T.E.A.M. = Together Every Animal Matters

Techniques to calm a scared cat.

scared cat

These are techniques that I have used successfully to calm a stray cat that lived on the streets for 3 years. She is now this biggest cuddler and purrer that I have.

  1. Always be calm.  Cats feed off your stress so if you are the slightest bit stressed around them, they will be stressed too.  The stress not only comes from your body language but also from your voice. Always speak in a calm relaxed voice.
  2. Let your cat be.  Cats need to feel safe. When people or other animal approach a cat, the cat is automatically defensive.  Trust needs to be built.
  3. Always move slowly.  Never make quick movements when you are approaching a cat.
  4. Listen to what your cat is telling you with her body and her actions.  A hiss is not aggression. It is saying “I am not comfortable right now, please do not come closer”.  Too many people think hissing is aggression which it is not.  If a cat hisses, just ignore it and walk right by it like the cat isn’t even there. Don’t look at her or scold her.
  5. Use a Feliway diffuser. It won’t magically solve all the problems automatically but it will help greatly.
  6. Let the cat lead the way.  Let her come to you. If she snuggles up to you, don’t pet her right away.  Let her get used to being close to you without any action on your part.  This builds trust that you aren’t going to harm her.
  7. If a cat is walking by you, do not pick her up. Only pick her up if she comes to you AND shows you signs that she wants to be picked up. Most cats do not want to be picked up early in the relationship. Only young kittens tolerate being picked up. 
  8. Do not follow a cat.  Even if your cat did something bad, do not chase or follow it. It views you as an aggressor whether that is your intention or not.  Let the cat go away to rebalance herself.  Cats need seclusion to rebalance. They live in the moment so they will be back to rectify things.
  9. If a cat is hiding, let her be.  It is crucial that she never be forced to socialize.  Things happen faster when she makes that decision. It may take a few days. It may take a few months.
  10. Petting is one of the biggest mistakes that cat owners make.  Just because a cat sits next to you or rubs against you, doesn’t mean that they are ready to be petted.  Give them some time and reward them for sitting next to you or rubbing up against you with treats.  Once she has that trust and is calmly approaching you more often, then you can start petting her. Use the rule of three:  Use three fingers and softly pet in three circles on the head only and then stop.  Never pet on the back until a cat is fully socialized.  You will see the back ripple when you do that. That means do not pet me there.  (See the Jackson Galaxy video).  Cats love to be petted on the head and the 3 circles approach is the best technique.  Remember to stop at three and give it a rest.  And don’t make quick movements.
  11. Positive reinforcement.  Treats is the best trainer.   Always have treats nearby and award her for behaviour you like.  Small pieces of cheese are usually a great reward too. 
  12. Never punish for bad behaviour. Punishment will make the cat associate the negative feeling with the punisher.
  13. Toys.  A lot of cats don’t play with toys especially if they never had them before.  It takes time for them to engage with toys but it is important that they have them to burn off nervous energy.  If you find a type of toy that she likes (e.g. a hunting toy, balls, springs, feathers, battery operated, etc). make sure you have plenty of them.  When cats play hard, it is a good sign that they are burning off nervous energy.  It is also good to engage them in play during consistent times of the day like bedtime.  15 minutes is all it takes to burn energy and build a bond.
  14. Scratching posts – always have scratching posts and scratch boxes (they lie flat) around the house.  This is another way that cats alleviate stress.
  15. Cat condos – a scared cat can benefit from a tall cat condo. It gives them a place to escape to and still watch the proceedings.  Cats feel great safety in being high up.
  16. Teach your cat the word “no”.  You don’t have the yell it or say it firmly.  When they do unwanted behaviour, just say “no, no, no” in a regular pattern.  They will learn that word and stop immediately.
  17. If your cat does something bad and then runs into a room, gently close the door to that room and give her a time-out.  She will rebalance herself and after a bit of time you can re-open the door and walk away.

Again, let the cat control the situation. She will come around faster if you start with ignoring her (no picking her up, no petting, no reaching out to her, etc.) Any type of movement towards her, no matter how well intended, may be seen as you being aggressive towards her. Slow and steady wins the race.

Also remember to give her the time to socialize. Cats over the age of a couple months are in survival mode as an instinct until they are reassured that they can trust. It takes time (some more than others) but it is very rewarding when it happens.

petting cat

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