When the doorbell rings, your dog may rush toward the door with a wagging tail, excited to greet whoever is on the other side. Your cat, on the other hand, is more likely to run in the opposite direction and hide under the bed.
Cats are typically introverts by nature. They’re cautious, preferring to observe and assess from a distance before joining an activity or social interaction. A healthy amount of caution is a feline instinct which can help keep them out of danger, but too much fear and anxiety can result in a stressful everyday life for your cat.
Is Your Cat Anxious?
It’s not abnormal for cats to be timid with strangers and take their time before warming up to a social situation. That being said, it’s not necessarily healthy for a cat to be fearful around others, feeling the need to hide for her own protection.
How do you know if you have a typical introverted cat, or a scaredy cat? Body language is a key factor. Signs of an anxious cat include:
- Dilated pupils and focused staring—or avoiding eye contact altogether
- Tail kept close to her body
- Furrowed brow
- Ears pinned back
- Raised hackles
- Freezing, or running away
If a cat is feeling stressed or threatened and is unable to escape a situation, she may resort to aggression as a form of self-defense.
Causes of Cat Anxiety
Some cats simply have a more anxious demeanor than others, with no logical explanation. Others scaredy cats may have anxiety for reasons such as:
- Illness or pain
- Past traumatic experiences
- Lack of proper socialization
- Separation anxiety
- Living with household member (pet or human) that frightens them
- Constant loud noises and/or strangers coming and going from the house
If your cat is struggling with anxiety and stress, talk to your vet to rule out any underlying health issues. Constant stress can also cause medical issues; your vet will be able to help you determine the source of your cat’s anxiety, and tell you whether anxiety medication is necessary for your furry friend.
Physical health can also directly affect mental health, so it’s also a good idea to ask your vet whether your cat’s diet is the best fit for her health needs.
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Creating an Ideal Environment
The first step to helping your scaredy cat come out of her shell is to determine whether your home is currently conducive to a cat’s lifestyle.
For example, make sure you have plenty of safe cat-friendly spots she can retreat to such as high perches and quiet hiding spots… especially if there are other overly playful pets in the house who are prone to invading your kitty’s personal space.
If your cat is having a hard time feeling comfortable in your home, designate an inviting cat area with toys and catnip to help her feel at home and comfortable. Leaving treats in other areas of the house can also work to gently encourage exploration.
Cats are territorial by nature, so it’s possible that she’s feeling a bit too overwhelmed with so much space to keep an eye on. If the entire house is stressing your cat out, you can designate one closed-door room as a kitty safe haven to ease her stress—but never confine a cat against her will, as this may only lead to panic. Try opening the door at night when everyone else is asleep so she can explore the quiet house on her own.
Keep your home environment and schedule as calm and consistent as possible. Make sure food is always available at the same time each day and clean the litter box regularly, but don’t be overly cautious around your cat since she still needs to learn how to get used to a normal environment.
Avoid punishing your cat for her anxious behavior, as this may only increase her anxiety. Instead, speak to her calmly and gently encourage (but don’t force) interaction. Provide opportunities for positive experiences such as playing with toys and sharing treats, and refrain from forcing your cat to do anything she doesn’t want to do.
Never underestimate the power of time, patience, and space. With enough space and established trust, your cat will come to you when she’s ready. After all, any cat owner knows that our independent felines prefer to do things on their own terms.