How to Help Cats Overcome Their Fears

In order to help fearful cats, it's important to pay attention to their surrounding and expose them to a diverse and stimulating environment. Cats that grow up in isolation can be fragil and extremely afraid. Today we'll tell you how to help cats overcome their fears.
How to Help Cats Overcome Their Fears
Luz Eduviges Thomas-Romero

Written and verified by biochemistry Luz Eduviges Thomas-Romero.

Last update: 22 December, 2022

The first step in helping cats to overcome their fears is recognizing them. This isn’t a simple task, so it’s important you make a point to get to know your pet. A cat that’s shy by nature may be afraid of many things and spend a great deal of time in hiding. At the same time, cats that are naturally friendly and confident will display less fear and, in general, recover from frightening events much faster.

The spectrum of fear

A variety of signs exist that can help us identify when a cat is afraid. Many times, the cause behind feline fears isn’t a stimulus that you can identify.

You should be aware that when cats tremble, hide, have a reduced activity level and display passive escape behaviors, this is considered moderate fear.

If a cat is scared, then the signs may include active escape behaviors and an increase in motor activity that’s potentially harmful and out of context. The response to fear is a complex behavior that involves diverse neural structures. For this reason, the response intertwines sensory, motor, and emotional processes.

An angry cat hissing.

The different manifestations of fear

Below, we’ll reveal the main ways in which cats respond to fear. Frequently, their response to fear is to become defensive:

  • Somatic responses: An alert or vigilant state. Cats will put their ears back towards their skull, show their claws, arch their backs, move their tails, open their mouths, or show their teeth.
  • Vocalizations: They’ll growl, meow, snort, yelp or hiss.
  • Neurovegetative responses (involuntary): These refer to the dilation of pupils, buggy eyes, an increase in salivation, and increased sweating. Also, a loss of urinary and anal sphincter control, the release of anal glands, increased breathing and heart rate, and hair standing on end.
  • Movement: Cats respond to fear in a variety of ways when it comes to their movement. For example, becoming paralyzed in one spot, standing up, walking in circles, crouching down, batting their paws, biting, fighting, hiding, or escaping.

The long term consequences of living in fear

Helping cats overcome their fears is important in order to avoid long term consequences. Among the classic signs of activity in the sympathetic nervous system, felines may experience persistent diarrhea. This can lead to inflammatory intestinal illness or irritable bowel syndrome. What’s more, fearful cats can develop obsessive behaviors like licking or biting themselves.

How to help cats overcome their fears

If your cat hides, but is healthy, leave it alone. He or she will come out when ready. Forcing cats to come out of their hiding places will only cause them to experience more fear.

Make sure your pet has easy access to food, water, and a litter box. Keep the litter box full and change food and water every day to ensure that your pet is drinking and eating.

Food is a major motivator for cats. So, if your cat is afraid of someone in your home, then that person should be in charge of feeding your pet.

Giving food to cats that are afraid.

Is it possible to keep cats from becoming fearful?

  • Cats that are deprived of social and environmental exposure during the first 14 weeks of life may develop a fear of contact.
  • Phobias and panic can result from a history of the inability to escape or move away from whatever causes the phobia or fear. It’s for this reason that cats that have suffered enclosure in cages or abusive situations are often fearful.
  • Cats that have a history of abandonment, multiple owners, relocation may suffer from separation anxiety.
  • Maintaining a good state of health: Any illness, intoxication, or a painful physical condition all increase anxiety and contribute to the development of fears, phobias, and anxiety.

Helping cats overcome their fears: diagnosis and treatment

The first thing you should do is to rule out health conditions that may be causing your cat’s behavior. If your veterinarian diagnoses your pet with simple fear, anxiety, or phobia, then prescription medication may be the answer.

But it’s very likely that your cat’s vet will make further recommendations. These recommendations will be based on your cats in particular and the specific source of its fear. The idea will be to relieve the animal’s fears and anxiety through behavior conditioning.

In order to help cats overcome extreme cases of panic and separation anxiety, you need to offer protection until the medications take effect. This may take several days or even weeks, and hospitalization is often the best option.

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All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

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The contents of My Animals are written for informational purposes. They can't replace the diagnosis, advice, or treatment from a professional. In the case of any doubt, it's best to consult a trusted specialist.