Treating Overly Fearful Cats

by Michael
(London, UK)

Has anyone tried treating overly fearful cats or if their cat is timid has anyone tried to condition their cat to be less timid and therefore less fearful of stimuli that really shouldn’t cause a cat to run, freeze or become aggressive.

I am thinking of my elderly lady cat and indeed plenty of other cats who classically hide when a stranger comes into the house.

She has always run away into hiding when she hears tradesmen or workmen in and around my home. At the moment she hides outside under some dense bushes where she is positively invisible even when you are close to her. It can take a bit of an effort to get her to come out.

I have always accepted this behavior and been sensitive to it and indeed accommodated it. But I wonder if I should have tried to correct it. It is too late now, I feel, but it seems that timidity and shyness in cats is not uncommon.

Perhaps it is normal as they do live in a land of giants as I said earlier. It must be quite frightening sometimes. And fear is an important emotion in survival. I think we should expect a cat to be wary at least of a stranger.

However, some cat caretakers might find an overly fearful cat irritating or troublesome. Apparently the technique to train this response out of a cat is to introduce to the cat similar stimuli that make him or her frightened but which is in the cat’s comfort zone. In other words to introduce low level stimuli of the same type. If the cat accepts it without freezing, running or becoming aggressive a reward is given such as a favorite food and then the whole process is repeated but at a slightly more intense level thereby gradually densitising the cat to the stimulus that causes the fear.

It seems a laborious process to me and I don’t know how successful it is.

The type of stimulus that causes the fear can be very specific. It might be a particular kind of person for instance. My lady cat is more fearful of male humans – who are noisy – sensible I guess…

This would indicate to me that a specific experience has occurred perhaps during early stages (the first 7 weeks) that has altered the cat’s behavior. This would affect a naturally shy cat more than a confident one. And confidence comes it seems to me from good socialisation and ensuring that the kitten is not weaned too early (not before about the eighth week) and is introduced to other animals and people during these first 7 weeks.

My gut feel is to simply accommodate the overly fearful cat and make their living arrangements as free of stress as possible rather than indulging in training our cat.


Treating Overly Fearful Cats to Cat Health Problems

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Treating Overly Fearful Cats

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Jul 06, 2010 To Joanne
by: Ruth

Hello Joanne, yes we have much in common.I’m a retired vet nurse but as well as working with cats I’ve always volunteered too, although not so much in the physical sense nowadays,more on-line fighting animal abuse.
The Rescue Centres I helped, we didn’t take the feral kittens very young to hand rear or take the mother away for a few hours to be spayed,we took note of the place they were at and kept a close eye on them.Around 6 weeks old (as near as we could judge) we trapped the whole family,took the mother for spaying then returned her to the same place and kept the kittens for taming.If by chance the mother had become pregnant again,she wasn’t far enough along to prevent spaying her.
The Rescue Centre I now help have recently opened a Feral Unit, a BIG thank you again to Michael for his kind donation which helped that happen.So now there is a safe place for ferals that can’t be returned to where they came from because of intolerant people.
Going off topic Joanne, if you haven’t already would you please sign and pass on our petition to as many people as you can.One of my main projects now is helping to educate about the cruelty of declawing and hopefully soon get it banned in the USA where millions of cats are suffering from it.

Kattaddorra signature Ruth

Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

Jul 05, 2010 Timid Cats
by: Joanne Mid Cheshire Animal Welfare

Hi Ruth & Anonymous,

Ruth it sounds like we both do the same work with cats and obviously know how to handle and work on the ferals. I have found over the years how little feral kittens can go from being -Little Shits! to Little Angels, very loving and affectionate especially the little boys! We have always found that when we get a feral litter the one – or one’s who do the most spitting, hissing and biting are usually the girls! We always try to get the kittens at the youngest possible age even when it means bottle feeding round the clock! as you probably know the older they get (over 9 weeks old) the worse they are to calm! It’s amazing how just two weeks can make all the difference to whether you stand a chance of calming them or not!

We always get mum in the trap and get her neutered and returned to where she has hidden the kittens within a couple of hours even when we know the kittens may only be a couple of weeks old. Not everyone agrees with this but sometimes I wonder if these people realise the mum can have a litter that are just a couple of weeks old and become pregnant again! We have encountered this many times, you just end up in a vicious circle!


It sounds like you are introducing a couple of kittens to your family? Please remember some kittens are more timid and if you have children who are trying to play remember the kitts will be very scared. You may have meant introducing to other cats in the household – again they will be very frightened. Please don’t ever try to force the kitten to be picked up and held some just don’t like it! Let them come round in their own time, it may be that you have one who is happy to sit with you but just doesn’t like being handled – this behaviour sometimes may be that someone has mishandled them before they came to you – give the kitten time and let it gain some confidence. Trying to hold them by force can result in it scratching or biting you! And unfortunately that will be your fault!


Best wishes

Jul 05, 2010 As long as cats are happy
by: Ruth

Good article Michael. I agree with you that if a cat is timid it’s better to let them live their life as they choose rather than force them to face their fears and possibly traumatise them.
People can go for therapy and talk over their fears and be helped to realise and cope with irrational ones, but cats can’t do that.
You are right that early kittenhood mostly affects how the cat behaves as an adult.
After all,cats have personalities just like we do,some of us are born introvert and some extrovert.
I also agree with Joanne that it’s safer for a cat to be wary of people outside.
Over the 36 years of having cats we’ve had shy ones and bolder ones and have never forced them to socialise if they don’t want to.
I have worked with ferals and helped tame young kittens and calm down older feral cats but it would be wrong to try to remove the natural wariness they need to stay safe.
In my opinion as long as cats are happy and healthy that’s the main thing.

Kattaddorra signature Ruth

Jul 04, 2010 fearfull cats
by: Anonymous

Hi I just introduced to new kittens to my lot and 1 was she timid and ran away but we tried diffrent things to find her treat and it was the old trusted that got her meat paste , I put some where she could get a taste first with out asking anything, then on my finger ( she had to lick it off, the only got it on my knee and progfressed daily from there she is now fine, still doesnt like getting picked up prefers to come when called I can live with that but will work on her being picked up

Jul 04, 2010 Timid Cats
by: Joanne Mid Cheshire Animal Welfare

Hi Michael,
I have some of my own pet cats at home who are shy when we have visitors. There is usually a mound under the duvet or they make a quick exit through the door. Personally I prefer them to be this way as I know if they are outside any anyone tries to do anything to them they will just leg it and not allow anyone to touch them! Some will calm just a little when they see it’s OK with Mummy (Me!) Once our visitors have left they come back out of hiding and want extra fuss – how dare I bring strangers into their home!

Best wishes

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