How To Know If My Cat Is Nervous or Scared? How To Help?

Sometimes it is clear that your cat is upset about something, but some cats can hide their fear and you may not realize that they are uncomfortable.

The scared or nervous cat may try to hide or run away. Other symptoms of fear and anxiety in cats are appetite change, trembling, ruffled hair, aggressive/destructive behavior, weight loss or gain, arched back, enlarge pupils and widely open eyes, pulling the tail under herself, depression. You should never punish/scold your upset cat. Try to find out the source of fear/anxiety, try not to expose her to it, do your best to stick to the usual daily routine, and stay calm even if your cat is very upset. Talk to your vet, as in some cases medications are needed, or visit the cat’s behaviorist.

Cats cannot talk but can communicate very well. If you can understand what is she saying, you can realize what’s wrong with her. If she is scared or anxious, she might need your help. Keep reading this article to find out more about signs and how to discover that your cat is scared and how can you help her.

If you would like to know more about things that cats are afraid of, do read our article ”Things Cats Are Scared Of or Hate?”

How To Tell If My Cat Is Scared?

If your cat is scared or anxious, may show the following symptoms :

  • walks clinging to the walls, is bent, with tail down, and looks around cautiously.
  • may show some changes in appettie ,
  • weight loss or gain,
  • may show sings of depression or lethargy,
  • trembles
  • may show some agressive or destructive behavior
  • keeps her back arched and ruffled hair,
  • widely open eyes with large pupils
  • pulls the tail under itself or swings the tip of the tail quickly to the side,
  • scratching or biting
  • hides and runs away

If you notice any of these signs, your cat may be scared, upset, or stressed, and it is important to take certain steps to help.

Don’t be confused with the fact that the cat will calm down and there seem to be no consequences. However, if she is exposed to stressful situations for a longer period of time, which cause such reactions, serious behavioral problems, and disorders, as well as chronic feelings of anxiety, can occur. Then the cat becomes depressed, loses appetite, does not play, cleans excessively by licking, and loses hair.

Here are the main causes that lead to fear development in cats.

What Causes Fear and Anxiety in Cats?

Cats are supersensitive creatures plus these animals like to be in control of their environment. So the conclusion is that many different things can provoke fear and discomfort in cats.

The most common causes of fear in cats are loud sounds, sudden/unpredictable movements, widely open space, strangers, new pets, and other animals.

Cats have a very strong sense of hearing. If you know that the cat can hear the mouse that is moving in the middle of the football field that you can understand how good she hears and how loud sounds can terrify her. Cats are not fond of loud music, household items, and gadgets that are noisy like vacuum cleaners or blenders. Cats like peace and quiet.

Cats don’t like surprises, sudden movement or activity that comes out of sight can also cause scare a cat. The cats have a fairly wide field of vision and everything that surprises them with movement, also causes fear. A special problem is the movements that take place extremely close to their head. Their eye vision is designed for distance. They cannot focus on anything closer than 4 in (10 cm) That’s why cats look scared even when a toy suddenly touches their face or head. If we go back to those videos with cucumbers, we will notice that the owners place them on the cat’s back and are extremely close. In conclusion, don’t play games with a cat that involve hiding and suddenly appearing like children. Cats react pretty badly to that.

Cats are predators that like to be hidden behind some shelter while lurking for prey. That is why they like to hide under pieces of furniture, in boxes, or in piles of laundry. In general, cats love spaces that provide them with protection, and the ability to observe the environment. That is why large, wide and open spaces do not suit them at all. If the cat has to move around spaces that have high ceilings, without too much furniture, are too bright, and open to the outside, they will feel very uncomfortable. This discomfort will eventually turn into chronic anxiety. So, for cats, we do not recommend a minimalist style of home decoration.

Cats that were not socialized at an early age ( 3-9 weeks of age) will develop a fear of strangers. Even though cats are capable of making bonds with their humans, if not being exposed to other people during their youth, will show fear of new people. Cats that are afraid of strangers usually immediately run away from the room where the stranger is, sneak into some hidden place, and do not go out until the stranger leaves. In order to change this behavior, it is recommended that guests be introduced to the cat’s life gradually. It is best to start with one or two persons who will not make sudden movements or excessive noise. These people should be brought in several times during the week until the cat gets used to their presence.

Very often, cats are upset and scared because of the presence of a new cat or some other type of pet. Cats are creatures of habit, so a new animal is a break from the usual routine that results in stress and anxiety. Introducing and getting to know a new pet is the most sensitive and important phase of preventing fear in a cat. Restrict contact to being seen first and do not allow them physical contact. When they stop showing external signs of fear, move on to the next level. Allow them to exchange scents. Let them sniff and “meet”. Do not force them, do not keep any of the animals, but be ready to react if there is a conflict. Do not punish an animal that started a conflict, since this can happen precisely because of the fear. Be patient because the adjustment process can take weeks or even months.

How To Help My Cat Overcome The Fear?

It is important to take your cat to the vet when it shows signs of fear and anxiety. However, your veterinarian must make sure that the symptoms are not related to another health issue. Your veterinarian will talk to you about their symptoms and medical history.You will also discuss all the events that can contribute to the appearance of fear in a cat. You can help your veterinarian make an accurate diagnosis by writing down the symptoms and behavioral changes your cat is showing.

There is always a chance that illness, injury or exposure to toxins is the cause of their fear and anxiety. A physical examination and blood test can identify or rule out another health problem in a cat.

If you find your cat’s behavior unaceptable don’t punish her. According to cat’s behavior experts, the biggest source of stress in these pets is punishment. Any form of harassment or punishment in a cat causes a loss of confidence in the person who is punishing it. Punishment actually has the opposite effect and intensifies unacceptable behavior. And not only that, the fear she feels in these situations almost automatically turns into aggressive behavior. Experts advise you to detect the source of unacceptable behavior and to try to eliminate that source and change the cat’s behavior through the process of creating and strengthening trust. This is not at all simple and requires a lot of time and patience and even changes in the behavior of the owner. It would be best to go through this process with the help and cooperation of a vet who has experience with such situations or a professional cats behaviorist.

The vet or cats behaviorist will determine if your pet needs medications or a behavioral therapy that should help her to cope with her fears.

What you, personally can do is to give your cat a lot of love and attention. Provide the best care for her, making her feel very secure and comfortable.

  1. Make sure your cat has it’s own space. Cats like to hide, they like to take a daily nap. Do provide the quite and secure place that can be only hers.
  2. If you already know what scares your kittten, don’t expose her to these things. For example if your cat is scared of something when she goes outside, keep her inside. If you have a new pet, introduce them very gradually and slowely, making sure that every pet has its own space and hiding place. Don’t play music too loud and if your feline friend has issues with strangers, let her stay in another room while you have a visit. Don’t scare her intentionally only for bit of fun. Peekaboo games are not for cats. This is rather cruel and can leave serious consequences.
  3. Establish a routine and stick to it. Cats don’t tolerate changes very well. If something breaks usual routine they feel very uncofortable and unsecure. Of course, things cannot go always as planned but try to make as many changes as possbile.
  4. Cats are solitary, independent creatures. Some cats will need you to comfort them if they are scared while other prefer to be alone. Don’t force your cat to do something she doesn’t want. Don’t exaggerate with hugs and kisses.
  5. Stay calm. Even if your cat is obviously scared, nervous, anxious, agressive, you should try to stay calm. If you start to panic, this can increase level of anxiety in your cat, while calmness will help her feel more comfortable.
  6. Calming pheromones may also help in case of anxiety in cats but don’t expect magic. They are not effective in every case and cannot solve every problem. Calming pheromones are odorless and colorless chemical substance. According to Dr Valerie Tynes DVM, President of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists and a Veterinary Services Specialist with Ceva Animal Health in Lenexa, Kansas, says “In any situation creating anxiety, pheromones can help to reduce the stress felt by pets,”. “Each type of pheromone sends a specific comforting message to the pet, such as ‘you are safe here’ or ‘you belong here,’” Dr. Tynes says. More about pheromens you can read here.
  7. You can try to change the way your cat feels about certain stimulus. This requiers time and effort but results can be rather satisfying. For example if you cat is afraid of some sound, you can expose her to that sound but at such a low volume, that causes no fear in her. Repeat this action several times and if you are certain that your cat shows no sign of discomfort increase the volume a bit. This is called desensitization – repeated and controlled exposure to a stimulus that casues fear or anxiety. You can also try to change the emotional response to a certain stimulus from negative to positive. So if you have a cat that is scared of a family dog, you can give her favorite treat every time when she sees him. This way, over time, she will start associating him with something positive ( a favorite treat) and stop feeling a fear.


Early socialization is very important to prevent fears in cats. Early, frequent and pleasant encounters with different pets and people of all ages can help prevent the development of fears and phobias in cats. The socialization period in cats usually begins and ends between 3 and 9 weeks.

Genetics play an important role in the development of fears, so choose that is not so easily scared and that is social.

It’s also important to know that not all cats are equally afraid of the same things. Some kittens may even like the things others cats are usually afraid of.

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