Chico and his littermates were found behind a garage and when their mother did not return to care for them, they were taken into rescue to a foster home. The babies were so small, their eyes were still closed, and they had to receive frequent bottle feedings. After taking on a few of the feedings and watching him grow, I took Chico home at 6 weeks. Our barely one-year-old kitten, Lucy, quickly adopted the newcomer and gave him the mothering he had missed.
Chico was a bundle of energy, sweet, friendly, and cuddly. Two months later, another kitten arrived at our home as a foster, and the two little boys of similar age became completely attached to each other. You didn’t see one without the other.
Unfortunately, we lost Jake at 18 months to a congenital heart defect, and Chico immediately turned into a different cat. Our friendly, adventurous boy became aloof, fearful and paced the house for days, all the while crying for his missing buddy. This kitten who had once considered our young grandson to be a fine playmate now feared him. He would no longer allow us to pick him up or hold him. It was as though he feared someone might take him away and never return him.
By contrast, Lucy behaves like a puppy. She wants to be friends with anyone and everyone who comes through the door. She interacts with the family, loves a warm lap, will sit up and beg for treats. Poor Chico skulks around corners looking for danger. He will sit on the sofa beside me as long as I don’t try to pick him up or restrain him in any way. He even likes belly rubs. But if someone knocks on the door, Chico disappears and won’t come out of hiding until the visitor is gone.
So what causes a cat to feel such angst? In Chico’s case, we can pinpoint the start of the fearful behavior. With many felines, there is no rhyme or reason to their anxiety, but there are some common triggers to an animal’s scaredy-cat behavior.
- A major change in the animal’s environment. Did you recently move to a new home? Or did you purchase new furniture? We once had a pair of chairs delivered to our home, and Lucy was climbing in and out of the boxes as soon as they were emptied. Chico, on the other hand, waited under a bed until the delivery man left. Then he walked all around the chairs and hissed at them. His ears were laid back and he was clearly afraid and anxious. Cats can freak out at any change in their environment. Did you buy a new type of litter box or move it to a different area? Fearful kitties may behave badly over something this small. Try to create as little chaos as possible for them.
- A new pet in the house. A few cats will readily accept new cats and dogs but most will not. While many will accept other pets if they are introduced slowly and carefully, the fearful, anxious kitty may not. Watch out for aggressive behavior by either animal, although hissing and posturing or even hiding may occur as each animal tries to establish boundaries.
- Beware of strangers. Some cats love everyone they meet and others are afraid of everyone they meet. When someone new appears, a fearful kitty may react by hiding or aggressive behavior.
- Loud noises. Some cats can be very afraid of fireworks, yet others are not bothered by the noise. Emergency vehicles can trigger an anxiety attack in some pets. Get to know what noises freaks out your cat.
- Loss of a loved one. When a cat loses either human or another pet, that loss may trigger a complete change in personality, as it did with our Chico.
- Abuse. Obviously, if an animal is beaten, starved or otherwise abused, it will become a fearful, anxious cat.
- Poor socialization. Lack of socialization by the mama cat or human owners will usually result in fearful cats who or become aggressive when cornered. In Chico’s case, he and his littermates were mostly the products of a feral mama cat. Such babies can grow up to wonderful, friendly pets and others like Chico may hold some genetic component that triggers feral behavior when stressed.
Whatever the reason for a cat to become afraid and anxious, solutions must be found if the animal is to function as a family pet. If noises are the cat’s trigger, watch out on holidays like July 4 or New Year’s Eve when you can expect fireworks to go off. Find a safe place for your cat to hide during those times. Be especially careful of doors to the outside, as a frightened feline may try to escape. Ask your friends to visit and try to play with your fearful kitty. A beloved treat in the hands of a stranger might make it easier for the animal to accept that unknown human’s presence. During storms, you might try giving your cat extra attention and treats to calm him or her. If the cat enjoys brushing, that would be a good time to bring out the grooming tools.
Whatever triggers your cat’s fear and anxiety, look for ways to calm him. Talk to your veterinarian. There are medications to help soothe Fluffy. Let her knows he is loved, regardless of her unusual behavior.