Cats are instinctual animals, and sometimes they become jumpy and skittish. These kitties may hide and cower when you come near, or they might cover up their nervousness with displays of claws and hissing. When you see this, your first instinct will be to do whatever it takes to help your cat feel safe again. The good news is that no matter the cause of your cat's angst, there's a lot you can do to help calm and soothe your nervous cat.
Why Is Your Cat Jumpy and Nervous?
Some cats handle stressful situations with ease and can quickly revert to their calm, happy-go-lucky ways. But for other cats, issues may linger, and it can take some time before they learn to trust again.
Stressed-out cat symptoms include being easily startled or hiding for no apparent reason, being extra vigilant and on guard, losing interest in playing, or displaying other unwanted behaviors. If you're introducing your cat to a new home or environment, he may be fearful. A cat might overreact to a "trigger," like destructively scratching to get away when hearing thunder.
For some cats, all it takes is a relatively small trigger. A friendly cat that's startled while walking outside on a harness might hiss and scratch until he's calmed down. A cat stressed from moving to a new home or introduction of a new pet might meow excessively or even scratch and spray to express his nervousness. Whether the trigger is big or small, try these techniques to help calm him down.
Slow Movements Can Calm a Nervous Cat
A nervous cat will take cues from your actions. If you're acting nervous, she'll feel even more stressed herself. Make a point to be calm and confident around your cat. Whenever she's acting out or hiding, move slowly and speak calmly and softly. If you can catch her gaze, blink slowly at her. This communicates in her language that you feel safe, and she should feel safe too.
Don't force her out of hiding.1 Rather, sit calmly nearby and wait for her to approach you. You can try to tempt her with treats, but don't be overly assertive about it. When she does come out of hiding, extend a hand but don't force her to be petted. Let her approach and sniff your hand. If she rubs your hand with her head, she's telling you it's okay to give her a gentle pet on the head.
Take the same actions if she's overwhelmed and hissing. Just be calm and slow, with lots of slow blinks, letting her approach you on her terms.
Provide a Safe Space
Every cat needs a safe space to call his own. This is especially true for nervous cats. Give him a space isolated from the hustle and bustle of the household. For cats that are just a little skittish, it can be a closet, cat tree or condo, or a comfy cat bed set high on a shelf that he can escape to.
You could also try a room isolated from the rest of the home. Introduce him slowly to other pets, starting by keeping a closed door between them and slowly graduating to supervised visits.
This safe and isolated space is especially important for cats that are extra scared around people. Sometimes a scared cat will bond more with other cats and not need as much human comfort. These cats might benefit from having a safe space separated from other household cats for a few weeks until he learns to bond with you. Keep a comfy cat bed, food, water, and litter in the room, along with a shirt that smells like you. Choose a room with windows so your cat can watch the outside world when you're not there. Start with short visits a couple of times a day, slowly extending your time together as his comfort increases.
Exercise Can Help
If your cat has a sudden change in temperament or is acting out, visit a veterinarian to rule out any health issues. After you get a clean bill of health, chat with your vet about other options to help calm your kitty. Sometimes things like extra play and exercise can help.
Your cat can work out a lot of stress simply by scratching and climbing to high spaces. So adding scratching posts and cat trees around your home may help. Just like exercise can help calm people down, exercise can do the same for your cat. Grab some kibble and toss it down the hallway and encourage your cat to chase each bite. Or, get a feather wand and tempt your kitty out of hiding for a rousing game of chase. Just remember that if your cat isn't familiar with toys, she may need time to get used to them.
Distracting your kitty with mental exercises can also help build her confidence. Give her interactive toys that require problem-solving to get the treats inside. Or start clicker training and teach her tricks. These types of activities can do wonders in reducing stress and boosting confidence levels.
Comfort Zone Products Can Help
Comfort Zone products focus on your cat's e-meow-tional health, not just his physical health, which is vital when helping a nervous, scared cat. By mimicking your cat's calming pheromones, these products signal to him that everything is okay, helping your cat maintain a normal emotional balance.
Plug a Comfort Zone Calming Diffuser into rooms where your cat spends most of his time (including his "safe space" if you set one up). Consider putting on a Comfort Zone Calming Collar, so the calming signals are with him wherever he goes in your home or outside. If you have more than one cat, try the Comfort Zone Multi-Cat Diffuser in the rooms where your cats tend to be around each other.Sometimes a stressed-out cat needs help to find that calm state of mind. By providing a safe space and a lot of love and patience, you can help your scared little furball come out of his shell.
1. Team Cat Rescue. "Techniques to Calm a Scared Cat." TeamCatRescue.ca, 4 November 2015, https://www.teamcatrescue.ca/post/2015/11/04/techniques-to-calm-a-scared-cat.