Have you noticed your cat has been very jumpy and nervous lately? Are they hiding more than usual? Is your cat acting timid or skittish? If so, there is a good chance that your cat is frightened. These are all fear-based behaviors that prove your cat is worried about something.
Now, I’m used to my cat getting startled because of loud noises or one-off events. I let my cat be, knowing she’ll be fine once the situation has passed. But if your cat gets scared so easily all the time and is afraid of everything, it’s more difficult to help. So, why is my cat so scared of everything?
Cats that are scared of everything are usually suffering from chronic stress. This can be caused by big changes such as moving home or linked to past trauma or illnesses. I discuss all of these in more detail in this article. Plus, tips on what you can do to help calm down your frightened cat.
Why Is My Cat Afraid of Everything?
Cats love routine, structure, and consistency. So much so that even the smallest changes to their environment or usual schedule can cause them stress. This can be something as small as a new person visiting your home or loud noises from nearby construction work. In fact, we’ve all likely experienced cats acting skittish and jumpy occasionally – it is just who they are!
But when cats are scared of everything, this is a sign they are permanently on edge. Everything in their environment is triggering feelings of fear and worry. They never know what is coming around the corner and are constantly fearful, even when there is nothing to be scared of.
Chronic stress is usually triggered by one big traumatic incident. If this is the case, you might be able to figure out why. However, chronic stress often occurs when smaller traumatic events happen repeatedly over time as well. These smaller things can be easy for us to overlook but can have a lasting impact on our cats’ mental states.
Below are just some examples of what can cause chronic stress in cats and could explain why your cat is scared of everything. See which you think applies to your kitty.
1. Separation Anxiety
Many people wrongly assume that cats are aloof and independent creatures that are completely fine on their own. However, this isn’t the case! Cats need companionship. When a cat is left alone for long periods of the day, they can develop separation anxiety. This is where they are scared of abandonment and are fearful that you will never return home.
Being left alone for hours on end is not the only trigger. Some cats will naturally have more anxious personalities and will struggle to spend time alone more than others. In other cases, adopted cats that have been abandoned by their previous owners or kittens that were left by their mothers can also cause separation anxiety.
The overwhelming feeling of anxiety manifests in fearful behaviors. Your cat might act nervous and skittish. But a cat with separation anxiety will never be fearful of its owner. My cat suffers from anxiety and she isn’t scared of me at all. In fact, the opposite is true! I often find my cat sleeping on my chest and following me around. She wants to be as close to me as possible.
If you find yourself asking “Why is my cat so affectionate all of a sudden?” perhaps speak to your vet about separation anxiety.
2. Past Trauma or Harassment
Trauma and harassment can be mentally scarring for cats. If you have adopted a cat – particularly an older cat from a shelter – you might not know what its background is. Sadly, many cats in shelters have been abused, abandoned, or neglected. This can make your cat scared of everything as they have never had a safe space to call home.
Even events that might not seem traumatic to us can be stressful for cats. For example, you might have invited a guest into your home that tried to pick your cat up or chase it around. When this happens repeatedly, they won’t feel safe at home anymore. What if this guest arrives any minute? What if they chase them again?
Trauma outside the home can also make cats scared of everything. They could have had a confrontation with a neighborhood cat, been yelled at by people on the street, or had a near-miss in a traffic accident. All of these can lead to long-term stress.
3. Multi-Cat Household
If your cat is suddenly very nervous and jumpy after getting a new cat, you can be pretty sure this is why. Your cat will have been used to having their home to themselves. When a new cat or kitten enters the family home your old cat feels like their space has been invaded.
When bringing a new kitten home, you might see cats arch their backs and hiss at the latest addition to your family. Cat depression after the new kitten is welcomed home is also common. You might see your cat hiding more than usual and lose interest in activities it used to love. As a new pet is a permanent addition, it can result in long-term stress and problems in the home.
Your new family member doesn’t need to be a cat either! A new dog, turtle, or even a new baby can make your cat feel uneasy and unsafe. It doesn’t know anything about these new creatures and what they will do next. This causes them to act skittish and jumpy towards everything.
4. New Home & Environment
One of the biggest changes a cat will ever have to go through is moving home. Everything about this experience is terrifying. For starters, the journey to your new home will be stressful. You might see your cat panting in the car, meowing excessively, and shedding a lot. In fact, I’ve never seen my cat shedding so much!
Once you arrive at your destination, your cat then has an entirely new environment to take in. Your new home will have different smells, new layouts, and lots for your cat to explore. For you, this is exciting. For your cat… not so much! Something as small as having a new person in your home can cause stress, so imagine how stressful it is when everything in your home changes at once.
It is very normal for cats to be scared of everything after such as big move. However, the more time passes, the less nervous and skittish your cat will become. They will learn to like and adapt to their new environment and won’t get scared so easily.
5. Illness & Injury
Is your cat suddenly so scared of everything? But there haven’t been any big changes like moving home or a new pet? If so, there is a chance your cat is suffering from some kind of medical condition. The pain and discomfort they feel can make them anxious. Besides, cats are more vulnerable when sick which can put them on edge.
I suggest examining your cat, first of all, to look for visible signs of injury. Do this with caution though – I have had my cat biting and attacking me before because they are injured and stressed. Also, look for other signs of illness, such as appetite changes, weight loss, sleep disturbances, and lethargy.
If in any doubt, give your vet a call. Your vet will call your cat in for an examination and see if they are suffering from an injury or medical condition. Even if they aren’t, your vet will be able to offer recommendations to help manage your cat’s frightened behavior, so it’s always worth a visit!
How Can I Tell Whether My Cat is Scared?
You know your cat, so you probably already know that something is up! However, all scared cats will exhibit the same behavioral changes. Here is a list of all common signs of a frightened cat which you can use to confirm your cat’s feelings:
- Increased Hiding Behaviors: Scared cats will hide more than usual. This is their way of escaping and avoiding whatever it is they perceive to be a threat. If your cat is hiding and acting weird, let them have their alone time or you could make the situation worse.
- Appetite Changes: Changes in appetite can be caused by certain medical conditions. However, if your cat is not eating much but acting normal it could be because they’re stressed. On the other hand, some cats overeat when they’re frightened.
- Jumpy & Skittish: Cats that are scared will struggle to ever relax. You might notice they pace around a lot and suffer from sleep disturbances. Plus, they’ll jump at the smallest noises, softest touches, or other minor changes in their environment.
- Excessive Self-Grooming: Grooming is a calming behavior for cats that helps to settle their nerves. Cats that are scared of everything will groom excessively, so much so that they might start losing hair. Cats bite their nails when stressed as well.
- Strange Vocalizations: Is your cat meowing excessively? This could be a sign they’re scared and calling for help. Frightened meows are often low-pitched and drawn out, kind of like a growling noise. Hissing as the perceived threat is another obvious sign of being scared.
- Fearful Body Posture: We can tell a lot about how cats are feeling through their body language. Cats that are on edge will have flattened ears and wide, open eyes. When an immediate threat is present, cats have arched backs and puffy tails.
What Can I Do To Help My Frightened Cat?
Knowing that your cat is scared of everything isn’t nice. We love our pets and want them to be as happy and carefree as possible. Living with a scared cat can also be a challenge. Often, a scared cat is an aggressive cat and can be very disruptive in the home.
Thankfully, there are some things that we can do to help! None of these things are going to be an overnight fix. But still, they can make a big difference to your cat’s mental state if you put in a little time and patience.
1. Create a Calm Environment
The best thing you can do for your shy and timid cat is to create a calm home environment. You’ll want to create a space that is free from as many stressful triggers as possible. With fewer things to startle your cat, over time they will gradually become less cautious and scared of everything in their surroundings.
Here are some tips on creating a calming cat-friendly home:
- Provide plenty of elevated perches for your cat to climb to for safety if needed
- Make sure your cat has designated hiding spots that they can retreat to
- Use pheromone sprays or diffusers to calm your cat’s mood
- If they respond well to catnip, purchase catnip infused toys for them to play with
- Keep noise levels to a minimum and try to avoid making sudden noises
- Work on developing a consistent routine for you and your cat
- Keep things such as cleaning products and air fresheners the same
- Limit the number of guests in your home to ones that your cat is familiar with
- Don’t let guests bring their pets around or allow other animals in your home
- Provide plenty of toys to keep your cat mentally stimulated and entertained
If you have an extremely terrified cat that is acting aggressively and destructively, it might be worth making a calming kitty room. This is a designated room that your cat can enjoy in privacy. It is their territory. Make it as calming as possible using the above tips and make sure you place their litter tray, food bowls, and water bowls in this space too.
2. Be Patient, Not Pushy
Whenever you notice your cat is scared, it can be tempting to try and help. Many owners poke their heads inside their cat’s hiding spot or try to take their cat down from an elevated perch. However, this will make your cat more fearful. They are hiding because they are overwhelmed and need space, so never be pushy with your cat.
Instead, you want to encourage your cat in the right way. Be patient and let your cat come to you. Whenever it does, give them a stroke, offer kind words of affection, or play with them. Letting your cat go at their own pace is crucial in them overcoming their fears.
3. Form Positive Associations
You can try to train your cat and help them overcome their fears by forming positive associations with their triggers. Say your cat is scared of guests, for example. Every time you have a guest visiting your home you should give your cat a treat. Over time, this will help them realize that guests are a good thing and that this person is not a threat.
Encouraging positive interactions with your cat when they are in hiding can also be beneficial. Rather than trying to physically remove your cat from their hiding spot, start playing with their favorite toy on the opposite side of the room. Most cats won’t be able to resist the opportunity of a play session. Feather wands work well here as you can play together while keeping your distance.
Treats can also be used to help coax timid cats out of hiding. However, make sure you give treats sparingly. Too many and your cat could put on weight, which has a whole host of negative health implications.
4. Seek Professional Help
If all else fails, seek the health of a professional. Your first point of call should be your vet. They’ll check your cat isn’t suffering from any underlying medical conditions that could be the cause of their permanent state of stress. They can also prescribe anti-anxiety medications to help your cat’s mood.
Drug therapy usually works best when used in combination with behavioral therapy. Therefore, it might also be worthwhile speaking to a behavioral specialist. They will use techniques such as counter conditioning and desensitization to help your cat face and overcome its fears. They’ll also be able to offer more generalized advice on how to live with and manage your cat’s behaviors.
MY FINAL THOUGHTS
Hopefully, this article has given you some answers. Your cat is likely dealing with chronic stress caused by some past or present event. But there are solutions! Try implementing the tips discussed here to help curb your cat’s worries and help them relax.
The most important thing to remember in this process is to never push your cat into scary scenarios or force them out of hiding. Cats need to overcome their fears at their own pace. So while the transition from timid to confident will take time, effort, and a lot of patience, it is possible for your cat to be happy and sociable once again.