Some cats are skittish, especially those that have not socialized with people. But sometimes, a social butterfly will turn into a shy recluse without warning. This behavior shift can worry cat parents who see their friendly and outgoing cat become nervous and frightened.
Keep reading to find out why your cat might start acting afraid and what you can do to help them feel more comfortable.
Signs Your Cat Is Afraid
Some signs of fear in cats are apparent, like jumping when you try to pet the cat. Others can be less clear or overlap with medical disorders or other emotions, leaving pet parents unsure what their cat is trying to tell them. Here are some signs that your cat is feeling afraid:
- Hiding or freezing in one spot
- Meowing a lot
- Inappropriate elimination
- Restlessness, pacing, or running
- Change in appetite (increase or decrease)
- Expelling anal gland fluid
- Excessive grooming
- Dilated pupils
- Uncharacteristic aggression
Once you’ve ascertained that the problem is that your cat is afraid of something, you can start working out what’s got them spooked.
The 6 Reasons Your Cat Might Be Afraid
1. Age-Related Cognitive Issues
Cats experience a decline in cognitive function as they age, just as humans do. Some of the signs of this decline may resemble the behavior of a frightened feline. Cats with dementia may have accidents outside the litter box, move around without purpose, or appear agitated and scared.
2. Illness or Injury
Cats are instinctually inclined to hide symptoms of illness from their owners. Hiding signs of the disease is beneficial to wild cats, who can conceal their status from opportunistic predators that might try to make a meal of an injured cat.
If your cat isn’t feeling well, they may exhibit uncharacteristic aggression when you touch or cuddle them, especially if you brush up against a spot that’s been tender for them recently.
Cats can also develop a fearful response in response to being mistreated. Cats that humans routinely mistreat may become frightened by all the humans they interact with. If your cat is allowed outside, consider the possibility that someone nearby might be mistreating your cat, especially if your cat has unexplained injuries or is suddenly and uncharacteristically fearful of human contact.
4. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Cats can be emotionally affected by their experiences so much that they can develop a fear response similar to a human’s “post-traumatic stress disorder diagnosis.” For instance, if your cat’s previous owner used to lock them in the closet, your cat may become fearful of dark or enclosed spaces.
5. Changes in Circumstances
Cats are also susceptible to change. They don’t handle changes in circumstances well, and some cats can be profoundly affected by things like moving or new people being introduced to them. Any recent changes to your circumstances or living situation could have triggered a fearful reaction in your cat as it tries to cope with the changes.
There are many types of anxiety present in cats. While the stereotype of cats is they are aloof loners, separation anxiety is actually one of the most common types of anxiety found in cats. Some cats get anxious when their owners aren’t home, and drastic changes to your schedule, such as starting a new job, will leave your cat stressed out.
Ways You Can Help Your Cat Feel Calmer
The good news is that often, this behavior is temporary. Many circumstances that might cause a behavioral change in cats are things that the cat will eventually become accustomed to living with, and the fearful behavior should subside.
Here are a few things you can do to help your cat process their feelings better.
1. Provide Your Cat With a Safe Place
Fearful cats need a space to themselves where they can decompress safely when they’re overwhelmed. If your cat has claimed a spot in a room, it’s best to leave them there and make it as comfortable as you can.
Move your cat’s food, water, and litter as close as possible to their haven while leaving enough distance between the safe spot and the litter box that they won’t feel like they’re crapping in their living room.
2. Comfort Your Cat
If your cat is comfortable being pet and cuddled, do so to provide it with some reassurance when you see it acting afraid. However, if your cat moves away or rejects you, don’t force them to interact with you.
3. Play Soft Music or Leave the TV on When You’re Not Home
The background noise can be soothing to cats and help them feel comfortable enough to relax even when you aren’t home to comfort them physically. Keeping the air busy is a great way to help cats with separation anxiety. The background noise from the TV or music can make them feel like someone is home with them.
4. Consider a Pheromone Diffuser
Pheromone diffusers emanate a pheromone that cats produce to mark an area as safe for other cats in their colony. You can get a diffuser that uses oil with this pheromone to signal your cat that they are safe in their language.
Companies, such as Feliway, also produce collars infused with this pheromone that your cat can wear like a grounding bracelet. These can help your cat acclimate to their surroundings, especially if you’ve recently moved house or undergone other significant changes to your circumstances or living situation.
It can be hard to see our cats suddenly suffer and scary to change their behavior suddenly. Luckily, a scared cat can be helped. It doesn’t even require a trip to the vet! Many anxious cats can be treated at home without any medical intervention!
However, if your cat is continually exhibiting fearful behavior, you should have them evaluated by a veterinarian to rule out any physical or mental ailments. If necessary, your veterinarian can prescribe anxiety medication to help calm your cat down and provide you and your cat with a better quality of life.
Featured Image Credit: Chendongshan, Shutterstock
- Signs Your Cat Is Afraid
- The 6 Reasons Your Cat Might Be Afraid
- 1. Age-Related Cognitive Issues
- 2. Illness or Injury
- 3. Abuse
- 4. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
- 5. Changes in Circumstances
- 6. Anxiety
- Ways You Can Help Your Cat Feel Calmer
- 1. Provide Your Cat With a Safe Place
- 2. Comfort Your Cat
- 3. Play Soft Music or Leave the TV on When You’re Not Home
- 4. Consider a Pheromone Diffuser
- Final Thoughts