Catster.com:

12 thoughts on “What to Do When You’re Scared of Your Own Cat”

  1. Can someone help me Iv never kept a pet n I’m so scared n fear cats I feel it’s gona cause problems in my house my hubby n 2 kids are looking to find a cat very soon but I can’t change there minds I can’t even look at cat how am I gona keep one in the house n I’m a clean freak keep worrying it’s gona drop hair everywhere n scare me creep up to me it’s making me very unhappy

  2. Hi I been terrified of my cat since today he kept on hunching his back and his fur would be all up on end like a raccoon almost like and he would act so mean and cruel like there was a demon in him and I’m just to scared to even go near him now he used to be a loving(ish) cat but a very bossy one now he is just like full demon ever since today I’m starting to not like cats :-(

  3. My sweet love of a cat – my first! – terrified me about six months after I adopted her at age eight. Unbeknownst to me, she had injured her back somehow. I discovered it when she started hissing, growling, yowling, then attacking and charging me in the middle of the night. When you’re a new kitty parent and you find yourself in a bathroom washing out slash marks in your legs, feet, ankles, and arms in the middle of the night (and removing the *broken off claws* from your wounds as you clean them), it’s hard not to be afraid for a while after that.

    I knew she had a medical issue, her personality change was too extreme for anything else. The vet confirmed it after some blood tests, x-rays, a neuro consult and an MRI, and it’s under control now.

    It took my kitty-friend and I some time to get comfortable with one another again after that, even though I’m pretty sure we each knew that the other hadn’t intentionally caused distress. For me, it helped to sit in the same room with her, not necessarily close to her but just in the same room. (Well initially, I sat outside the door and cracked it slightly so we could be close but not in each other’s space.) I’d especially recommend doing this during feeding time. Sometimes I’d read aloud or just talk to her. When she was confident enough, she’d come up and headbutt me a bit or maybe just sit nearer to me. And if I was uncomfortable, I could get up and leave for a while.

    We built up trust again before long, and we’re still sharing a happy household. She’s sixteen now, a spoiled old lady with lots of medical issues, but I couldn’t imagine life any other way.

  4. Your reference to Jackson Galaxy and his “My Cat from Hell” is spot-on. He also has that series and more “CatDaddy” videos available on YouTube. just put his name and your problem together in the YouTube search bar, and enjoy!

  5. Thank you for your article. It was very informative and answered a lot of my questions. I was curious as to the top cat photo and the nick in it’s ear. Is that a sign that the cat is feral? I was told that they don’t use that marking any more. Any truth to this?

    1. I got a sweet 4 year old tuxedo from the shelter. The nick in her ear means she was trapped neutered and released. She was brought to the shelter by a woman who felt she was too sweet to be on the street because my Maizie was rubbing up against her and purring. I’m glad she did. We’ve been together for a month now and she is very sweet

  6. What to Do When You’re Scared of Your Own Cat
    Thank you for this article. As a volunteer cat pal at a local shelter, we get asked for support and ideas relating to cat behavior. I will keep these in mind and also print and hand out to those who need ideas about their kitties. Also our shelter has a cat behaviorist who will meet people with issues with their pet cat or phone consult. We recommend to adopters to take advantage of these resources.

    1. Hi there,

      We are happy to hear you enjoyed our article! Please feel free to reach out to us at anytime if you have specific questions you cannot find on our site. Here is our contact link: https://www.catster.com/meet-team-catster

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