Hiding beneath the bed, skittering across the hardwood floor, freezing in place like a deer in headlights. There’s nothing more startling nor sad to see than your feline friend filled with fear. If this is a new behavior, you might be wondering, “why is my cat suddenly scared of me!?”
There are a lot of reasons cats might suddenly seem afraid of you: a physical stimulus that incited momentary fear, a trigger from kittenhood, an unwelcome newcomer, or even illness.
Whatever the reason, it is important to look for the behaviors that indicate fear, try as best you can to discover the source of the fear, eradicate that fear, and then mend the bond with your feline friend.
Reasons your Cat Might Suddenly be Afraid of You
There are a few reasons why your kitten may be afraid of you. Making sure you know them is a crucial step in helping them overcome it.
You Did Something Physically to Frighten Your Cat
To risk stating the obvious, it’s possible you accidentally did some physical motion or act that frightened your cat. After all, who among us cat-owners hasn’t waved our arms and shouted suddenly while watching football or slapped a pillow suddenly to kill a spider, only to have our cat run under the couch and hide for dear life?
Cats typically do not react well to sudden, loud, unusual bursts of movement. Dogs are much the same. This is especially true if your cat was in the middle of eating, sleeping, or deep in a trance of cheek pets.
You Triggered Something from Their Kittenhood
Cats are emotional creatures, and often when a cat exhibits fearful behavior, it is rooted deep into their kittenhood, caused by some negative event or association.
If your cat is always skittish of other humans, it is likely before you rescued your kitten friend, that they encountered mistreatment or abuse at the hands of a human, making it difficult to trust strange humans they are not yet familiar with.
Your Cat is Reacting to the Presence of an Unwanted Guest
In many cases, you specifically are not what your cat has suddenly grown fearful of. It is very likely that you invited a guest (human or animal) that is making your cat skittish.
It is very common, in fact, for couples to bring home a newborn baby, and notice their normally sweet and loving cat turn into a distant, mean recluse.
If you brought home a new kitten and your cat is not having it, they might result in hiding in your room to stay away from the unwanted newcomer. Which leads to the next point:
Your Cat is Poorly Socialized
Perhaps you did not adopt your cat as a kitten, but rather as a young adult, adult or senior cat. In this case, it is rather hard to mitigate having a poorly socialized cat (especially when some cats live in a shelter (in a cage) for years on end.)
Of course, you might also have simply not exposed your kitten to many new people or animals, in which case your cat may be poorly socialized, and easy to scare at the appearance of new humans.
You Yelled at your Cat (Admit it!)
Perhaps you typed in the google search of ‘why is my cat suddenly scared of me’ in a case of total denial about how you recently yelled at your cat for (insert problematic cat behavior here.) As previously stated, cats are emotional beings, they sense your anger, and if you yell directly at them, some cats prone to skittishness are going to be far less chill about it.
You Tried to Force Feed your Finicky Cat
This might seem like a crazy thing to do, but you’d be surprised how many cat owners panic when their cat turns their nose up – repeatedly – at any and all cat food. In a desperate attempt to get them to eat so they don’t go into kidney failure after 48 hours of no food at all (that’s a real thing, check it out here), some cat owners attempt to chase their cats around with food and bait them tirelessly.
Considering the temperament of most cats, it may come as no surprise that this type of baiting behavior is not only unsuccessful at getting a cat to take an interest in food, but it also renders the opposite effect by instilling your cat with fear that their human parent is trying to force-feed them.
Your Cat is of a Breed that is Pre-Disposed to Heightened States of Arousal (or Skittishness)
Some cats are born with a certain temperament and are skittish despite having a healthy and happy upbringing. Some breeds of cats are more pre-disposed to heightened states of arousal than other cats.
The following breeds of cat tend to exhibit shyness and skittishness more than other cat breeds:
- Chartreux Cat
- European Shorthair
- Egyptian Mau
- Havana Cat
Your Cat is Sick
The worst reason for your cat suddenly seeming scared of you is if they are experiencing illness. Cats react to sickness and injury in different ways, and some cats react by hiding away while they heal, recover, or go through their pain or sickness in the safety of a cocoon-like environment.
If your cat suddenly begins to hide, it’s wise to cover your bases and take them to a vet, just to rule out illness or injury as the cause of their reclusiveness.
How do Cats Behave When They are Scared?
There are many tell-tale signs of fear that cats exhibit when they are undergoing stress, anxiety, or are scared. Look for the following signs to know if your cat is fearful:
- Fearful Body Language – this often looks like lowered ears, back-arching, dilated pupils, whiskers drawn back, and the wrinkling of the nose.
- Hiding – if your cat is hiding away, that is a good indicator of fear.
- Running away – skittering across the floor wildly can either be a sign of the zoomies (running after going potty, or running off energy) or it can be due to a stimulus that incited fear.
- Increased heart rate – if your cat will let you get close and touch them, you can usually feel if their heart rate is accelerated or not. This is a sure sign of fear.
- Hissing, Growling or Snarling – any feral sounds of hissing, growling or snarling can be indicators of fear (as some cats result to primal instinct when afraid, by going into defense mode, i.e., preparing to attack if attacked.)
How do you Calm Down a Fearful Cat?
There are many ways to begin reversing the new fearful behaviors your cat is exhibiting.
Create a Safe, Clean, Peaceful Environment
If your cat seems overwhelmed, try cleaning up your space. Make sure it is nice and tidy, and even try playing some calming music (like classical music or lullabies.)
Scientists have found classical music to be profoundly soothing to cats. In fact, Dr. Miguel Carreira, a veterinary surgeon from the University of Lisbon said: “I have noticed that most cats like classical music, particularly George Handle compositions. The cats become more calm, confident, and tolerant.”
Offer Treats and New Toys
One of the classic ways to get your cat “eating out of the palm of your hand” …is to feed them treats. Get some new delicious snacks and some fun, stimulating toys from your local pet store and offer them to your skittish feline.
Be sure to let your cat come to you, do not force the snacks or toys on them. Simply leave them out where the cat can see them and walk away. Your cat will sniff them out on their own time and be grateful for the peace offering.
Rebuild Rapport through Play
Building a healthy rapport and bond with your cat is paramount, especially after a sudden traumatic event or the appearance of fear-based behaviors. An excellent way to overturn this is by playing and rebuilding fun and trust.
As with the treat offerings, allow kitty to come to you first. Then offer the toy. Don’t shove it in their face, throw it at them, or do any large sudden movements.
First, let your cat sniff the toy and get used to it. Then you can gently wave it toward them to begin play. As your cat gets more comfortable with the situation, you can ramp up your playful behavior, and they will likely follow suit.
Give it some Time
While you are eager to make amends with your cat, they may not be. Give it time, your cat will come to you when they no longer feel fearful, and you can begin mending the bond at that time!
The Key Take Away
Your cat may be exhibiting fearful behaviors for a multitude of reasons, which may feel daunting, however, remember to stay calm and remain empathetic.
Your cat will not remain afraid of you or the current situation forever. Give them time to recover and rebuild trust!