Hissing, growling and hiding are all behaviors that can indicate your kitty is scared. The triggers for a cat's fears vary, depending on your particular kitty's history and prior socialization as a youngster. While having some fears is normal, a constantly fearful cat isn't, requiring a trip to the vet.
Loud noises commonly scare cats, whether coming from a vacuum cleaner, hairdryer or outdoor fireworks. If your kitty is afraid of such noises, he'll likely run off and hide in a spot he considers safe, such as under a bed or in a closet. This is normal behavior and if it doesn't happen often, it's nothing to worry about. In fact, it can be used as a training aid to discourage your cat from going into areas he shouldn't. For example, shaking an aluminum can filled with coins can scare your kitty off a piece of furniture or counter when he jumps on them. It can also stop him from urinating outside of his litter box if you catch him in the act; you can then bring him over to his litter box.
A New Pet
The addition of a second cat or dog to your home can scare your current kitty. This new animal is viewed as an invader into your cat's territory, which he considers your home. Not only will introducing a new pet immediately scare your kitty and the new pet, but it can mar their relationship later in life. Instead, introduce your furry companions over a period of a few weeks. First allow them to smell each other under a door, later through a baby gate. Finally, supervise any initial interactions between the two animals until neither responds with fear or aggression. Treat each pet to reward acceptable behaviors around each other to positively reinforce them.
A kitty that wasn't exposed to a variety of people as a kitten may have some issues with people he doesn't know. The arrival of one of your friends can be scary to him. Here is a person that has a new smell and who could be there to hurt him. He might hide or even become aggressive to that person. To deter such behavior, have your friends give your kitty a treat when they come to your home. Keeping a treat jar near the front door makes this easy. Soon, your kitty won't view strangers as something to fear, but rather something to look forward to.
Dealing with a Fear
While new pets or people, along with loud noises, are common triggers that scare cats, each furry feline is different. A bad experience with a particular item, sound or person as a kitten can instill a fear of that same thing later in life. To calm your kitty in the presence of his trigger, give him a series of treats when he behaves without fear to a less-threatening version of the trigger. For example, if your little guy is afraid of running vacuum cleaners, give him treats in the presence of the vacuum while it's off. Turn it on in a different room, then treat your kitty while he can hear that it's on. Finally, treat him in the presence of the vacuum when it's on near him.
To prevent fears of people and other pets from developing, expose your little guy to many other people and animals before he turns 14 weeks old, according to PetMD. Make these early experiences consistently positive, using treats as a reward to reinforce the meetings as something good. Never reward your kitty when he behaves with fearful behaviors to a scary situation as a way to try and "calm" him. This actually reinforces the behavior, according to VCA Animal Hospitals. Instead, only reward him when he reacts calmly.
If a previously calm kitty has suddenly become fearful of other pets or minor sounds in your home, a medical condition could be causing him anxiety. Bring your kitty to the vet for a checkup. In severe cases of anxiety, your vet may even recommend putting your furry buddy on a prescription anti-anxiety medication to keep him calm.
- Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals: Behaviour
- Pets.ca: Fearful Cats -- Pet Tip 197
- PetPsych.com: Scare Tactics Break Cat of Bad Habits
- Hill's Pet Nutrition: Helping Your Cat Cope With Loud Thunder and Fireworks
- American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals: Desensitization and Counterconditioning
- VCA Animal Hospitals: Fears and Phobias in Cats
- PetMD: Extreme Fear and Anxiety in Cats
- VetInfo: Cat Hissing and Growling
Based in Las Vegas, Susan Paretts has been writing since 1998. She writes about many subjects including pets, finances, crafts, food, home improvement, shopping and going green. Her articles, short stories and reviews have appeared on City National Bank's website and on The Noseprint. Paretts holds a Master of Professional Writing from the University of Southern California.