The Ultimate Cat Behavior Guide.
THE PROBLEM – NERVOUS CAT
THE IMPACT ON OWNER - anxiety as YOU feel your cat is not happy
- disappointed with cat’s contribution to household in being an unrewarding pet
THE CAT’S PERSPECTIVE – fearful of unpredictable situations
- maybe had a previous frightening experience
- natural survival mechanisms taking over in anticipation of harm
It is normal to find a cat or kitten quiet and wary for the first few days or even the first few weeks after you obtain it until it gets used to you and its new environment.
Whereas most cats are initially wary of unfamiliar noises, people or events, this is soon replaced by curiosity as immortalised in the saying about curiosity and the cat. Nervous cats remain fearful and this prevents them from investigating the disturbance and discovering it to be harmless. These cats may run and hide as soon as someone comes into the house, if there is a sudden noise or from common everyday sounds such as the television, washing machine or vacuum cleaner. Many such cats spend a great deal of their time hiding from the world either under the bed or on top of the wardrobe.
Some cats are naturally more fearful than others genetically. Others may have had a previous bad experience. The majority of nervous cats however are those that have had a lack of experience of people and new situations in a crucial time of their development.
Kittens exposed to new people, animals and general situation of everyday life by the time they are eight weeks old will take almost anything in their stride and deal with it as a normal part of life. This is the making of a confident cat. Eight weeks seems to be a very crucial cut-off point for the kitten.
Cats deprived of the important opportunity as kittens to face the challenges of contact with different things can develop into incompetent and reactive adults. Every new situation then is potentially frightening and stressful since there is no previous experience to teach the appropriate response. If it has not had these very early experiences it will find life with humans very difficult to cope with. Such kittens will behave like wild animals and handling or confinement will cause acute fear. Although some people persevere with older feral kittens, it requires a great deal of time and patience to get them to respond and this lack of early experience is usually very difficult, if not sometimes impossible, to overcome.
A cat which hides under the bed at the slightest noise or activity within the house has removed itself from what it sees as a life-threatening situation and feels a flood of relief. This feeling is very strong and reinforces the fleeing behaviour. Owners must be able to offer something even more rewarding than this feeling of safety and relief that the cat feels on following its instincts if they want to stop it running. This can prove to be very difficult.
Your cat needs to learn that there is nothing threatening in the situation it is running from. In its safe "den" it feels safe and relieved. This feeling of relief reinforces the fleeing and hiding behaviour. Getting under the bed with the cat or removing it from a cupboard will stress it even more as its safe den has been invaded. Unlike dogs, cats are not pack animals and cannot call on pack-mates to help it out if threatened. To survive, its reaction to danger is to find a safe place to hide until the danger has gone. While this makes sense when a cat is confronted by a predator, it is upsetting to family members who only want to pet the cat.
To overcome the hiding behaviour, you need to offer it something even more rewarding than the feeling of safety and relief that it gets from instinctively running and hiding. This can be difficult because you are trying to overcome a hard-wired survival instinct. First, it needs to learn that the situation it is fleeing from is not actually a threat to it. In other words, it needs to be desensitised to the stimulus that makes it hide. To do this you have to expose it to the scary situation, but in such a way that it feels safe and cannot run.
1. Place a cage or kittening pen in a quiet corner of a room. Ideally the pen should be positioned in an elevated position with good views of all areas of the house. It can be covered on all sides except the front with a rug or blanket and should be large enough to accommodate a bed, food and water bowl and litter tray. Your cat should feel safe and protected here.
2. Put the cat in the pen first of all during a quiet period so that it can get used to it and relax. Rewarding your cat with treats when in the pen provides a positive experience. From the safety of this pen, the cat can see and hear all the normal household goings-on. Remember to walk around normally to get your cat/kitten used to the normal sounds and movements of adult humans. Creeping around can create an air of tension rather than reassurance.
A Lot More tips can be found inside our Kindle E-Book...
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Paul, Sarah & Merlin