A new cat that has been adopted into a home frequently exhibits some level of caution. They may not have the same sense of security that a more seasoned pet will have because they are embarking on a new experience. However, it is also possible for a cat who has lived in a family for a long time to start acting afraid of a guardian or to do so repeatedly. This could manifest as hiding, eluding capture, or even acting aggressively. For the cat, it can be extremely frustrating, and their human companion should understandably be worried.
While some level of fear in any animal is normal, excessive fear could indicate a problem with the cat or the relationship between cats and people. Why is my cat afraid of me is a question AnimalWised can answer in more detail.
How to know if a cat is afraid
First, we must tell a cat who is afraid from a cat who is acting in accordance with some other pattern of behavior. Once we’ve established that it’s the former, we need to take into account the cat’s level of fear. A cat will exhibit certain behaviors, such as lowering its posture or mydriasis, when its fear is not as intense.
A cat’s ears will laterally flatten as its level of fear rises, and it may also exhibit piloerection (bristling of the hair) or make vocalizations like grunting or hissing. The cat will adopt a lateral-ventral posture, which involves lying on one side and exposing their belly, while displaying their teeth and/or claws, if the level of fear increases. Although cats prefer to avoid conflict, if they feel they cannot escape, they may attack while in this position.
Their cortisol and adrenaline levels rise when they are experiencing fear. A scared cat is also stressed because the latter is the stress hormone. The cat will experience chronic stress and anxiety if the state of fear continues, which is very bad for the cat’s physical and mental health.
Neophobia when introducing a new cat into a home
All animals with fully developed central nervous systems will automatically display caution when faced with novel objects or circumstances. Although it is typically a mild form, this is referred to as neophobia. The amygdala is the brain region associated with fear. It affects conditioned or learned fears in addition to how we respond to fear.
A cat or kitten that we bring into a new home is experiencing everything for the first time, and with novelty comes the possibility of danger. It is completely normal for a cat to experience fear when entering a new home or when being exposed to novel stimuli. As they get to know a new home and its residents, we need to give them the time and space to adjust. Depending on the particular cat, this time frame can be anything from a few days to several months.
The “critical period” or “sensitive period” occurs during infancy for all vertebrate offspring. The animal is more open to environmental stimuli during this time. They are at their most capable of learning and growing during this time. In kittens, the crucial time span is between the second and seventh weeks of life. They develop relationships with cats, other animals, and people while learning how to communicate with others. Adequate socialization helps kittens develop less aggressively and fearfully later on.
According to the amount of interaction they had as children, Karsh and Turner looked into how sociable an adult cat was toward humans. They noticed that animals became more accepting of humans as they were subjected to more manipulation. 15% of the experiment’s cats, on the other hand, were deemed to be less tolerable because they were “resistant” to manipulation. This raises the possibility that socialization has a genetic component, particularly in hyperactive people.
Early cat handling has a particular impact on how well-known people perceive a cat. Cats may become less sociable if interactions with them are not maintained.
Fear in cats due to trauma or illness
It can be challenging to determine the specifics of an adult cat’s past when we introduce them into a home. We won’t likely know whether such a cat experiences learned fear or just neophobia if it shows signs of fear. We don’t know if the cat has ever gone through anything traumatic, like being abused or abandoned. It is crucial to note how challenging it is to distinguish between fear brought on by abuse or neglect and fear brought on by improper socialization.
When this circumstance arises, the adaptation period lengthens. We must make an effort to create a calm environment for the cat, give it enough room, and always act in a friendly manner toward them.
Other times, the cat may experience this fear on its own and appear to be terrified for no apparent reason. They might develop a suspicious nature, avoid interacting with their human guardians, and exhibit fear-related behaviors like the aforementioned mydriasis. In these situations, a sick cat who exhibits a negative attitude toward manipulation due to pain or discomfort may be the culprit.
In contrast to dogs, it is not always simple to spot pain in cats. However, it’s possible that a cat is in pain if we notice that they are hiding and don’t want to come out, seem afraid of people, or are overly sensitive to stimuli.
Treating fear in cats
Take your cat to the vet right away if you notice any symptoms of excessive fear in them. In this manner, a physical disorder or pathology can be identified or excluded. After it is determined that the cat is not physically ill, behavior modification strategies must be used. Desensitization and counter-conditioning are a couple of these.
Our presence can serve as an aversive stimulus because we are the ones who might instill fear. We must adopt a more optimistic stance by moving slowly and calmly toward the feline. To get their attention, we can offer them treats. The cat shouldn’t be handled until they come to us and engage with us voluntarily.
Spending brief periods of time in the area where the cat is resting is another option. Read quietly to help you project calm and increase the animal’s trust in you. Never force an animal; doing so will only make them more frightened and probably reduce your ability to help them overcome their fear.
It’s also critical to be aware of and steer clear of situations that frighten cats. This might entail making direct eye contact, leaning in to show dominance, or making loud noises out of the blue. The secret to lowering stress and resolving the issue is avoiding exposure to situations that inspire fear. It is best to stay away from the cat if it is scared and let them calm down on their own.
It is time to seek professional advice from a veterinarian or feline ethologist if we notice that the cat’s behavior does not improve or worsens.