My Kitten Is Very Scared - How Can I Help?
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There are many reasons an adult cat might be scared. Fear often develops due to experiences from their youth. If they become scared all of a sudden, it is usually due to a change in their environment or a recent traumatic experience. However, with a young kitten, the reasons for being scared are often difficult to determine. This is especially the case if they are a new kitten or we don't know their history. Since they are vulnerable, it is understandable kittens may get frightened, but we need to reduce this possibility as much as possible.
At AnimalWised, we understand why my kitten is very scared and what we can do to help them. We do this by looking at how we can create an environment free from fear and what we need to do in different situations.
Reasons my kitten is very scared
Although we might be aware kittens are a little fearful when they first enter a new home, it doesn't mean they should be very scared. A healthy kitten which has spent the correct amount of time with their mother and littermates should adjust after a short time. If the cat is scared, rather than timid, it is possibly due to:
- Poor socialization: the socialization period is vital for a kitten's well-being. This is the time when the kitten learns how to interact with other cats, people and even other animals. If they are improperly socialized, they will not have learned key boundaries which allow them to live in harmony with other animals.
- Taken from mother too early: one of the reasons a kitten is poorly socialized is because they are removed too early from their mother. The bond between mother and kitten is vital and doesn't simply provide for their physical needs. Kittens need the emotional security the mother brings. Often if they are taken from the mother, they are also isolated from their siblings, further hindering their socialization.
- Other pets: if we have other animals in the home, even if they are gentle creatures, they can be intimidating to the kitten. While the kitten should learn to be able to interact with other animals, some may have trouble with this process. It is often not an isolated problem, but one which is affected by others on this list of reasons why a kitten is very scared.
- Trauma: although we don't think a kitten has experienced much in their short life, any trauma they have experienced before they arrive with you can affect their behavior. Trauma often happens to kittens which have been abandoned, neglected or abused. A kitten being taken away from their mother too early is a type of trauma in itself.
- Children: similar to having other pets, children can be intimidating to kittens. This is especially the case with young children who have not established their own boundaries.
While each reason a kitten is very scared will require its own approach to helping them, there are general things you need to do to help them no longer be frightened. We detail how to tame a kitten who is scared below.
Getting to know a new kitten
When we first adopt a kitten into our home, we should know that they will need time to adjust. When a kitten is newborn, they have everything catered for them by their mother in a nest with their siblings. It is a small and protective world which satisfies all their needs at that time. After weaning, this time is over and the mother will start to make them leave the nest so they can fend for their own.
Since cats are domesticated companion animals, they go form this safe world with their mother and siblings into our environment. The kitten no longer has animals of her own kind around her (unless there are already cats in our home), but instead joins humans and any other pets we may care for. This is a shock for any kitten.
Fortunately, since kittens are impressionable, if we treat them well and meet their needs, they should be able to adapt to their new environment well. Your kitten may appear scared, but they shouldn't be very scared. They should be inquisitive and be given the opportunity to investigate their new home.
Not only is the kitten getting to know us, but we are getting to know the kitten. When we look at a litter of newborn kittens, individual personalities start to develop quicker than we may think. Some may be bold and carefree, others may be skittish and more fearful, even if they have had a very similar experience.
When we introduce a kitten to a new home, we need to understand the challenges which might make them scared. We should stay with them so they get used to our presence, but don't crowd them. Don't interact if they are uncomfortable, let them come to us.
Create a safe environment
If your kitten is feeling scared in the home, there may be things in the environment which are making them feel insecure. People who listen to loud music or take part in disruptive activities might cause the kitten to feel scared. However, many kittens will get used to activity and noise if they are given positive reinforcement.
We need to be considerate of their exploratory nature. Kittens will want to know their environment, mark their territory and know they can be safe. If there are places which are dangerous for the cat, then we need to keep them off-limits. We also need to determine whether they can be an indoor or outdoor cat.
The above-mentioned reasons why a kitten are scared include some which are aggressors to the cat. The two main types are children and other pets. These pets don't necessarily need to be cats. If you have a dog, lizard or parrot, remember that not all animals will be able to get along. This is something we need to consider if before we adopt a kitten into our family.
To ensure everyone in the household gets along, the kitten will need to have their own safe space. You will see cats hide in dark places when they are scared because they want somewhere they can feel secure. If we don't provide somewhere for the kitten to rest when they need to feel safe, they will become stressed and scared.
Environmental enrichment is another important factor in helping the cat feel reassured. When they have something to use to exert energy, engage cognitively and entertain themselves, they will be more comfortable in the home. Providing them with reassurance and positive reinforcement is also imperative. Associating us with positivity will help the kitten to overcome their fears.
Holidays and stressful times for your kitten
Whether an adult cat or kitten, felines will be scared of things they don't understand. We can create a safe and secure environment for them, but there are some stressful occasions which we can't explain due to the nature of the events. Holidays where there are loud fireworks, people in the streets or anything abnormal can cause a kitten to be scared.
Apart from public events, there are occasions in our own home where the cat will not understand the nature of what is happening. For example, during the holiday season, a birthday party or any event where we have people gathered can cause the kitten to be frightened. While some cats will adapt very well and even relish the presence of others, some will be fearful.
Again, we will need to ensure the cat has somewhere safe and out of the way where they can go if things get rowdy. We also need to use positive reinforcement and don't simply kick them out of a room if they are investigating new people.
Remember that we should never move the kitten or leave them alone during such an event if we don't know how they will react. If we do, it is something that can jeopardize their emotional stability. They might react badly and even become aggressive out of fear.
When there are fireworks or other noises outside, there are few cats which won't be on alert. We need to observe their reaction and see what they do. For example, some will try to hide, some may become hyperactive. It is a good sign if the cat comes to us as it shows you our bond is strong. In these instances, we should offer them affection and provide evidence they are safe and sound. Importantly, we need to remain calm and reassuring ourselves.
Remember that the first impression of something not before known to them is important. If we try to pick them up to comfort them, but they don't want to, let them go wherever they feel safe. Enforcing affection or reassuring them inappropriately can be counterproductive.
How to help a very scared cat
Once we get to know our cat and we can gauge their reactions, we should know how to react accordingly. It will become second nature to us to provide them with reassurance. However, when our cat is very scared, we might need to provide other ways to help tame them and calm them down.
In general, we need to establish a firm routine which will mean the cat does not worry about any of their basic care needs. This means feeding them at regular intervals with the correct diet for their individual needs. Giving them toys and as much freedom as we are able while still maintaining their safety, they should lose their fear.
If the kitten is still very scared with all these provisions in place, then we may need extra help. The first thing we need to do is go to the veterinarian. They will give them a physical examination and be able to advise on the best course of action. They may recommend visiting a feline ethologist. This is someone who knows the behaviors of cats, can assess your animal and implement training to help them lose their fear.
Rare circumstances will call for the cat to be on medication. It is possible their trauma or previous experiences have been so bad, they need sedatives or anti-anxiety medication to help them through their day-to-day. These will only be available via veterinary prescription. We cannot, under any circumstance, give them human medication to treat their anxiety.
You may be able to give them natural remedies such as catnip or valerian. However, these may not be strong enough and will only work for certain periods, not for generalized anxiety.
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