by Barbara George, Tellington Ttouch Behaviourist
Cats that are nervous of people and other animals, or show anxiety or fear are often called skittish. While this may seem bad to us, it is a safety behaviour for the cat.
There are many things that cats may be fearful of; the obvious ones are noise, strangers, other cats and new items in the home. Other triggers are pain or illness, unknown smells, movements or objects seen from a window, sudden or fast movements, an active and busy household, children – especially toddlers, a dirty litter tray, sharing resources with a more assertive cat, a change of food or even rearranging the furniture.
Our behaviour can make them fearful too; shouting, punishing, chasing, any firm of abuse, neglect forcing them to be cuddled or to perform certain behaviours. Tension in the home, arguments between family members, family members leaving home or new people arriving are all stressful for cats.
Although we associate cats with nature and open areas, in our environment space can potentially be a dangerous where they could be attacked by other animals; cats need safe escape routes and places to hide in order to feel safe.
Change of any kind is terrifying to a fearful cat. Just when he has things under control, he has to deal with something new. Moving to a new home, with the same family or a new family, is extremely stressful; the entire environment, most of the known routines, scents, sounds and people are different. Moving to a home where there are other established pets increases the level of fear.
Our cats are naturally wary of new or unusual sights, sounds and smells. Their independent nature means they are responsible for their own safety and protection; they do not expect any backup support. Cats that have been exposed to change in a safe environment, and who have a confident personality, are more likely to deal with change.
Cats that did not have the opportunity for complete socialisation at a young age may not know how to deal with these fears. For them, the best and safest option is to hide until it is safe to come out.
Some cats are naturally not as confident or assertive as others, even siblings can have different personalities. Boredom and loneliness are also factors that influence personality.
Typical behaviours of a skittish cat include running or slinking away, hissing, flattened ears, hiding, lack of appetite, litter tray issues, urinating or spraying around the house, aggression, over- or under-grooming, show-off playing, keeping still to be undetected,
If your cat has a sudden change in behaviour and becomes fearful without good cause, a visit to the vet is recommended to rule out any medical issues.
To contact Barbara, please email email@example.com