Why Is My Cat Scared Of Everything?
There’s a difference between normal scaredy cat behavior and a cat who is chronically scared all the time. Does your cat always hide and run away? Does your cat hiss and swat at anything that comes near him/her? Or perhaps your cat jumps at any and every sound.
If you’ve observed your cat’s behavior as nervous and jumpy all the time and you’re wondering, “why is my cat scared of everything,” the short answer is that your cat may have experienced a traumatic event or your home is not conducive to a relaxed atmosphere for your indoor cat. Like any cat behavior,it’s important to understand the root of the problem. Read on as I share what I’ve learned in my research.
Why is My Cat Scared of Everything?
If your cat is skittish and generally seems to be scared of everything, your cat most likely has chronic stress. Chronic stress is when a cat lives in an environment of uncertainty. This means cats are always on edge because they don’t know what surprising and unpredictable circumstance might be around the corner. This is really unfortunate, because a home for an indoor cat should be their safe haven.
This state of uncertainty for a cat may be caused by a traumatic incident that occurred in the past. This traumatic event could have been something as innocuous as a visit to the vet or a more pronounced event such as when you hosted a dinner with friends and your friend brought a tantalizing demon of a child who wouldn’t leave your cat alone.
The more times these traumatic events occurs, the more your cat will deposit negative associations and memories and never feel at ease.
If not for a traumatic event, the other category of why your cat is scared of everything may be attributed to your home. For example, you may have bought new furniture online that was delivered from halfway around the world and the furniture emanates some weird funky industrial smell pervading throughout the whole house.
Below are some common examples of traumatic events or uncomfortable surroundings in your home contributing to your cat being scared of everything.
Causes of Why Your Cat is Scared of Everything
Many of these examples of traumatic events for your cat may not be a big deal to you and it’s very easy to overlook them, because they build up as frustration and a source of fear for your cats over time with repeated instances. Your cat is going to associate any of these unpleasant events with negative feelings and if it happens repeatedly, he/she will have negative associated feelings looming over them at all times.
So it’s important that you always pay close attention to your cat’s typical behavior and if you see any changes and observe scared cat behavior, then it’s time to get to the bottom of why your cat is always scared. Think about your cat’s environment from your cat’s point of view.
Was harassed by a person
As explained above, your cat may have encountered a stranger you let into your home who just wasn’t pleasant with your cat. The person could have chased your cat all over the place, tried to pick him/her up, hit your cat, threw things at your cat or yelled at him/her. Even one of these circumstances could seriously leave distrust of all human beings in your cat’s eyes.
Multi-cat household or other animal
If you have more than one cat, it may very well be that one of them is a bully. I’m still dealing with this, although I don’t think I can really fix this situation until (1) I completely train my cats and (2) I move to a bigger place so they each have more personal space.
If you have a dog or another animal like a turtle for instance, your cat may feel uneasy about that whether the other animal attacks your cat or not.
At one point, Nala always finished her meal first and then shoved her nozzle in Charlie’s bowl while Charlie was eating. That made Charlie really nervous and he would always look at Nala while he was eating. Charlie eventually wouldn’t eat all of his food. I started feeding Charlie in the room with the door closed so that Nala wouldn’t be able to steal Charlie’s food. That totally solved the problem. But now, it’s the other way around where Charlie goes in for Nala’s food. Sigh.
If you leave your cat alone for a long time everyday and your cat has no one to play with, your cat may develop separation anxiety. Or your cat may just be predisposed with the personality where they don’t want to be alone.
When I first adopted Nala from the shelter, she would yowl and yowl by the door when I left home for work in the morning. I know this because I lived in a building with an extremely long hallway and my apartment was the last one down the opposite end of the hallway from the elevator. I would hear her yowl really loudly at the end of the hallway. Her separation anxiety was the reason why I adopted Charlie from the same shelter 2 months later.
Nala is definitely jumpy although I wouldn’t say she’s scared of everything all the time. But I do believe there is correlation to separation anxiety and being scared, whether it’s cause and effect or 2 traits that are linked, i.e. if your cat has one trait then he/she is more likely to have the other trait.
Moved to a new home, new environment
I’ve now lived in 5 different apartments with my cats. Although it tooks some getting used to in all the apartments, there were definitely ones that the cats became quickly adapted to like it ain’t no thang and ones that took a long time for them to become comfortable in. Actually, I would say 6 homes including the 2 weeks I spent prior to my current apartment which I broke the lease and moved out of because I hated it. My cats did not like that place either. Apparently, they take after me!
Luckily, my cats are pretty easy going except for bouts of being scared from time to time, so they eventually grew to like each place we lived in. I would say my current apartment is the only one that Charlie hasn’t fully broken into. He’s been displaying more anxiety than the other apartments. And I do believe that it is attributed to this apartment being the smallest out of all the other ones. It’s about 650 sqft, which is not very big for both cats to have their personal space. Thankfully, I do have a balcony so they get some sunshine and escape.
After moving to the east coast without family around, I now use Rover.com to get a cat sitter to come to my apartment to play with them, feed them, and cuddle them every time I have to go out of town. Initially, I dropped them off at my coworker’s apartment a couple of times I had to travel for work, and Charlie found this to be traumatic. He came back a changed cat after each time as though he was defeated. It broke my heart to drop them off and Charlie acting so scared. Since then, I always have a cat sitter come to my apartment.
Your home is always busy and loud
Unless your cat is a super confident, macho cat, most cats are “introverted” to personify them. They feel uncomfortable and overstimulated in a constantly busy, bustling and loud environment. If you always have people over, if your dogs are always barking or you have Metallica blasting in your home all day, your cat probably does not feel safe or relaxed. In order to alleviate the stress, bring it down a notch, will ya?
Your cat is in pain from an illness or injury
So sad but your cat might be in pain and is displaying heightened stress at all times, which is coming across as fear. If your cat lets you touch him/her, examine with a keen eye to look for any inflammations. Gently press down on your cat’s body from head to toe and see your cat squirms, squeals or attacks you in certain areas.
Your cat is declawed
If your cat is declawed, your cat might be feeling defenseless. If your cat is already declawed, I can’t really say anything more. If you’re considering declawing your cat, please please please don’t. You’re taking away a natural instinct and leaving your cat feeling insecure and unsafe.
Your home is giving off a funky odor
The odor could be from cleaning products, new laundry detergent or an air freshener. If your cat has to smell it all day long, it could be driving them crazy and they could be stressed at every whiff. Also, maybe check your B.O.?
Stop touching your cat
If your cat is not a laid back lap cat, then he/she will not like being picked up all the time and is probably nervous that you will come and pick them up yet again. Your cat is not a baby. Instead of feeling comforted by your plush bosoms, your cat will instead be thinking, “let me the $%^# down, woman!” If you’re constantly trying to hold him/her, then yeah, I’d hate my life too.
Need vertical space in their life
Does your home have a high vertical sitting area where your cat can perch on? Does your home have a nook or two where your cat can sleep and hide out when he/she is feeling particularly introverted that day? These are basic things to provide your cat to elevate their quality of life.
Dirty litter box and feeding area
Clean out the litter box everyday to keep it litter-free. Do you like taking dumps in the toilet with your last dump staring at you? Yeah, neither does your cat.
Cucumbers no more
I seem to have gotten more sassy as this article has been progressing. Sorry about that but there are certain basic fundamental treatment of your cat which many people don’t employ and it gets me mad because it breaks my heart that a cat is not happy in the one place they should feel completely safe.
Anyway, one last thing to add here is a trend that went viral lately. Sneaking a cucumber behind the cat when the cat isn’t looking and then the cat turning around and freaking out at the sight of the cucumber. A million views on facebook is not worth tormenting your cat. Tricks like this builds up an insidious contempt in your cat until your cat becomes scared of everything. Please don’t try this if you can help it.
Scared Cat Behavior
I think you’ll know when your cat behaves scared of everything, but if you want to confirm, the following behavioral traits suggest that your cat is scared:
- Ears flattened back
- Dilated pupils, wide open eyes
- Runs away when any being gets near
- Hides all the time
- Jumpy when you try to touch them
- Jumpy at sounds
- Meowing excessively, sometimes with a slight growl
- Low pitched and long-drawn out meow
- Hissing, swatting, biting, scratching
- Always sitting in a crouched position, with front legs and back legs in ready position to run away or pounce
- Back arched and hair standing up noticed in a puffy tail
- Wagging tail – yes, this is a behavioral trait completely opposite from a dog
- Not able to control pee or poo, doesn’t use the litter box
- Spraying their scent
- Never finishes food
- Grooming compulsively or no grooming at all
- Pacing around with their bodies low to the ground
Cat Stress Medication
You can try medication, but like declawing, I am hugely against anything that’s not natural. Side effects of medication includes lethargy, weight gain, and upset digestion. Also, this is not a long-term solution. I’m dubious of drugs primarily because of the damaging effects on the body from the chemical release especially over a long period of use.
How to Calm a Scared Cat
To calm a scared cat, don’t walk towards them with your hands out to pick them up. They will see you as a threat. Coax them with treats and a calm, soothing voice.
A pheromone spray or a collar is a temporary relief that you can also try. I don’t like the collar because the powder gets all over. I prefer the spray but it’s not foolproof. This is the pheromone spray available on Amazon which I used to calm Charlie every morning during the long cross country car ride. And for home when you’re not on the road, pheromone diffuser is a better choice as it lasts a lot longer in the house than a spray.
A small dose of all natural calming chewables from time to time can also help your cat relax.
If your cat is constantly hiding, please do not yank your cat out of the hiding place. He/she is hiding for a reason.
Use one of these 11 gentle ways to get your cat to come out of hiding instead.
Long-Term Solutions for Cat Stress Relief
For long-term solutions to instill confidence in your cat so your cat’s not scared of everything, try the following methods. As everything else in life that’s worth the trade off, it will take commitment and time on your part to tweak your and your cat’s habits. Wouldn’t you love to have a cat that is happy and not scared of everything though? I’d say it’s worth the commitment.
- If you have multiple cats in your home and one is a bully, stop your bully cat from attacking your other cat
- Keep a clean litter box everyday
- Interact with your cat, socialize and play with him/her with toys
- Provide a relaxing and quiet environment for your cat where he/she feels safe and doesn’t have to be guarded against strangers and other animals all the time
- Ease any transitions like moving homes by spraying pheromone spray in the new environment the first few days and leave your cat alone during the adjustment period to smell and explore. It’s fine to let them hide otherwise your cat will associate a new home with a negative feeling
- Take your cat to a vet for a routine check-up to make sure your cat isn’t sick
- Provide fresh water and nutritious food
- Provide vertical resting perches
- Have catnip and fresh cat grass in your home
- Use clicker training to train your cat’s behavior
- Undo the negative association your cat has ingrained in his/her brain with the home by desensitizing or counterconditioning. It’s a long-term method that involves your commitment just like clicker training
- Avoid sudden loud noises
Play music that cats like to soothe them. According to research, not all classical music soothes the cat contrary to popular belief. Rather, cats like music that have a “familiar tempo and… frequency range that cats use to communicate among each other.” This includes “mid-to-high pitched sounds heard in their meows and low-frequency base vibratos heard in their purrs.” David Teie’s music specifically for cats perks up Nala and Charlie’s ears. It’s so strange. You can either buy the album or just listen for free on Youtube.
Along with the gentle ways above, think about helping your cat to become more confident over time.
This requires your patience, but you’ll be so proud to see your cat evolve into a confident cat who’s not shy all the time.
I wrote about how to instill confidence in your cat using 3 methods involving smell. Please try these methods.
If your cat is scared of everything, it’s because your cat is predisposed to be nervous or anxious, had a traumatic experience, or isn’t happy in your home.
Ask yourself from looking at the world through your cat’s lens, “Does my home provide a safe haven for my cat? Does it have high perches, comfortable hiding places, and a clean litter box?” If you always have people over or play loud music, respect your cat roommate’s privacy and space and maybe turn it down a notch if you can.
I hope this guide helps in identifying whether your cat is always scared of everything and what you can do to provide a safe and happy place for your cat so she can be a confident and happy cat. Good luck.