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Scaredy Cats: 5 Things That Scare Cats

Have you ever wondered why your cat suddenly leaped up onto the top of a cabinet or ran into another room? Sometimes the things that cats find scary aren’t so obvious to us (and sometimes they are). Here are five things that might cause your kitty some stress and some tips on helping them through a scary experience.

The Big Boom in the Sky

Fireworks are the combination of many scary things for cats — they smell weird, they’re loud and they’re a change to your cat’s usually peaceful nighttime routine. Cats have very keen senses of hearing and smell, so if fireworks sound loud and smell a little funky to us, imagine what that’s like for your cat — and since fireworks typically only happen once a year, cats don’t have a chance to get familiar with the sensations. On top of all the anxiety-inducing effects, fireworks also contain toxic chemicals. So make sure you keep new and used fireworks away from curious cats.

Water in a B-A-T-H

While not all cats are scared of water, it’s fair to say that most are. You’ve probably seen videos of cats bending and stretching to unthinkable positions to avoid getting the tip of a claw in the bath. And speaking of claws, those will likely come into play, too, in an attempt to avoid bath time. Why do cats have so much distrust of water? Maybe it’s because their ancestors were desert dwellers. Or maybe it’s because cats are immaculate self-groomers, which typically negates the need for a bath. Or maybe they just don’t like getting their hair wet. We’ll probably never know!

A Change in… Well, Anything

Cats are creatures of habit, so when their routine or environment changes, it can cause anxiety or stress. For example, dinner time is dinner time, and they will certainly let you know if you’ve missed it. Moving to a new house is another common stressor for cats. All their familiar things have been packed away, they have to go on a car ride (sometimes for hours) and then they arrive at the new house with all of its new sounds, sights and smells. It’s a lot for a cat to adjust to. Another event that may upset a cat’s status quo is the addition of a new family member (pet or person). Finding out that you aren’t the only cat in your pet parent’s heart could certainly be a scary realization.

Unfamiliar Objects, Fruit or People

Remember the “scare your cat with a cucumber” craze? Hopefully no one does that anymore because intentionally scaring your cat is not funny and may cause them (or you) harm. But it is a good example of cats being afraid of unfamiliar things (people, objects, fruits, etc.). Cats like to feel safe and secure in their home — if something new enters their space, that’s probably going to cause some stress. And in the case of the cucumber, it was likely the presence of something new (that wasn’t there 10 seconds ago) that scared the harassed cats, and not the actual cucumber. This could also be the case for your new couch or a visiting friend that wasn’t in the living room the last time your cat walked in. Really, anything new in your cat’s environment could cause them some alarm, particularly when it just suddenly appears.

A Plant-Based Diet

Are cats actually “scared” of a plant-based (vegan) diet? Probably not. But the consequences of feeding a plant-based diet that isn’t nutritionally balanced are scary. Cats are obligate (strict) carnivores. This means that they must eat meat to fulfill specific nutrient needs that can’t be satisfied by plants or plant products alone. Cats have a unique requirement for preformed taurine, vitamin A and arachidonic acid, along with a greater need for protein and arginine content, that are best met by including meat in their diet. Not fulfilling these requirements can have a potentially fatal outcome for cats, and that is scary.

A Safe Space to Hide

So how do you know if your cat is scared? Some cats will run away and hide, while others become clingy or even aggressive and destructive when they’re feeling stressed or anxious. They may also tremble, meow excessively, pace and pant, refuse to eat or “miss” the litter box on purpose.

It’s important to have a safe space for your cat to retreat to if something is making them feel anxious or stressed. Ideally the safe area should have two escape routes so your cat doesn’t feel trapped, and it should be in a quiet part of your house. Ongoing stress or anxiety can cause health issues in cats, so talk to your veterinarian if you are worried about your cat’s anxiety or stress level.

RELATED POST: Meet Your Cat’s Environmental Needs to Reduce Stress and Urinary Issues


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The information in this blog has been developed with our veterinarian and is designed to help educate pet parents. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health or nutrition, please talk with your veterinarian.


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