BEHAVIOR & TRAINING

What Are Cats Scared Of: The Eccentric World of Feline Phobias

scared cat
Steve Corelli
Written by Steve Corelli

Every dictionary of the English language has the term “Scaredy Cat” defined. Not that it means that cats are notoriously cowardly creatures, but some of their reactions to seemingly benign phenomena are mind-boggling to humans. What are cats scared of and why is important knowledge for every cat owner because their perception of danger is very much different from our own.

Fear is nature’s way of keeping us safe from danger. Humans and other animals tend to remember unpleasant and scary experiences with much greater intensity than the pleasant ones. This is an evolutionary advantage that might seem contradictory to what we want, but it is the trait that made the difference between those who survive and those who don’t. Knowing what cats are scared of can help you keep your cat calm, so she doesn’t accidentally hurt herself in a fit of panic.

This article will try to bring cat logic closer to the reader. We will explain the seven things that most cats are scared of. We will also tell you how to avoid certain unwanted situations, and lastly, how to persuade your cat to let go of the unnecessary fears.

7 Things That Scare Your Cat

The absolute horror mirrored in a cat’s eyes when it comes to the vacuum cleaner or your favorite aunt can feel so inexplicable, right? Well, maybe for you. Cats have different standards. Here are some things that make cats feel absolutely terrified:

#1: Vacuum Cleaners

cat on vaccum cleaner

Well, not just those dust sucking monsters, really. Anything that makes loud noises will make the cat run away in the opposite direction. Steam cleaners, drills, blenders, washers and dryers, even irons are known to cause the same effect.

The fear of sudden, loud noises is very common throughout the animal kingdom and applies to humans as well. The only difference is, humans can rationalize and discard these feelings for known objects. You don’t enjoy the rumbling of a vacuum cleaner, but you know why it’s loud and decide to ignore it.

Your cat doesn’t understand it in that way. All she sees is an oddly shaped box raging around her living space, with no regard for her existence.

#2: Dogs

cat and dog

Simply put, dogs are predators. Cats are in the same business, but they are much smaller. This is why most cats—those that have not been socialized with dogs anyway—tend to run away from dogs as fast as possible.

The other problem is that cats and dogs “speak” very different languages. In fact, their body language means quite the opposite for certain signals. For example, tail wagging means “I’m friendly and want to meet you” in dog speak, while it means quite the opposite for cats. If you ever tried to pet your cat while she is wagging her tail, you know exactly what we mean.

See Also: What Does It Mean When Cats Wag Their Tail

The other common misunderstanding is the hindquarters sniffing. A dog sees this as a polite way of getting to know the other dog. A cat sees it as someone maliciously sneaking up on her from behind.

Every friendly gesture a dog can make is seen as hostile, unfortunately. Cats are also much more subtle when entering an unknown space. They will usually crouch, keep their distance from other animals, and assess the situation quietly. Imagine how a cat sees a derpy dog who romps around barking, moving erratically and wagging his tail with absolutely no respect for your cat’s personal space.

In the feline language, the dog is saying: “Hey! This is all mine now, and I’m going to invade your personal space! Also, I’m loud, smelly, and proud of it!”. It’s an utter social catastrophe.

#3: Water

cat is afraid of water

Domestic cats are not really afraid of water as much as they are afraid of being wet. According to anthrozoologists, our fluffy house cats are descendants of Arabian wild cats. The area of their origin is not famous for vast and frequent bodies of water, so there was no need for these animals to learn how to swim.

There was nothing of interest in the rare encounters with rivers and lakes; all the prey they needed could be found on land, and personal hygiene required only good grooming habits. This brings us to another important factor.

Cats have a special oil covering their fur that helps with maintenance. The wet fur doesn’t shed the water easily which can be a serious risk to health if it should get wet, starting from thermoregulation and skin health, to managing parasites such as fleas and mites.

Wet fur is also much more smelly, which is a big disadvantage to a predator. Not all felines are disgusted with water, though. Tigers are very keen swimmers and often hunt in water. Even some domestic cat breeds, such as the Turkish Van, love to bathe. But this is a very rare exception.

#4: Strangers

cat hiding

You just brought your cousin to your apartment for the first time, and you want him or her to meet your furry baby. Alas, your cat is nowhere to be found. No amount of calling, food, or toy offering will make her show her pretty face, and your cousin might start thinking that this cat of yours is just an imaginary friend. But why so scared all of a sudden?

From the cat’s’ perspective, things are not much different than when it comes to dogs. Humans greet each other very loudly, we walk around like we own the place (how dare we!), and we have absolutely no manners when greeting a cat for the first time.

A stranger walking directly towards a cat, looking her straight in the eye is the worst possible scenario; it literally means “I’m hostile and coming to threaten you!” in cat language. Some cats actually learned how to live with this rude human behavior, but most are very aloof and might take a long time to get accustomed to your dear guests.

#5: Babies and Toddlers

gray cat hiding

We like to think babies and kids are the definition of cute. Unfortunately, cats don’t agree with us more often than not. Why is it so? If you compare kids to kittens, you can’t blame them, really. But without getting into an argument about whose offsprings are cuter, let us explain why cats don’t share our enthusiasm when it comes to babies.

Felines dislike noise. Babies are very loud creatures capable of producing frequencies that send shivers through anyone’s spine. Combined with their unpredictable movements and iron grip, you can imagine how a cat feels seeing that furless bundle of smell and noise.

Most cats will be perfectly happy with just sniffing the newcomer and then moving away until the intruder leaves the premises.

#6: New Places

cat at new place

Cats are creatures of habit. They are also nature’s original control freaks, as every cat owner will testify. Moving things around the apartment will often cause a lot of protests, baffled inspections, and resentment.

This behavior is rooted in the feline nature—the way they hunt, care for their young, and defend themselves. If everything is the good boring “same old, same old,” it is easier to control the surroundings, and fewer surprises are likely to happen. It makes the cat feel secure and relaxed, knowing that everything is in its place.

The security falls apart the moment you bring your fluff ball into a new place. Everything smells strange, she doesn’t know the territory, or if there are unfamiliar nooks and crannies where danger might await.

It might take hours for her to inspect the place in detail or she might just decide to stay in the corner, shaking. Either way, you should know that this is a big stressor for the cat and that you should take steps to help her overcome it.

#7: Cars

cat afraid of something

Again with the noises. Only this time, the noises come from everywhere. The rocking of the moving car also doesn’t help the experience, as some cats suffer from motion sickness.

This is probably one of the biggest problems for cat owners because car rides are almost inevitable, and it is really painful to watch a beloved pet suffer from anxiety or a full-blown panic attack. It’s not easy to correct this behavior once it has been established, but it’s not impossible either.

7 Ways to Help Your Cat Overcome Her Fears

Socialization is the magic word, and we can’t stress this enough. If you have adopted a kitten, it is never too early to start the socialization process.

Actually, the sweet spot is around 12-14 weeks, when the kitten learns most about her surroundings and social etiquette. Remember that you have two very important factors working in your favor: cat curiosity and positive reinforcement.

Here are some tips and tricks on how to teach your cat not to be afraid of the common stressors:

#1: House Appliances are Not Imported from Cat Hell

 

The fear of loud noises is not going away, ever. And it shouldn’t, because it can help keep your cat away from danger. But your cat should learn to distinguish familiar, everyday noises in the household from those that might indicate an actual threat.

Take the vacuum cleaner, for example. How to introduce the kitten to this scream machine? Bring the vacuum with you to the room where your cat isn’t and close the door behind you. Plug it in and turn it on. Leave the room, close the door, and continue acting as if nothing is happening.

After a while, your cat will either realize this sound is something to be ignored, or she is going to want to inspect it. Either way, offer a treat. When the cat is calm and ready, open the door.

Don’t carry your cat into the room or try to persuade her to come in. Offer some more treats and carry on doing other stuff. Noise is just noise, and this is what you’re trying to make your kitty understand.

After a couple of minutes, go into the room and start vacuuming. We’re not saying that your cat and your vacuum cleaner are going to be best friends, but at least you can avoid panic-induced zoomies and wreckage. This tactic can be applied to any source of noise.

#2: Love Thy Doggo

cat and dog friends

This can be a tricky one, especially because some cats absolutely love to hiss and growl at dogs, even if just for show. The ideal scenario is having an older, stabile dog in the household before introducing a cat, or having a puppy and a kitten grow up together.

If this is not an option for you, try finding a person who has a cat-loving dog and is willing to help you socialize your kitten. Most dogs that live with cats have learned the cat language and know all the “do’s and don’ts.”

This process can be really slow, and it might seem hopeless, but don’t give up. Usually it takes anywhere between a week and two months to socialize a kitten with dogs, but it is really worth the effort.

See Also: How to Get a Dog and a Cat to Get Along

#3: Water

cat swimming

We’re not going to lie; this one might be hopeless. The general rule is not to bathe the cat unless absolutely necessary, because they really don’t need it. If you do need to give your kitty a bath, please make sure to immediately take her to a warm room with no draft, because cats can easily get pneumonia if left wet and cold.

#4: Stranger Danger

The best possible strategy with this one is to leave your cat be. Ask your guests to ignore her and not try to approach her at all. Cats are naturally curious, and she will definitely decide to inspect the intruder once she feels safe.

Keep treats close to you, so your friends can offer them when the time is right. Keep in mind that every cat is different and that it might take years for some cats to relax around strangers.

#5: Human Kittens

The same goes for the babies. A lot of treats and letting your cat approach on her own terms is the best approach. Whatever you do, don’t let the baby get ahold of the cat; infants and toddlers don’t have good control over their grip so they might squeeze too hard, and all your hard work will be nullified in a second.

You should be quite happy if your cat decides to ignore the kid or just chill at a safe distance.

#6: New Places to Conquer

Title cat in new place

If you’re taking your cat someplace new, let her chill in the transporter for a while before letting her roam freely. When you see that she is relaxed, open the door but let her come out when she feels ready. Keep the surroundings quiet, offer some treats, and let her explore for as long as she wants.

When she’s done (which can take quite some time), take the blanket from the transporter and put it in a place she might like. This way she has something that smells familiar in this all-new environment. A bowl of food and a litter box are welcomed additions.

See Also: How to Introduce a Cat to a New Home

#7: How to Make Your Cat Crazy About Car Rides, In a Positive Way

A part of the problem with cars relates to the previous stressor: it’s a new environment. Repeat all the steps from the above, with the engine turned off. When your cat is relaxed, turn on the engine and wait for her to calm down again. Keep the transporter open and have some treats at hand.

When you are absolutely certain that she is fine with everything, put her back into the transporter, close the doors, and take her for a slow ride around the block.

Some cats get very relaxed in the car, and you can even buy a harness with the safety belt attachment so she can sit outside the transporter, on the back seat, and watch the road. Don’t let your cat roam freely in the car, though; it can be a hazard to the both of you.

Wrap Up

scared little kitten

Fear is not a bad thing per se. It is a way to keep our senses alert and stay away from danger. However, our way of life sometimes brings confusing new things to our feline friends, and it is our job to explain there is nothing to be scared of. What’s more, plenty of those weird human stuff can actually bring a lot of joy.

When trying to teach your cat to accept something that she’s naturally scared of, the key is being patient and calm. No one likes to be pushed into an unpleasant situation, and cats are notorious for refusing to cope with such an approach. Be gentle, be positive, and you will have more things to do together and enjoy without fear.

What is it that your cat seems to be terrified of? Did we skip any cat stressors? Leave us a comment below and let us know your opinion. Oh, and although this is often regarded as funny, cats are also scared of cucumbers. Check out our article on why are cats scared of cucumbers next.

About the author
Steve Corelli
Steve Corelli

Steve Corelli is a Pet Nutrition Expert from Allentown, Pennsylvania. He is the author of many nutritional strategies for different breeds and a member of some Pet Food development teams. His Maine Coon Stephan, as you might guess, is always well-fed.

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