Cats can be very odd when it comes to behavior. Sometimes, owners notice strange behavior, even for the oddest of kitties. For one thing, they can start to act scared, even if the cause of their fright is unknown. This can be perplexing for owners, who may wonder if something is wrong with their pet or house. It can be very disconcerting when your cat suddenly fears something you can’t see.
Pet parents everywhere can agree that when a cat starts acting afraid of something invisible, it makes the worry start right up. Because cats have a reputation for being a little peculiar, it can be hard to tell what might be causing them to act this way. It is helpful to understand feline body language and the different things that might cause them to be fearful.
Cat owners often ask the internet and their veterinarians what cats are afraid of because this is a fairly common issue. It is hard to know what a cat might tell you through their behavior, and we are here to help. In this quick guide, we explain why a kitty might be afraid of something you cannot see. We also discuss how owners should respond to this behavior and how to help cats who are experiencing fear or anxiety.
Why Is My Cat Scared All Of A Sudden?
It is a perfect afternoon. You are curled up with your purr baby, streaming a favorite show or reading through a gripping book, and suddenly, your cuddle buddy bolts away, terrified of something you cannot see or hear. Or perhaps your cat will suddenly refuse to go into a certain room, even somewhere they were once happy to be. Not only is this perplexing for owners when cats get spooked, but it is also frustrating for pets. Felines communicate with us through their body language, so when they communicate that they are afraid, owners want to know how to help. By learning to read feline body language, you can better understand your cat’s feelings and uncover the reasons behind a fear of the invisible.
To be clear, cats are not afraid of invisible objects. They have very strong senses and use these to observe the world around them. Felines can often notice things that we cannot because of these abilities.
There are several reasons kitties act afraid of something people cannot see or hear. This is partly due to the feline’s heightened sense of hearing, smell, and sight. In reality, our pets are not afraid of something otherworldly or sensing a message from the great beyond. They are responding to environmental factors, as well as their past experience. Even a change in temperature or sensing small vibrations can cause them to be highly alert and act afraid.
What Are Cats Afraid Of?
Cats are tough, but they can also experience fright. This can happen easier for some than others, depending on their individual situations. Kitties who are the only pets might be more jumpy or sensitive than those who live in busy, noisy households with other pets. Felines can be sensitive to many different things, and unusual or intrusive smells, sounds, sights, and even tension in the air can cause them to experience fear.
Even the friendliest kitties can experience fear, anxiety, and hesitancy when encountering new people. If a stranger suddenly comes unannounced into their home, it is perfectly reasonable for a cat to be afraid. Sometimes, the stranger doesn’t even need to enter the house. Felines will pick up on a new presence outside. This will put them on guard. Even a delivery person on the street can cause a kitty to be on alert.
Kids are wonderful, but sometimes they can frighten cats. This is especially true for pets that are not around children often. When kittens are socialized young, they will learn how to behave and interact with children. Children are often loud, handsy, and sometimes rough, which can trigger an unpleasant reaction in a pet. It is important for both kittens and kids to be socialized with each other when they are young to learn how to interact appropriately.
Felines are very particular creatures in their home environment. They do not like change. Owners might notice this when even moving a chair across the room causes a kitty to become agitated, clingy, or very interested. Felines are very curious and often show interest in new objects we bring home, even just a trip to the grocery store. They are very observant of new things, and if an environment they feel safe in is suddenly changed by a new object or by being rearranged, this can trigger feelings of fear.
Indoor kitties, in particular, may be very wary of other animals. Even if they live in a one-cat home, felines are natural-born hunters. They are always on the lookout for something to chase. New animals, especially those that invade a feline’s safe place, might cause alarm. Sometimes, these intruders are not in your actual home. They might be hanging out outside the window or walking by. Even hearing an unfamiliar bark nearby is enough to put a kitty on high alert.
Loud Or Unusual Noises
Felines do not like loud noise and do much better in calmer, quieter environments. They can hear far better than humans and, because of this, may pick up on noises that we do not. Some felines are extremely sensitive to loud noises, and their definition of loud differs from ours. A noise outside may suddenly startle or scare your feline friend, while human ears may not even notice. Noises that are normal for us can greatly frighten a feline and include thunderstorms, loud music, fireworks, vacuum cleaners, power tools, and street noise.
New Places And Spaces
Like us, felines can experience fear when put in new or uncomfortable situations. For example, pets who move to new homes might seem skittish and fearful for a while. Even a cat accessing a new place in their home has the potential to trigger feelings of fear.
My Cat Is Acting Strange And Scared: Signs Of Fear In Cats
Feline behavior is hard to interpret, but there are some clear signs they will give off if they feel afraid. Understanding what these signs and behaviors are will help owners better communicate with and help their kitty calm down and feel safe. Felines are exceptionally expressive creatures, and if you pay attention to their body language, you can learn a lot about their thoughts and feelings.
Remember that all kitties are different, so paying attention to your own cat’s body language is essential to recognize when they are feeling afraid accurately. Generally, kitties will have one of three reactions when they feel afraid or threatened: they want to fight, freeze, or run away. Below are some common behaviors and signs felines give off when they are experiencing fear.
- Tail – One of the most common signs of fear in felines is their tail. Scared cats often tuck their tail between their legs or even hide them completely. The tail can start to curl forward. Kitties will try to wrap themselves in their tail. This is a way to comfort and protect themselves.
- Ears – A cat’s ears can tell a lot about their feelings. An anxious or worried kitty may have ears that turn slightly to the side. An afraid kitty will flatten their ears completely down and to the sides. Ears to the side mean fear, and ears slightly turned back is a sign of aggression.
- Eyes – Feline eyes dilate when they are excited, including when they feel frightened. This means the pupils of the eye will appear extremely large. Their eyes can appear almost completely black at times. Pay attention to what is happening around you and for other clues of what your feline friend may be afraid of.
- Crouched, Hunched, Or Arched Posture – This is the cat’s way of making themselves as small as possible to appear less threatening. Your kitty may take a low position on the ground, on the defensive. Kitties who are standing up may lower their heads to the ground or crouch all the way down, and some will even lie all the way down. Your cat’s fur may start to bristle and puff up, trying to look larger than they are.
- Freeze In Place – While it is common for kitties to want to fight a perceived threat, it is also not unusual for them to freeze completely. Sometimes, felines are so afraid they will simply stop moving in hopes that they blend in with their surroundings, and whatever the threat is will pass by them undetected.
- Run Away And Hide – Some cats will run away and hide as soon as they perceive a threat. This is a normal reaction. Even though felines can fight, they often prefer not to and would rather hide until the danger passes. Sometimes, they will run away in a panic and search frantically everywhere for a place to hide.
- Spitting, Hissing, Growling – Felines may also display signs of aggression when they are afraid. This can consist of hissing, growling, swatting, or biting. These behaviors are the cat’s way of protecting themselves from a perceived danger.
- Anxiety – A scared cat can appear anxious and exhibit signs of restlessness, such as pacing, vocalizing, or even meowing loudly and excessively. They may show signs of stress, such as excessive grooming, hiding, or shaking. Kitties will start to arch their backs, bare their teeth, and hiss. Be mindful, as this can quickly turn to aggression.
- Loss Of Bladder And Bowel Control – When felines are extremely frightened, they may lose control of their bowels and urinate or defecate right where they are. This is an extreme reaction but can happen with some, especially in multi-cat households, if one is scared of the other.
What To Do If Your Cat Is Really Scared
Though it can be alarming when your cat suddenly is afraid, especially when you cannot see what is causing their fright, try to stay calm and help your pet work through this experience safely. Owners can do a few things to help calm down a scared feline. Remember to allow your pet to have space and not to be intrusive. Do not try to pick up a feline that is hissing, biting, or swatting at you. It is best to let them calm down and not allow anyone to be put at risk of injury.
- If you can leave a scared cat alone, especially if they have run off and are in a safe, secure hiding spot. Never force your kitty to leave their safe place. Do not intrude by sticking your hands or face in. Provide them with plenty of fresh food and water and allow them the time they need to recover. You can try gentle coaxing with treats, toys, or kind words, but never force a cat experiencing a fear reaction to move if they do not want to.
- The first step in helping a cat who is afraid of something that seems invisible is to identify the source of the fear. This can be anything from loud noises to other animals to environmental changes. Try to observe what is going on around in the direct vicinity as well as outside to see if you can determine what it is that has triggered your cat to have this fear response.
- Create a safe and secure environment for your cat. Provide them with a quiet hiding place, such as a cardboard box, crate, closet, kitty tree, or hiding spot behind the couch. You can also provide them with toys to distract them and make them feel safe. Try to keep the environment as calm as possible. Stick to your routine as much as is feasible. Remember, felines are creatures of habit. Make sure to keep the litter box, food, and water in a quiet and secure area.
- Offer your purr baby treats or food to help them relax. This can be especially helpful if your cat feels anxious after a nerve-wracking situation, like a new person stopping by unexpectedly or moving the couch across the room. You can try CBD treats and oils to help your pet calm down and relax.
- Try using natural remedies such as chamomile, lavender, or valerian to help your pet settle down. These can be given in the form of tea or tincture, or you can use them in a diffuser.
- Finally, you can use calming massage techniques or gentle petting to help your cat relax. Pay close attention to your cat’s body language and look for any signs of feeling frightened or anxious. Speak calmly and try to reassure them that everything is safe.
Understanding Feline Fear
Fear is a natural feeling for felines and can be a sensible response in certain situations. This is a survival mechanism. The strong reaction is the cat’s way of protecting themselves from possible danger.
Fear can sometimes be a sign of an underlying medical issue, so it’s important to take your purr baby to the vet if you notice any sudden changes in behavior. If your kitty is displaying signs of fear or anxiety and is not improving, seek professional help. Your vet can provide you with advice on how to help your kitty manage their fear, as well as any medications or therapies that may be beneficial.
Desensitization and counterconditioning techniques can help kitties gradually become accustomed to what they are afraid of. Desensitization is done by introducing a kitty to the feared stimulus in small doses. Then, gradually increasing the intensity over time while rewarding them with treats or positive reinforcement.
Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome (FHS)
Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome is an extreme behavior syndrome that affects some felines and makes them behave as if they are afraid and sometimes chase things that are not there. Affected felines can display sudden, hyperactive, and even bizarre behaviors. Some of these FHS behaviors include:
- Extreme, frenzied self-grooming.
- Widened pupils.
- Hallucinations, chasing things that are not there.
- Erratic mood swings.
- Extreme sensitivity to touch.
- Skin rippling or rolling.
- Excess salivation.
- Loud vocalization.
- Loss of balance, falling over, seizures.
- Obsession with tail, tail chasing, attacking one’s own tail.
There is no specific cause identified for FHS. It happens more often in mature cats than in kittens. It is thought the condition may be a form of feline obsessive-compulsive disorder or a result of errant brain waves. Once diagnosed, treatment includes aerobic exercise, altered feeding schedules, training, and lots of care. Additionally, some medications can help treat pets with FHS, including antidepressants and anticonvulsant therapies like phenobarbital.
Why Won’t My Cat Go In A Certain Room?
There are a few reasons why kitties might not want to go into a certain room. They may detect a smell they do not like, unfamiliar sounds, or sense vibrations in the air. Cats are extra cautious if things have been moved in the room. A kitty may have had a bad experience in the room, even if the owners were not there to witness it. This can prevent them from wanting to go back in. A person or other pet may be in the room that they do not like.
It may be hard to pinpoint the exact reason why a kitty refuses to go in a specific room, but it is safe to assume they were spooked by something in there. In some cases, this may be a permanent aversion to the room. In others, your pet may get over it when they see you in there with a handful of treats.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is fear normal for cats?
Yes, fear is a natural, normal feline reaction to sudden stimuli. A cat’s first instinct is to protect themselves, and the feeling of fear helps keep them on edge and ready to address any potential threats.
What are cats most afraid of?
This is a hard one to answer because it is different for every animal. Depending on their unique experience, some cats will be more afraid of certain things than others. There is not one thing in particular that kitties are more scared of than others. Some breeds are calmer than others and may be less sensitive to fright.
Are cats afraid of the dark?
In general, cats are not afraid of the dark, but some can be. This is because cats have an incredibly superior vision to us. They can see very well in low levels of light. While most felines do not like being in a room that is pitch black, they do not mind dim, dark, or dusky rooms. Some cats develop an aversion to the dark. It can stem from a traumatic experience, being left alone, or suffering from separation anxiety.
While it may seem like your cat is suddenly scared of something you cannot see, most likely, there is something they have noticed that has alarmed them. Feline body language is an incredibly useful tool for understanding your purr baby’s feelings and needs. Learn the signs of fear and anxiety to understand your kitty’s emotions and behavior better and uncover the reasons behind their fear of the invisible. You can help your pet feel safe and protected in their environment with patience and understanding.
Always be careful when approaching a scared cat, and do not put yourself or other pets in harm’s way. If you need help, contact your veterinarian and a feline behavior specialist. Remember that our information is to educate and inform only, not as a substitute for seeing your own vet.