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I have a cat that is 12. She is really jumpy. Afraid of her own shadow. How do I fix her?

She was really happy in our old home. She owned the house, was allowed to sleep on the bed. Enjoyed laying anywhere.

We then briefly moved into my parents house while the sale of our next house went through and she had very little space. She still seemed ok though. She would find a spot and curl up. We didn't want her to go outside so she stayed indoors for about 8 weeks.

We then moved into our new house and our first child came along. The cat was no longer allowed upstairs. She often tried to sit on the child's things and was shoo'ed away. She was instantly scared of the kids crying. The kid could then sit. Every time our son saw the cat he screamed because he was so excited to see her. That scared her. Our son could then move and he would try to pet the cat but the cat was so scared of him she would always hide.

Our kid is now 2 and he just wants to gently stroke the cat. If the cat isn't on your lap being calmed with a lot of stroking she will panic when he gets within a few steps and jump down and hide.

The cat is weary of me. There was a time where she didn't want to go outside. I don't know what started this. It was a rainy outside. I think she just didn't like the weather and wanted to stay indoors.

When prompted to go out she would hide behind the sofa. I would pull the sofa out and she would freak out and run around the house to hide somewhere else. I would follow. She thought she was doing something wrong and get worked up and keep hiding. This lasted for about 3 weeks. She then got over it and went out but all that excitement has still left her a bit scared of me. If I move quickly or surprise her she will run off. This is like 10 months after this happened.

As you can imagine moving house was stressful. About 3 weeks after moving my partner had our son. The delivery went badly and she was stuck in bed for about 6-8 weeks while she recovered. Even after that it was about 3 months before she was herself again. It was a very stressful time and the cat wasn't a priority.

I feel the cat needs some confidence training and maybe her home needs to be adjusted to make her more comfortable and confident. Does anyone have any tips? I find her skittishness so annoying and would like to do something to make her feel like she did before we moved and had a child.

29,781 Posts
It sounds as though there has been a lot going on in your life, lots of changes,
upheaval, and some stressful times, and your cat is reacting to this. The contrast between her previous life when she lived in a quiet house, with a comfortable set routine, and the life she has led since you moved house and had a baby, must be quite huge to her.

Added to that she is a cat of senior years, and (like most of us as we get older) she is less well able to adapt to changes. So I think she is to be applauded for coping as well as she has done, I really do.

One thing I would like to say for starters, is if she hides because she is nervous, the absolute worse thing you can do is force her out of her hiding place. As you discovered it is very counterproductive to do so, as all it does is make her even more frightened than ever.:(

I think there is quite a way first to go in re-building your cat's self-confidence before it would be advisable to allow your young son to stroke her. And of course, as I am sure you are aware, a young child must never be allowed unsupervised access to an animal.

First of all, your cat needs to have some safe quiet places in the house
which she can go to when she wants to be alone, and where she can trust 100% no-one will disturb her. She has lost the special little places that she had made her own in your previous house, and now she needs to find some new ones for herself in your present house.

I am not sure why she is no longer allowed upstairs (?), but an ideal would surely be to allow her access maybe to one of the bedrooms in the daytime, as there is less likely to be much human traffic around the bedrooms then.
Then at night give her a cosy bed or chair on her own in the kitchen or sitting room. Anything that encourages her to feel safe and develop a sense of belonging.

Patience and kindness are going to be of the essence in helping your cat to become calmer and more confident again. Please don't push her to interact with you, but let her come to you when she wants to. Please don't get impatient with her, as she will definitely sense that and it will make her more anxious than ever.

If she approaches you warily, speak gently and encouragingly to her, and have some of her favourite treats to hand to offer her. Don't get hold of her or pick her up yet.

I know she is a senior cat, but I have had cats of her age who still like to play. So buy some wand type toys or dangly feathers on rods (such as Da Bird) and when the cat is in the room take the time every single day to sit down on the floor (so you are less threatening to her) and see if she will come and play with you. Play is a good way of building (or re-building) a bond with a cat. However, be prepared for it to take a while before she is interested in play, as she may be too nervous of you at first.

You could also try a Feliway Plug-in Diffuser, (providing no-one in your household suffers from asthma). This diffuses cat pheronomes which are calming to a stressed cat. But it will need to be plugged in 24/7 in an area where the cat spends most of her time.

There is also Zylkene, which is a supplement, a milk by product, which is good at calming cats and building self confidence. You can buy it online from pet pharmacies, or from the vet. There are no side effects and it is usually well tolerated.

However, I should stress that for your cat to really feel happier the Feliway and the Zylkene need to be used in conjunction with the changes I have suggested above.

Good Luck -- I do hope your cat begins to feel happier soon. :)

1,228 Posts
The poor cat has has so much change, it must have really upset her. A 12 year old cat is a cat in old age, so a pensioner would struggle with some of the changes, so you can see why this, along with your family behaviours, like being chased by a child; or from behind the sofa, told off for sitting in the wrong place etc, means that the cat feels pushed out and punished, and she may well benefit from being left for her to settle at her own pace. Also, the new house may have had a cat in previously, so it smells wrong to your cat.

My own cat, Bibi, is very timid, she is a rescue cat and was mistreated in her last home (and went missing too!) , so I have tried a few remedies, some worked, some didnt - none are instant fixes, but all can help.

Firstly, I'd recommend you read one of the Vicki halls books (Cat Confidential, Cat Counsellor) which can help you to understand why a cat behaves as it does.

There is a plug-in diffuser (Feliway) that emits pheromones that can help a cat to calm down. It is similar to the pheromones that a cat lets out when it rubs its head on you. This can take a couple of weeks to work, but doesnt work on all cats (I found it worked on one of my cats, but not my current one) - apparently it works on cats that like catnip.... There is also a spray, that you can spray on her bed, or other areas where you want her to feel safer....

I was recommended a cat food that contains Zylkene by my vet. Zylkene contains the same chemicals that a mother cat has in her milk to soothe her kittens. You can buy Zylkene over the counter or from your vet, but I found it easier to administer to a skittish cat as a food than in any other form. It is Royal Canin Calm vet food. This took a couple of weeks until I saw a massive difference, but the difference is significant enough to turn my cat into a cuddler, from a scaredy cat!

Does your cat have a 'safe' place - where everyone leaves her alone? (Bibi's is under my bed) If she has one safe place, she may then start to increase the area that she considers safe, to include outdoors when she feels at ease.

It's going to take time and patience I'm afraid, but keep posting, you'll get loads of support here
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