Fearful Cats – Pet tip 197
Although phobic and extremely fearful domestic cats are not as common as domestic dogs, fearful feline behaviour does occur regularly. The most common phobias in cats are fear of storms and loud noises. One of the main differences between cats and dogs with regard to things that scare them is the animal’s presence during the event. Whereas many dogs will hang around doors in the hope of escaping from something that scares them, and may pace wildly in front of their owners for them to ‘do something’, most cats will simply hide and not show themselves.
This type of fearful behaviour is common in cats and kittens that have not been well socialized. The vacuum cleaner for example, is something that most cats and kittens hate by nature because it is loud and scary. However if as a kitten you have another family member pet it while the vacuum runs in a distant room, you can begin to desensitize the cat to this and similar loud noises. Over time (a few weeks) you can gradually bring the vacuum closer and closer to the cat while it is being fed or petted and this is likely to desensitize the cat. Given that vacuuming, using power tools, hair-blowers etc. are common household items, by desensitizing your cat early on, you are doing it a big favour. Although this procedure does work best with kittens, many cat owners have found similar successes by gradually trying this technique on adult cats.
Usually the best thing to do when you know your cat is truly afraid of something in its immediate vicinity is just to let it be until the fear passes. A fearful cat is likely to be hiding, have the hair on its back raised, have a bushy tail and be hissing upon approach. Even the most loving and gentle pet owner is risking getting badly scratched or bitten if they try to approach and grab a cat in such a fearful state. Unless it is a true emergency like a hurricane (in which the fear is obviously warranted) just let the cat be. If it is a true emergency and you need to grab your cat, try throwing a blanket or towel over the cat and wrapping up its paws and legs so that it cannot scratch you.
If your cat is so afraid of something that you can do little about, then you can ask your vet for medication that will reduce your cat’s anxiety level in general. A good example is an apartment that faces an extremely busy street with a constant traffic noise that continually scares your cat. If you cannot desensitize your cat to the noise, then medication is definitely something that you can consider. Alternatively, you can also ask your veterinarian for a referral for a cat behaviourist. They see this kind of behaviour all the time and can likely suggest methods for treating this situation with personally tailored and creative solutions.