What scares cats and why

Fear is an important part of the survival instinct for cats and all other living things. If the velvet paws were too carefree and reckless, they would endanger themselves unnecessarily. But why are the fur noses afraid of things that are not necessarily life-threatening? "Oh dear, what's that over there?": Little cat is afraid - Shutterstock / Irina Kozorog

In the wild, cats are both hunters and prey - so they have to be careful and discreet to survive. If they were not afraid of anything, it would be fatal for the velvet paws.

Why fear is useful

The feeling of fear counteracts the natural curiosity of the fur noses. If they were too scared, they would not dare to leave their hiding place and could not catch prey. If they were too curious and reckless, they could fall victim to larger predators or poison themselves from spoiled feed sources.

So long as curiosity and fear balance each other, everything is fine. These instincts are innate to all cats, not just the wild stray and fallow cats that are considered ancestors of our domestic cats. This means that your tame cat alternately experiences curiosity and fear.

Cats are afraid of the unknown

What cats don't know scares them first. As far as possible, they will flee or hide and examine the unknown from a distance. If you conclude that there is no danger, curiosity will probably prevail. The unknown then becomes something familiar. In the great outdoors, the cat mother accompanies her kittens when they start to discover the world and assess new impressions of their potential dangers.

In principle, the same applies to cats as pets, but this is not just about survival. For wild animals, it makes sense to be afraid of people, alien animals and sometimes also of other species who do not come from the same group. Pets, on the other hand, should be trusting, become part of the family and get along with other animals in the household. So fear would not be appropriate. It is therefore very important that kittens have the opportunity to get to know strangers, other animals and everyday noises in a safe environment so that they are not afraid of them as adult velvet paws.

A safe environment means that the kittens can stay with their mother until the age of 12 weeks, as this gives them security and trust. If this is not possible, for example because the kittens are orphaned, people have to take on the role of the cat mother. The baby cats should then be carefully introduced to strangers - for example, the future owners -, traffic noise, kitchen and household appliances and other well-behaved and friendly animals. So you can get used to it and learn that there is no danger.

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Loud or strange noises scare fur noses

Cats have a much finer hearing than humans - noises that we hardly notice sound like loud roar to our house tigers. Above all, sudden or unknown noises can scare our velvet paws because they pose a potential danger. How should your cat know that the thunder rumble during a thunderstorm or high-spirited child cries is not life-threatening for them? Nevertheless, sounds can scare her, which do not directly endanger her life, but are still very uncomfortable - and this is always the case with loud, shrill noises for the sensitive cat ears.

As long as your cat can withdraw from these unpleasant experiences by hiding or going to their favorite place in the house where they are undisturbed, you usually don't need to worry. In this way, she can get used to most everyday noises and learn not to be disturbed by them.

When fear becomes a disorder in cats

If cats have not learned as babies that strangers and animals as well as everyday noises pose no threat, they may be very shy and anxious later on. This means considerable stress for the animals, which is why the help of a cat psychologist would be advisable in such an extreme case. Not only a lack of experience can lead to an excessive fear, but also bad experiences.

If, for example, the kittens were confronted with strangers, other animals and loud noises too quickly without gradually getting used to them at their own pace, it is quite possible that they would be afraid of them later. Like humans, cats can even develop specific phobias, for example in front of dogs, when they have been terrified by a four-legged friend. Other house tigers, for example, are terrified of visitors, children or certain household appliances such as the vacuum cleaner. You can read about how such a phobia can occur in our guide "Causes of Anxiety Disorder in Cats". "Cat with anxiety disorder: How you can help her" will tell you what to do in such a case.