How to Comfort a Scared Cat

Updated Jul. 2, 2024
brown tabby cat crouching scared and looking at the camera

Adobe Stock/Елена Беляева

In This Article

Signs a Cat Is Scared

Although wild cats hunt prey, they are also vulnerable to attack from other, larger predators. So, because of natural tendencies inherited from their wild ancestors, many domestic cats are anxious and fearful in certain situations—for example, car rides, veterinary appointments, and loud noises like fireworks.

Fortunately, there are signs you can watch for to determine when your cat is scared and steps you can take to help manage her fears.

Signs a Cat Is Scared

Pay attention to your cat’s body language and vocalizations, as these give you clues to what she’s feeling. A scared cat may:

  • Hiss

  • Growl

  • Hide

  • Tremble

  • Breathe quickly

  • Lean away from the source of her fear

  • Have a tense body posture: Her ears may be flattened against her head, her eyes wide, and her fur standing on end. Her tail may be tucked in tight to her body, or she may swing it back and forth rapidly.

How to Comfort a Scared Cat

Even one intense traumatic experience can easily turn into lifelong fear and anxiety in cats, so addressing that fear as soon as possible gives your cat the best chance at being less afraid in the future.

Here’s what to do if your cat is showing fear.

1. Give Them Their Own Space

When your cat is showing signs of fear, it can be helpful to allow her to escape to a safe area where she can decompress and feel more at ease.

Your cat’s area should have everything she needs so she doesn’t have to leave until she feels calmer. This includes:

2. Learn Their Triggers

Monitor your cat for signs of fear and note when they show up.

Perhaps there is a stray cat who wanders by your home frequently and scares your pet. Perhaps your cat shows signs of fear when placed in her carrier for a trip to the veterinarian. Perhaps you recently brought home a new puppy, and your cat is scared of them.

Paying close attention to the situations that scare your cat, and catching signs of fear early, can help you intervene so your cat doesn’t experience these negative emotions for too long. You can then put your cat in her safe space and let her decompress away from the fear-inducing situation.

3. Try a Pheromone Diffuser or Other Products

A handful of calming products can help you manage your cat’s fear.

One most commonly used is a calming pheromone diffuser, such as Feliway® MultiCat calming diffuser. It’s best to use one diffuser per 700 square feet of space and to avoid plugging it into an outlet too close to a litter box. The Feliway formula mimics a maternal feline pheromone that helps reduce feelings of tension in cats.

Another option for calming a fearful cat is to start them on a calming probiotic product, such as Purina® Pro Plan® Calming Care. When fed daily for a few weeks, it helps decrease cortisol, a stress hormone, in the cat’s body.

These products can help your cat feel more calm and balanced, making other measures to reduce their fear more effective.

4. Ask a Behaviorist

Because fear can come from pain and illness, it’s important to have your cat examined by a veterinarian to rule out or address any underlying medical issues first.

If your cat has been cleared of any medical problems, it’s highly recommended to work with a board-certified veterinary behaviorist for any fearful behavior, especially if the fear is new or unexplained.

A veterinary behaviorist will work with your unique situation to determine the best course of action for your kitty. In cases of extreme fear, your veterinary behaviorist may even be able to prescribe medications to help manage your cat’s fear, such as pregabalin or fluoxetine.

A behaviorist will also be a valuable resource for any behavior modification training you’ll be doing with your cat and can help you adjust your protocol and any medications, depending on how your cat is doing.

5. Work on Desensitization

Once you’ve met with a behaviorist and your cat has been prescribed any medications she needs to help control her fear, you’ll likely be instructed to start behavior modification techniques. In the case of fear, this often involves counterconditioning and desensitization.

For example, if your cat is afraid of thunderstorms, counterconditioning and desensitization may likely start with playing the sound of crashing thunder at a low-enough level that your cat does not react.

Praise and reward your cat for calm or neutral behavior as the sounds play. This reward may come in the form of high-value treats, petting, and other forms of affection. In this way, you’re creating a positive association for your cat with the sound of a storm.

You may then increase the volume of the sound incrementally and praise and reward your cat as she continues to demonstrate calm behavior. Repeat this process until she can tolerate the volume of a typical storm without reacting in fear.

The pace at which you advance to the next higher volume depends on your cat. If she shows any signs of fear, return to the most recent successful step and give her more time to acclimate before increasing the volume again.

These same principles apply whether your cat is afraid of other animals, new people, or objects. In these cases, rather than increasing volume, desensitization often involves bringing your cat closer and closer to the fear-inducing stimulus while praising and rewarding calm behavior.

Throughout this process, your veterinarian or veterinary behaviorist can offer feedback to ensure everything is proceeding as it should so your cat can have the best chance of overcoming her fear.


Hannah Hart, DVM

WRITTEN BY

Hannah Hart, DVM

Veterinarian

Dr. Hart graduated from veterinary school in 2017 and began her career with USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service as a public health...


Help us make PetMD better

Was this article helpful?


Get Instant Vet Help Via Chat or Video. Connect with a Vet. Chewy Health