My Cat Has Developed Nervous Cat Behaviour

by J

My cat is 5 years old. She has suddenly developed nervous cat behavior, a fear of items that are made of fabric, such as clothing, mittens, slippers, etc.

She tries to avoid the floor and crouches when on it like something is going to attack her.

When I first noticed this, I saw her trying to sneak past a mitten that had fallen on the floor. When we went to pick the mitten up, she freaked out and ran away.

If placed on the floor she would leap around like the floor was hot or do the crouching thing. I thought it was the mitten she was scared of and put IT out of site. She seemed to improve, but was a bit jumpy still.

I noticed she was still scared and crouching again now after a few days of seeming better. She seems to be afaid of other types of material. She tries to avoid the floor whenever possible.

We have not had any household changes (cleaners etc)
The floor is not carpet. It is tile.
She is a fixed cat and an indoor cat. She has never been outside the appartment.

We have had her since she was a kitten and her normal behaivor is curious beyond belief, into everything and a mischief maker.

What could suddenly make her a scaredy cat?

Oh ...she is not changed toward us. She is as affectionate as ever.

Dear J.,

Ah, the mysterious ways of cats. You can try and try to figure out what's on their minds and never know.

It sounds like something, perhaps the mitten, perhaps something similar, startled her. She then transferred that fear to other things.

This is absolutely not criticism, so please don't take it that way. And this is only a guess, although an educated one. Many people do not know that their own reaction to their cat causes further difficulty.

When she seemed to be afraid of the mitten, it sounds like you were alarmed enough to go toward the mitten so you could get it and put it out of sight. That may have startled her even more or simply your concern may have made her more concerned. Cats can pick up on our feelings so easily and their own behavior becomes a reaction to ours.

They are also quick to transfer their fears or aggressions to something other than the real or original "threat". That would explain her fear of other "mitten-like" objects or fabric.

Her fear of the floor may simply be because she was on the floor when the mitten fell and startled her or maybe it wasn't even the mitten, but something else happened that you didn't see.

Regardless, I have found over and over that the best way to stop a behavior such as that is to ignore it. Stop watching her closely, stop reassuring her, stop reacting to her fear with your own feelings and body language. Act as if nothing has happened and act as if you have no concern even if she does.

If she's cowering on the floor, laugh quietly and lightly and say in a teasing tone something like "you silly kitty, everything's fine" and go back to what you were doing. This may sound strange to you, but trust me, if you do this over and over, it will work.

I have trained biting cats to stop biting in this way; I have trained scared cats not to be scared; I have trained cats that were not getting along to get along.

I can't say it enough -- the best thing to do is do nothing. Stay light and unconcerned; act normally no matter how she acts; speak and walk quietly as much as possible, but in a natural way and speak in a reassuring, joking sort of "how you talk to a baby" tone. Keep your body language and your voice calm and unconcerned.

And be patient. It may take days, weeks, or even a month or more for her to be totally normal again. It will happen.

Thank you for writing,
Dr. Neely

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