Behavioral problems

How to Approach a Scared Cat

Josie F. Turner
By Josie F. Turner, Journalist specialized in Animal Welfare. February 27, 2018
How to Approach a Scared Cat

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People who are generally fearful or act cowardly in a given situation are called ‘scaredy-cats’ for a reason. Felines are known to become frightened at the drop of a hat. The cause can be seemingly innocuous stimuli such as dropping something on the ground or moving past them quickly. This isn't because cats are innately cowardly. It has to do with their wild ancestry and a need for self protection. It is a survival instinct used for fight or flight responses, especially as cats are not pack animals like some.

Some cats, unfortunately, can extend their timidity past this survival instinct and become frightened too easily, perhaps as a sign of some physical or psychological problem. In this AnimalWised article we look at the various causes of why your cat might be frightened as well as how to approach a scared cat.

You may also be interested in: How To Stop Your Cat From Clawing You


  1. Why is my cat afraid?
  2. Step-by-step guide for approaching a scared cat
  3. Tips to attract a scared or shy cat

Why is my cat afraid?

As stated, your cat can become afraid from some sort of surprising stimuli or perceived aggression towards them. This is part of a survival mechanism designed to self-protect against various predators. If your feline hears a loud and/or unexpected noise, for example, they might immediately run away to seek refuge. Often this will be a dark place or somewhere they know to be safe. Unfortunately, this place might also be somewhere it is difficult to access or even exit. This is one of the reasons there is a stereotype of cats getting stuck in trees. They become frightened, race up the trunk and then can't (or are too scared to) get down.

However, many cats will scare less easily. They may be unperturbed by vacuum cleaners or sleep in their beds even with lots of commotion going on around them. Others may have a nervous disposition and may need assessment to determine if there is some underlying condition causing this behavior.

Felines who have a history of physical or psychological abuse are especially vulnerable to psychological disorders. This may be due to abandonment or they grew up on the streets before being taken in by someone. If you have recently adopted a kitten or cat, regardless if it is from a shelter, you need to observe their behavior. If they show symptoms of fear, insecurity or self-defensive aggressiveness. The cat will need to go through a period of adaptation to its new home and this is an important time which needs to be respected. You should consult your veterinarian or an ethologist to ensure you know what to do to build your cat's self-confidence and know it is in a loving home.

If your cat is overly scared or timid, it is possible they are suffering from insufficient socialization or stress. Poor socialization leads to fear of the unknown and a lack of trust, especially when there are people or animals in the house new to your kitty. Additionally, it is important to rule out possible pathological causes which may lead to this behavior. If their sensory perception is affected or are in great pain, they may feel mire vulnerable and more likely to run away in fear.

In any case of excessive fear in your cat, it is important to find the root of the problem. This can best be done with the help of your vet as they will have a more comprehensive knowledge of what might be the cause as well as suggest appropriate treatment.

How to Approach a Scared Cat - Why is my cat afraid?

Step-by-step guide for approaching a scared cat

There are several reasons why a cat may be scared or frightened. It could be due to moving to a new house or bringing in a new member of the family as well as those listed above. It can lead to hiding in cramped places or being frightened in a place where they could be a danger to themselves or others. If this is case you will want to find a way to calm them down. Of course, you may simply be worried for their welfare and what them to come out of this state of fear to improve their well-being. Here is a guide to approaching a scared cat so that both you and they can be safe:

  1. Keep calm and act normally: you may be worried about your cat if they are scared and, especially if you have a nervous disposition yourself, it might be difficult to stay cool. However, doing so is fundamental when approaching a scared cat. These animals are very sensitive and can sense even minute changes in your mood and demeanor. If you approach a scared cat in a similar state of anxiety then it might only exacerbate things. They may even see you as the aggressor and feel the need to lash out. Try to maintain a relaxed body posture, making your actions firm and deliberate.
  2. Speak softly: cat's also have sensitive hearing. Approaching a cat while talking loudly, shouting or even simply showing surprise when finding them can sound aggressive to feline ears. Speaking softly in tones which are reassuring yet authoritative.
  3. Move carefully and slowly: keep a prudent distance from a scared cat. Even loving family cats can see you as a threat if you are not behaving properly. If the cat is a stray cat this is even more important. Not only do you have less ability to predict their actions, but they may be carrying disease which they can transmit through bites or scratches. If you approach too quickly and are not careful with your actions, you can send the cat further into hiding or exacerbate its suffering.
  4. Encourage them to approach: ideally, you will want the cat to feel self-motivated to move in your direction rather than moving in for the approach. Jumping on a cat or trying to grab it by force can lead to future mistrust in your relationship, not to mention immediate dislike. Cats are also very agile, so they can be hard to catch. Lure it out with a toy, trusted object or some food. Your deameanor will do more to calm them down than your actions, so be patient and wait for them to come to you.

Tips to attract a scared or shy cat

The main principle in attracting a scared or shy cat is to stimulate their curiosity. You should do this in an environment which has little to no aggressive or intimidating stimuli. For example, turn off loud music or ask nearby people to quiet down. This will help to make the cat feel like they are coming back into an environment in which they can feel safe and move back into with confidence in their safety. Cats are intelligent and love being mentally stimulated. This intelligence is our best ally in trying to approach a scared cat, whether or not they are our own pet or stray.

If you have recently adopted a cat, you need to understand the importance of building up their confidence in a new home. They will likely spend a lot of the time being scared, shy or hiding which can seem worrying. This is part of the process and if you want to build up trust, trying to force them to connect can be counterproductive. Ideally, find objects and games which encourage the cat and employ positive reinforcement.

Once good example is to use a toy such as a wand with a feather on it. This is a great way to distract the cat from the stimulus which caused them to become afraid in the first place. You can wave the wand in front of the area your frightened cat is hiding and try to lure them out with a game. You will need to start waving the wand gently and not make them more intimidated by agitating the cat with it. You can increase the interaction little by little and hopefully reassure your kitty.

Rewarding your cat with positive reinforcement will not only help them calm down, but also reassure them for future occurrences. Unfortunately, if you encounter a stray cat, they may not be able to trust you enough even with positive reinforcement. In these cases, you will need patience more than anything. If you have a scared cat who keeps coming by your home, you can slowly build up trust by leaving out food regularly so they come to associate you with care and protection rather than fear.

With stray cats, you also need to take into account they have an unknown history to you. They may have suffered in the past which will lead to being frightened of all humans. If you have a rescue cat, the same can happen. This is another reason why patience is so important in approaching a frightened cat.

How to Approach a Scared Cat - Tips to attract a scared or shy cat

If you want to read similar articles to How to Approach a Scared Cat, we recommend you visit our Behavioral problems category.

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Linda Miller
We will be moving (flying) to South Dakota with our house bound Russian Blue. It will involve a plane, staying in a cat-friendly hotel for a few days or weeks until we find a larger temporary or permanent home and then a move to a permanent home. Please provide your best how to advice (warnings, tips, etc.) Thank you.
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How to Approach a Scared Cat