A surprisingly common issue that cat owners bring up when they take their kitty to the vet’s office is that their cat seems to be afraid of things they can’t see. The cat may seem to be constantly getting startled seemingly out of nowhere and for no reason. If this is such a common occurrence, then there must be a logical explanation for it.
In this article we will look into why cats get scared, how to tell if your cat is spooked, and how you can keep this from happening.
What is my cat scared of?
First, we have to understand that cats have highly acute senses compared to humans. So, when you say that your cat is startled by nothing, it may just be something that we humans are unable to discern.
1. New smells
A cat’s sense of smell is 14 times better than ours. That means that there is a cavalcade of odors that only they can smell. A surprising smell that you have no clue about can surprise your cat.
2. Unfamiliar sounds
Cat’s ears can pick up high-pitched sounds better than dogs or humans. So, a car alarm from several blocks away may not bother you in your sleep, but your cat’s sensitive hearing may pick it up.
Cats are sensitive to vibrations like most animals. That is why during earthquakes, before you feel anything, your cat has already run for cover.
4. Sudden movements around them
Cats have developed a keen perception of depth in their eyesight. A characteristic they share with their larger feline cousins, like lions and tigers. This helps them concentrate on their prey when hunting. In your house, as little as a shadow moving because the wind blew on your curtains may send your kitty running.
Also, because they evolved to prefer depth perception over spatial awareness, a cat that is used to a small apartment will have a stressful time adjusting to wide spaces. This means almost any stimuli in, say, a spacious backyard, can easily prompt a fright.
Cats are wary of new people.
Just like any pet, cats need time to adjust to the presence of other pets, even other cats. Expect them to be jumpy at any action of the new animal.
Cats get used to the placement of furniture and most things in your house. So, when a new object, say, a Christmas tree is put up, the cat is going to side-eye it for a couple of days as it tries to get used to this new object.
Signs of a Scared Cat
- Freezing in place – Cats are quiet and lithe creatures; this helps them a lot in hunting. They also use this when they sense imminent danger. They freeze and do not move until they can be sure that the source of their fear is far enough for them to escape.
- Running and hiding – If a cat estimates that it has ample time to escape potential danger, they will take off running to safety.
- Aggressiveness – If a cat sees that the source of potential danger is within arm’s reach, they will not hesitate to swat at the object with a paw, possibly with the claw exposed. Most of the time, after an initial swat of the paw, the cat will run and hide.
- Dilated Eyes – A cat’s eyes dilating is a physiological response to fear or excitement; it allows more light to enter the eyes thus making the field of vision temporarily wider. So, if a cat’s eyes are mostly black, due to the pupils dilating, they are probably scared.
- Flattened ears – Just like dilated eyes, flattened ears a.k.a. “airplane ears”, are an automatic response cats have to danger and fear.
There are some signs of behavioral changes that may be caused by a more serious and permanent source of stress or fear for your cat:
- Urinating or defecating outside of their litter box
- Becoming increasingly aggressive
- Hiding for the majority of the day
- Not coming out for food on a regular basis
- Acting withdrawn from you
If you observe your cat to have these signs, there might be a larger underlying problem you need to address.
How can I keep my cat calm and relaxed?
1. Identify the source of the trigger.
The most important thing to do when you notice your cat getting scared of something is to narrow down the possible causes. Once the source is removed, the cat should calm down.
2. If the cat is frightened, leave them alone..
Never drag your cat away from their hiding spot. Your cat might react aggressively and end up hurting you. As long as they are in their safe space, eating and sleeping normally, just let them be until they calm themselves down.
3. Keep your distance when the cat is being aggressive.
It is normal for some cats to be protective of themselves when frightened. So, keep your distance for your safety, but not too much as that may reinforce this behavior as dominance for the cat. Instead, learn to ignore the cat and just go about your day.
4. Keep them fed and hydrated.
Stressed cats often forget to eat or drink. So, make sure that their food bowl has food and their water is refilled.
5. Do not try and console them with too much affection or hugs.
Cats do not like to be held or touched when stressed. They are further agitated when given hugs and may turn to aggression. So, just resist giving your kitty their daily kisses when you can tell that they are visibly upset.
5. Get them used to triggers.
If possible, train your cat to live with the trigger. For example, if your cat hates strangers, allowing your cat to be around you and your friends while you hang out at your house can help. This allows the cat to get used to the sights, sounds, and smells of the people who are around you. If your cat hates the new vacuum cleaner, perch some treats and toys on the vacuum cleaner so the cat associates it with good things.
Image: istockphoto.com / Nils Jacobi