Behavioral problems

Why is My Cat Scared of Me?

Josie F. Turner
By Josie F. Turner, Journalist specialized in Animal Welfare. Updated: July 6, 2023
Why is My Cat Scared of Me?

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Cats can be scared of their human guardians for various reasons that can be environmental, behavioral or physical. It is very important to distinguish between a cat that is scared all of a sudden and a new cat being scared when they enter the home. It is common for a cat to be scared when they enter any new environment, especially if they have not yet been properly socialized. When a cat which is not usually frightened becomes scared all of a sudden, this implies something else. It is usually as a reaction to some environmental or even physical change.

At AnimalWised, we learn more by asking why is my cat scared of me? We understand the reasons for a skittish cat, whether they are new to the home or they have been under our care for a long time.

You may also be interested in: Why Is My Dog Suddenly Scared Of Me?
  1. How to know if a cat is afraid
  2. My kitten is scared of me
  3. Fear in cats due to trauma or illness
  4. How to stop a kitten being scared
  5. How to stop an adult cat being scared

How to know if a cat is afraid

Cats can exhibit various signs and behaviors when they are scared or fearful. Here are some common indicators that your cat may be scared of you:

  • Body language: a scared cat may exhibit defensive body postures, such as crouching low to the ground, tucking their tail tightly, and flattening their ears against their head. They may also try to make themselves appear smaller by hunching their body.

  • Hiding: cats that are scared may seek hiding spots where they feel safe and protected. They may retreat under furniture, in closets, or other secluded areas to avoid interaction.

  • Avoidance: a scared cat may actively avoid human contact. They may move away from you, keep a distance, or retreat when you try to approach them.

  • Dilated pupils: when cats are skittish, their pupils may become noticeably dilated. This can make their eyes appear larger than usual.

  • Aggression or defensive behavior: in some cases, a scared cat may display aggression as a defense mechanism. They may hiss, growl, swipe their paws, or even try to bite if they feel cornered or threatened.

  • Excessive grooming: some skittish cats may resort to excessive grooming as a coping mechanism when they are scared. They may excessively lick themselves, especially in areas like the abdomen or legs.

  • Changes in appetite or litter box usage: a scared cat may experience a loss of appetite or changes in their litter box behavior. They may become more reluctant to eat or may have accidents outside of the litter box due to stress.

It's important to remember that cats can have different temperaments. Their response to fear may vary according to the individual. Some cats may be more prone to fear or anxiety, while others may be more resilient. If you suspect that your cat is scared of you or their environment, it's essential to create a calm and safe space for them.

Why is My Cat Scared of Me? - How to know if a cat is afraid

My kitten is scared of me

When a new kitten is brought into a new home, it's common for them to exhibit signs of fear or skittishness. This is because the kitten is experiencing a significant change in their environment and is encountering unfamiliar people, scents, sounds and surroundings. Several factors contribute to why a new kitten may be scared:

  • Novelty and unfamiliarity: everything in the new home is new to the kitten. The sights, sounds, smells, and overall environment are unfamiliar, which can be overwhelming and intimidating for a young and sensitive kitten.

  • Separation from the mother and littermates: when kittens are adopted, they are separated from their mother and littermates, which can cause anxiety and distress. The absence of their familiar companions can make them feel vulnerable and scared.

  • Lack of socialization: depending on the kitten's background and previous experiences, they may have limited exposure to humans and different environments. This lack of socialization can make them more prone to fear and skittishness in new situations.

  • Sensory sensitivity: kittens are naturally more sensitive to stimuli, including noises, sudden movements, and unfamiliar objects. They may startle easily and may need time to adjust to new stimuli in their environment.

  • Previous negative experiences: if the kitten has had any negative experiences or trauma in their past, it can contribute to their fear and skittishness in new situations. It may take longer for them to build trust and feel safe.

It's important to give the new kitten time and space to acclimate to their new surroundings. Patience, a calm environment and gradual exposure to new experiences can help them feel more secure. Building trust through positive interactions, using treats or toys, and allowing the kitten to approach and explore at their own pace can also aid in their adjustment.

In our related article, we explain what to do when introducing a kitten to a new home.

Fear in cats due to trauma or illness

When adopting an adult cat, it's not uncommon for them to exhibit fear or skittishness initially. There are several reasons why an adult cat may be scared when first adopted:

  • Change in environment: adult cats are sensitive to changes in their surroundings. Transitioning to a new home with unfamiliar sights, sounds, smells, and people can be overwhelming for them. They may feel uncertain and anxious about their new environment.

  • Previous negative experiences: some adult cats may have had negative experiences in their past, such as abuse or neglect. These experiences can leave lasting emotional scars and make them more prone to fear and mistrust, especially in new situations or with unfamiliar people.

  • Traumatic events: adult cats may have gone through traumatic events, such as accidents or aggressive encounters with other animals. These events can leave them more wary and fearful, as they associate certain triggers or environments with danger.

  • Lack of socialization: cats that have had limited exposure to positive human interactions or have had limited socialization with other animals may be more prone to fear and anxiety. They may not have developed the necessary social skills or confidence to navigate new environments easily.

  • Sensory sensitivity: cats have heightened senses, and some individuals may be more sensitive to stimuli like loud noises, sudden movements, or unfamiliar objects. These sensitivities can make them more prone to fear and startle reactions.

  • Attachment to previous caregiver: adult cats may have formed strong bonds with their previous caregivers or spent a significant amount of time in a specific environment. The loss of that familiar connection can cause stress and anxiety as they adjust to a new home and caretaker.

As with kittens, it's important to approach a newly adopted adult cat with patience, understanding and respect for their individual needs. Give them time and space to adjust, providing a safe and quiet area where they can retreat when they feel overwhelmed. Gradual and positive interactions, using treats, toys and gentle play can help build trust and confidence over time.

Remember that each cat's background and personality will influence their response to the adoption process. Some cats may adapt quickly, while others may require more time and patience to feel secure in their new home. With love, patience, and consistent care, many scared adult cats can eventually overcome their fears and develop a trusting bond with their new family.

How to stop a kitten being scared

Helping a kitten feel less scared involves creating a safe and nurturing environment while gradually building trust and providing positive experiences. Here are some tips to help a scared kitten:

  • Set up a safe space: create a dedicated area in your home where the kitten can feel secure and less skittish. Provide a comfortable bed, litter box, food, and water bowls in a quiet room or corner. Use soft lighting and make sure the temperature is suitable for the kitten's comfort.

  • Gradual introduction: allow the kitten to explore their surroundings at their own pace. Start with the designated safe space and gradually expand their access to the rest of the home as they become more comfortable.

  • Provide hiding spots: offer hiding places, such as cardboard boxes or covered cat beds, where the kitten can retreat when feeling scared or overwhelmed. These hiding spots give them a sense of security and control over their environment.

  • Establish a routine: kittens thrive on routine and predictability. Establish a consistent daily schedule for feeding, playtime, and interactions. This helps them feel more secure and establishes a sense of structure.

  • Gentle handling: handle the kitten gently and respectfully. Start with short periods of gentle petting and gradually increase the duration as the kitten becomes more comfortable. Avoid forcing interactions or overwhelming the kitten with too much physical contact too soon.

  • Positive reinforcement: use treats, praise, and rewards to create positive associations with interactions and activities. Offer treats when the kitten approaches you or engages in positive behaviors. This helps build trust and reinforces positive experiences. Learn more about how to use positive reinforcement in cats.

  • Slowly introduce new experiences: introduce the kitten to new experiences and stimuli gradually. Expose them to different sounds, sights, and objects in a controlled manner. For example, gradually introduce them to different household sounds or unfamiliar objects in a calm and positive environment.

  • Playtime and enrichment: engage the kitten in interactive play sessions using toys that mimic prey-like movements. This helps release energy, provides mental stimulation, and builds confidence. Rotate and vary toys regularly to keep the playtime engaging. Take a look at some specific ideas of how to play with a kitten.

  • Calm and soothing environment: create a calm and soothing environment for the kitten. Provide quiet spaces, soothing background music, or pheromone diffusers that emit calming scents. Minimize loud noises or sudden disruptions that could startle the kitten.

  • Patience and consistency: building trust and helping a scared kitten requires patience and consistency. Every kitten is unique, and it may take time for them to adjust and feel comfortable. Be patient, understanding, and supportive throughout the process.

If the kitten's fear or anxiety persists or intensifies despite your efforts, it may be beneficial to consult with a veterinarian or a professional animal behaviorist for further guidance and support tailored to the specific needs of the kitten.

Why is My Cat Scared of Me? - How to stop a kitten being scared

How to stop an adult cat being scared

The context of why a cat is scared will help determine how we stop them being so anxious. For adult cats, the main difference is when they are newly adopted and when they have lived with us for some time:

Stop a newly adopted adult cat being scared

  • Gradual introduction: allow the cat to acclimate to their new environment at their own pace. Initially confine them to a quiet room with all their essentials (bed, litter box, food, water). Gradually expand their access to the rest of the home once they feel more comfortable.

  • Safe hiding spots: provide hiding spots like covered beds, cardboard boxes or cat trees. These spaces offer a sense of security where the cat can retreat when feeling scared.

  • Quiet and calm environment: minimize loud noises, sudden movements, and disruptions in the environment. Create a peaceful atmosphere to help the cat feel more at ease.

  • Positive reinforcement: use treats, gentle praise and rewards to build positive associations. Offer treats when the cat approaches or shows interest in interacting. Patience and rewards help build trust and encourage the cat to associate you and the environment with positive experiences.

  • Slow and gentle interactions: approach the cat calmly and respect their boundaries. Let the cat initiate contact and gradually introduce gentle petting and interactive play sessions. Avoid forcing interactions or overwhelming the cat with too much physical contact. Learn more about how to socializer an adult cat if there are more animals in the home.

  • Scent swapping: use scent swapping techniques to familiarize the cat with your scent. Rub a soft cloth or towel on the cat's scent glands (cheeks, neck) and then place it near your own scent, allowing them to associate your scent with comfort.

  • Enrichment and play: engage the cat in interactive play sessions using toys that mimic prey-like movements. This helps release energy, provides mental stimulation, and builds confidence. Offer a variety of toys and rotate them to keep playtime engaging.

Helping a cat that is scared all of a sudden

  • Identify triggers: try to identify any potential triggers that may have caused the sudden fear. It could be a change in the environment, a new person or pet, loud noises or a negative experience. Addressing the trigger is key to helping the cat feel secure again.

  • Create a safe space: provide a designated safe space where the cat can retreat and feel secure. Ensure the area is quiet, with familiar bedding, toys and a litter box. Gradually reintroduce the cat to other areas of the home once they regain confidence.

  • Re-establish routines: maintain a consistent routine and predictable environment for the cat. Stick to regular feeding times, play sessions and quiet moments. Predictability helps them regain a sense of stability and security.

  • Calm and reassuring presence: spend quiet, calm time with the cat, sitting near their safe space, reading or engaging in calm activities. Be a reassuring presence, offering gentle strokes or simply sitting nearby without imposing direct interaction.

  • Professional help: if the sudden fear persists or worsens despite your efforts, consider seeking guidance from a veterinarian or animal behaviorist. They can provide specialized advice and techniques to help your cat overcome their fear.

Patience, understanding, and providing a supportive environment are key to helping them regain confidence and feel safe again. We will need to get to know our cat's personality and adjust our treatment of them accordingly.

If you want to read similar articles to Why is My Cat Scared of Me?, we recommend you visit our Behavioral problems category.

  • Panchanathan, K., & Frankenhuis, W. E. (2016). The evolution of sensitive periods in a model of incremental development. Proceedings. Biological sciences, 283(1823), 20152439.

  • Turner, D. C., & Bateson, P. P. G. (1988). The Domestic cat: the biology of its behaviour. Cambridge University Press, England.
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