Cat is terrified of my boyfriend, no one else.

by Sammi
(Chicago, IL)

My cat, Turkey, is very friendly and sociable with everyone. We always have guests coming in and out, so he's definitely used to meeting new faces. However, my cat is absolutely terrified of my boyfriend. The cat hides in the corner, ears flat back, and tailed puffed out. It's so bizarre. My boyfriend is a big cat lover and always has positive interactions with other cats. This is concerning to me because he is going to be over here fairly often and I don't want my cat to be stressed out and afraid. What is going on and how do I fix it?? Thank you so much!

Dear Sammi,

I’m very sorry to hear that you are having such a difficult time with your cat Turkey and your boyfriend. It definitely sounds as though your cat is very afraid of him. Did something happen when they first met to start them off on the wrong foot?

There are several steps you can take to try to ease the cat's stress and fear of your boyfriend and to try to help them get along. First, you may want to consider using a pheromone product in your home. Feliway makes room diffusers, wipes, and sprays that contain pheromones that mimic the ones your cat produces naturally, which can aide in reducing your cat's stress. Your boyfriend could use the spray or wipes on his clothing before coming into your home, which may help him seem more “safe” to Turkey.

You could also try using Rescue Remedy by Bach, an herbal supplement that can help reduce cat stress and anxiety. And, if your kitty responds to catnip, this can help with anxiety as well.

You should also offer your kitty Turkey a safe place to hide away when your boyfriend is over. KatKabin makes an adorable indoor SkratchKabin that provides a warm, cozy hideaway for your kitty. If you place a cat house in the main living area so your cat can hide comfortably while he is around, Turkey may gradually begin to venture out because the stress is reduced.

In terms of your actions, if this is a new relationship, your cat may be experiencing some jealousy due to your newly divided attention. Be sure to continue to give Turkey lots of time and attention when your boyfriend is not around, and try to be alert to her needs when he is around. For instance, if your kitty is a lap cat when your boyfriend is not around, try sitting where and how you normally would when he IS around. And, if your kitty gets a special treat in the evenings, make sure to continue the routine when he IS there.

Also, there are some things your boyfriend should do. He should avoid making loud or sudden noises or movements when around Turkey, and should not make eye contact with your cat. Eye contact can be a sign of aggression to cats. Similarly, he should not approach Turkey and should make a point to avoid walking in her path or too closely to where she is resting. The more disinterested he appears to your cat, the more likely your cat is to become less fearful of him.

When Turkey begins to relax in his presence, you can then begin the process of having your kitty associate your boyfriend with good things. He can offer your treats and canned food, catnip, and play with favorite toys.

The most important thing to remember is getting Turkey comfortable with your boyfriend will require time and patience. I have rehabilitated many frightened cats over the years, and patience is always the key.

Best wishes,
Dr. Neely

Return to Comments about Cat Behavior.