If you treat your cat in a warm and affectionate manner, you probably find it rather baffling when it reacts nervously. There are several reasons why it might be anxious. Like people, some cats are more fearful than others. However well you treat your cat, it may have had a previous frightening experience and its natural survival mechanisms make it generally fearful of something happening again.
A kitten that meets people and other animals, and is introduced to the general noise and activity of life by the time they are eight weeks old is likely to become a confident cat. One that isn’t will behave more like a wild animal, with handling or confinement causing acute fear.
Ideally, knowing and understanding your cat’s background will help you deal with its anxious behaviour. Be prepared for it to take lots of patience and time. Basically, when your cat runs for cover at the slightest noise, it has taken flight from what it perceives to be a life-threatening situation. It needs to learn that there is nothing threatening about the situation it is running from.
One way to do this for young cats is to introduce an indoor ‘kittening pen’. Place a crate in the corner of a room and cover it with a blanket, so that the cat can see out of the front but the sides are covered. Put the cat in the crate during a quiet period so that it can get used to it. Give it some of its favourite food and just let it relax.
From here you can graduate on to people sitting and talking near it, then asking a friendly guest to feed it treats. After a while it should be ready to sit in the same room as you all without the crate.
A problem shared
If you feel you need further help dealing with your anxious cat, check out the website for The Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors. On referral from your vet, they will work with you and your cat to establish the cause of the problem and development a treatment plan.
You can also try using synthetic scent pheromones. These are available from your vet and can create a reassuring environment that should help to reduce stress. Don’t force attention on your cat, as this may be understood as a direct threat. Wait for it to come to you. Narrow your eyes and turn your face away to reassure it.
Although never an easy task, taking a nervous cat to the vet is easier with a basket that opens at the top. If your cat has his own blanket, use that to line the basket. Keep the basket out of sight if your cat is likely to panic at the sight of it, and firmly but gently wrap him in a towel as you transfer it into the carrier. The basket should be covered with a cloth on the way there to help keep him calm.