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Why you shouldn’t scare your cat?

Cats are often seen as aloof and independent pets, but the truth is they are just as sensitive and emotional as dogs. Cats form strong bonds with their human families and can easily become frightened or stressed when scared unnecessarily. There are several important reasons why cat owners should avoid purposely startling or scaring their feline friends.

Cats Have Sensitive Natures

Cats are often perceived as cool and collected, but they actually have very delicate sensibilities. In the wild, cats are prey animals that rely on their ability to detect threats in their environment. This gives them a strong startle reflex when surprised. Even domesticated house cats retain these instinctual responses and have sensitive natures. When a cat is suddenly frightened by a loud noise, unfamiliar object, or quick movement, it causes an involuntary stress reaction. Their heart races, blood pressure rises, and stress hormones flood their system. Repeatedly inducing this reaction by scaring them intentionally can cause anxiety, mistrust, and other behavioral issues.

Scaring Cats Can Lead to Aggression or Withdrawal

If a cat associates being scared with the presence of their owner, over time it can damage the human-animal bond. The cat may start avoiding contact with the person who startles them and hide whenever they are nearby. Or the cat may react defensively to being scared by hissing, swatting, or biting. Neither response is healthy, and both are signs your cat doesn’t feel safe in your presence. While it may seem harmless to surprise your cat for fun, the cat doesn’t understand you are joking. To them, you become an unpredictable threat in their environment.

Cats Remember Negative Experiences

Cats have excellent long-term memories, especially related to threatening or upsetting experiences. While dogs tend to live in the moment, cats have strong associations between past events and current circumstances. Scaring your cat, even one time, can make them wary, anxious, or reclusive long after the incident. Cats may hold a grudge and remember those who have frightened them intentionally. Even if you only meant to surprise them playfully, the cat will only recall feeling terrified at the time. Repeated scares can profoundly impact their personality and comfort with their living situation.

How Cats Show Fear

Cats display body language signals that indicate when they are feeling frightened or threatened. Being able to recognize these signs of fear will help you avoid actions that unduly scare your pet. Some common ways cats show they are afraid include:


When cats feel unsafe, their natural instinct is to seek cover. A scared cat will hide under furniture, in a closet, or in small enclosed spaces away from the fear stimulus. Hiding provides them a sense of security. If your cat is suddenly hiding more often for no apparent reason, something may be scaring them frequently.


While some cats flee when frightened, others will go on the offensive and show signs of aggression like growling, swatting, biting, and arching their back. This is a defensive reaction meant to make themselves appear scarier to the perceived threat. Scaring a cat repeatedly can provoke aggressive responses.

Urination Outside the Litter Box

Stress from being scared can cause some cats to lose control of their bladder and urinate outside the litter box. Inappropriate urination is sometimes a sign your cat feels anxious or unsafe in your home. It’s important to determine if a medical issue or environmental stressor, like being scared by their owner, is the cause.

Excessive Grooming

Over-grooming to the point of removing fur and irritating the skin is directly tied to anxiety and stress in cats. If your cat is obsessively grooming despite being otherwise healthy, think about any actions that may be frightening them regularly.

Dilated Pupils

When a cat is startled, its pupils will suddenly dilate to let in more light and increase visual information. Pay attention to your cat’s eyes to see if they suddenly dilate in response to certain noises or movements that may be unintentionally scaring them.


These vocalizations are clear warnings a cat feels threatened and defensive. Scared cats use these sounds to make themselves appear tough and deter an enemy. If your cat hisses or growls in reaction to being scared, it’s a sign to stop the behavior immediately.

Scaring Cats Causes Undue Stress

While an occasional startled reaction isn’t a major concern, purposely scaring cats repeatedly can negatively impact their wellbeing. Stress takes a physical toll and should be avoided when possible. Some consequences of chronic stress for cats include:

Weakened Immune System

Stress releases the hormone cortisol, which can suppress the immune system and increase susceptibility to illness or infection. Scaring your cat regularly essentially exposes them to frequent and unnecessary stress.

Gastrointestinal Issues

Prolonged stress is linked to inflammation and gut sensitivity in cats, potentially leading to vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, and reduced appetite. These issues can cause malnourishment and dehydration.

Urinary Tract Problems

Under stress, the sensitivity of a cat’s lower urinary tract increases. This makes them prone to disorders like cystitis and urethral obstructions, especially in males. These conditions can be life-threatening.

Compulsive Behaviors

Cats feeling unsafe may develop repetitive, compulsive behaviors like excessive grooming, tail chasing, or sucking on fabrics. These habits indicate underlying stress.

Territorial Marking

When insecure about their environment, cats may mark territory with urine and feces outside the litter box. Scaring them repeatedly can provoke this undesirable behavior.

Attention Problems

Stressed cats can suffer cognitive deficits including lack of focus, disinterest in training/play, and altered social interactions. Frequent fearfulness inhibits their mental stimulation.

How to Build Trust with Your Cat

If you’ve already scared your cat and now want to regain their confidence and trust, there are techniques you can try to repair your relationship.

Give Them Space at First

Don’t force contact with a frightened cat. Let them approach you when ready. Moving slowly and sitting quietly in their presence helps them become comfortable again.

Avoid Sudden Movements

Make your body language predictable by moving smoothly when interacting with a wary cat. No quick gestures or grabbing at them unexpectedly.

Associate Yourself with Good Things

Give your cat tasty treats, new toys, catnip, or other rewards when you are around so they link your presence to positive experiences.

Establish a Routine

Feeding, grooming, and playing with your cat at consistent times makes you seem less erratic and builds confidence.

Use Calming Pheromones

Plug-in diffusers with synthetic feline pheromones promote relaxation and can soothe cats in stressful situations.

Consider Medication Temporarily

In extreme cases of fearfulness and anxiety, your vet may prescribe anti-anxiety medication or supplement for a short period.

Be Patient

It takes time to regain a frightened cat’s trust. Let your cat set the pace for handling and interaction as their comfort level improves.

Use Care When Surprising Your Cat

Sometimes cats get startled by accident, which is unavoidable. But when intentionally surprising your cat, extreme care should be taken to avoid frightening them excessively. Here are a few dos and don’ts:

DO: Surprise them only occasionally

The element of surprise should be rare so it doesn’t lose its impact. Too much repetition also heightens anxiety.

DON’T: Use loud noises

Banging pots, clapping loudly, or shouting can terrorize cats and damage their hearing.

DO: Withhold food playfully

Hiding part of their food or treats and having them search for it can be an engaging form of surprise.

DON’T: Wake them abruptly

Let sleeping cats lie. Being woken suddenly disorients them and provokes defensive reactions.

DO: Hide and seek

Having your cat try to find you around corners builds their curiosity. Reward with praise or pets when they do.

DON’T: Knowingly exceed their limits

You know your own cat best. Avoid provoking extreme reactions indicative of real distress.

DO: Use toys or cat teasers

Wiggling a toy while out of sight and bringing it out for them to pounce on is fun surprise.

DON’T: Scare them intentionally

Any form of purposely trying to scare your cat risks damaging your bond and their mental health.

Provide a Stress-Free Home

In addition to avoiding scaring your cat unnecessarily, make sure your cat’s whole living environment is free of stressors that could be frightening them without your knowledge. Here are some tips for a stress-free home:

Separate Food and Litter Box

Cats don’t like to eliminate near their food. Have multiple boxes in quiet, low-traffic areas.

Give Them Vertical Space

Have cat trees, wall shelves, and high perches available so they can climb and get away if needed.

Maintain Consistent Routine

Keep regular schedules for feeding, grooming, playing, and other care to promote security.

Limit Loud Noises

Use rugs and curtains to absorb sound. Don’t yell or punish with noise.

Give Them “Me Time”

Ensure your cat has places to hide and be alone when they need a retreat.

Use Pheromones/Supplements

Plug-ins, sprays, and supplements with anxiety/stress-reducing effects promote calmness.

Don’t Ambush Them

Pet delicately and give them a chance to recognize you before approaching to prevent surprising them.

Consider a Cat’s Perspective

Stepping into your cat’s paws and seeing things from their perspective can give you greater empathy for their experience and fear responses. Some insights to keep in mind:

Your Size Relative to Them

To a cat, humans are giants who could easily harm them if we wished. Yelling/lunging at them exploits this size difference.

Lack of Control Over Their Lives

As pets, cats are dependent on us for all their needs. Scaring them on purpose violates this trust.

Different Language Cues

Cats communicate differently than humans through scent, sound, and body language. Your verbal explanations of tricks or jokes go over their heads.

Their Hardwired Instincts

Sudden movements and noises trigger their innate prey drive and fight or flight response before they can logically process the situation.

Unpredictability is Dangerous

They rely on environmental consistency for safety. Sporadic scares teach them that nothing is reliable.

Keeping a cat’s-eye-view in mind increases your sensitivity to their needs and vulnerabilities. This understanding can guide you in building the mutual trust and respect that forms the foundation of a loving relationship between cats and their people.


Cats may appear to be aloof creatures who don’t desire much affection or connection. But in reality, cats are profoundly affected by their human families. They bond closely to their owners and need stability and security from their home environment. When a cat is purposely scared or startled, it has real physical and psychological consequences. Their stress response kicks in, and they can become fearful, anxious, and mistrustful. Scaring your cat repeatedly or excessively can damage your relationship long-term and affect their health. While an occasional surprise may go over fine, making a habit of startling, sneaking up on, or scaring your cat can have serious detrimental effects. With understanding and empathy for cats’ vulnerabilities and needs, you can maintain a home where your feline friend feels safe, comfortable, and free to express their inherent lively and loving nature. The bond between cats and their people brings mutual joy and companionship when based on trust and respect.