Understanding Fear in Cats and How You Can Help

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A cat’s behavior can tell you a lot about their emotions.  A cat that is feeling fearful may exhibit any of the following behaviors:

  • Cowering or walking with their body low to the ground
  • Fleeing in response to noises or when approached
  • Hissing, swatting, or trying to bite if handled
  • Decreased appetite*
  • Urinating or defecating outside of the litterbox*
  • Appearing “shut down” or pretending to be asleep*

*Lack of appetite, inappropriate elimination, lethargy or any sudden change in a cat’s behavior could also be an indication of an underlying medical condition. If you notice any of these, reach out to your veterinarian right away.

Fear is very helpful for avoiding danger. For cats, fear is often caused by new environments, traveling in a carrier, loud or unfamiliar noises, or unfamiliar sights, smells, or animals. Some cats have more sensitive or fearful personalities, either due to negative experiences in the past, genetic traits, lack of exposure to new experiences as a kitten, or a combination of these factors. They tend to take a little longer (weeks vs days) to settle into a new home. These cats may always be a bit timid in certain situations, but, given time, they often blossom in a stable home environment with familiar people.

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