Cats - Afraid of Familiar Cats

August 2019

Audience: Foster Caregivers, Public, Shelter/Rescue Staff & Volunteers

Fear of other cats in the household can be a normal and adaptive behavior, but can lead to more serious problems. Always take it seriously. Some fearful cats can show aggression which can lead to serious fights between the cats, potentially leading to serious injury. Other signs of fear are more subtle, and you may not immediately notice them happening. Fear can result in stress signs such as not eating, not using the litter box appropriately, hiding or over grooming or even getting ill. If you notice these signs in one cat, fear of the other household cats may be the serious stressor.

Even mild forms of fear, when not properly addressed, can evolve into serious anxiety related behavior problems or even illness due to chronic stress. It is important to assess and tackle any change in your cat's behavior right away. To address serious fear signs, work with a professional who can look at the context in which it happens.

Pay attention to your cat's body language. Fear behavior between household cats can be seen in cats of any breed, size, age, or gender, and can stem from many different types of stressors. Even what starts as play between familiar cats can also quickly turn to fear or aggression. A fearful cat may exhibit dilated pupils, ears turning back, or a twitching tail. In this situation, your cat may growl, hiss or swat at the other cats. Your cat may appear nervous and frightened and startle easily, trying to run and hide.

Always separate the fearful cat from the other cat to prevent worsening of the problem. Safely confine each cat to its own separate area. Watch their interactions closely when they are together. Only allow them in the same area if they do not exhibit the signs of fear listed above. Introductions can take a long time. Some cat-to-cat introductions go very smoothly. Others may take weeks or months before the cats learn to tolerate each other. The best thing to do is to go as slowly as necessary-don't rush the introduction. You are working towards a positive long-term relationship; being patient will pay off!

This document created by the San Francisco SPCA with a grant from Maddie's Fund®.

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