Helping Cat Overcome Fear Issues

CatChannel behavior expert Marilyn Krieger discusses ways to help cat correct litterbox problems, fear issues.

By Marilyn Krieger | Posted: April 30, 2010, 3 a.m. EST

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Q: Two days ago we adopted a sweet 3-year-old cat named Jerry who has a litterbox problem. He first developed this problem in his former home because he was stressed from their dog and small children. This unpleasant habit happened last night on our bed as well. In addition to the litterbox problem, he’s very afraid and has spent 90 percent of his time under my bed.

We confined Jerry in the bathroom with his litterbox. He used it, but now he is absolutely terrified again and won’t come near us. My question is what is more important right now — fixing the litter box problems or getting him comfortable? Can we do both? He’s a great cat and I think if we can work through these issues he’ll bring us a lot of happiness.

A: The same stress and insecurities that are causing Jerry to use your bed as a litterbox are those that are influencing him to be afraid of you. As he starts to feel safe and secure both issues should start resolving themselves.

It will take a little work and patience to change Jerry’s perception of his world from a frightening place to one of safety. As he starts feeling secure, his unwanted behaviors should stop. Start by giving Jerry his own quiet sanctuary room where no other resident animals are allowed. He will need to stay in there until he is no longer fearful and is socializing with you. The room needs to have comfortable places to sleep, food, water, tall furniture to climb on and at least two litterboxes. The litterboxes need to be large, uncovered and located in different parts of the sanctuary room. Place them in areas where Jerry can see the whole room. Do not put them in closets or other enclosed areas. Jerry will also appreciate places to retreat to when he’s feeling afraid. These can be cardboard boxes with soft towels inside of them, placed on their sides, facing the wall.

Share quiet times with Jerry in his safe room, sitting either in a chair or on the floor, talking quietly to him. Don’t force him to socialize with you by trying to pet him or by picking him up. The social networking schedule needs to be up to him. When he is starting to feel secure, he’ll make the first move. Food, being a very effective social lubricator, can help expedite his networking skills. Whenever you enter his room, lob a coveted treat to him. If he’s under the bed, throw the treat into his hiding place. Continue to give him treats as you sit in his room, reading or talking quietly to him.

Let Jerry make the first move. Instead of you approaching him, formally greet him by extending your index finger, at his nose level toward him. When he is feeling secure and safe, he will approach your finger and check you out.

Security, trust and safety are very important for Jerry. As he starts to relax and feel safe in his new world, he should start using his litterbox on a consistent basis and permanently venture out from under the bed.

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Reader Comments

Linda    Sparta, IL

5/10/2011 7:28:22 PM

We've had our cat Robbie 5 months now, and he still runs from us. There is just the two of us, (seniors)he will play with a toy but if we come in a room where he is he acts as though we are going to hurt him. We never have!! He was a stray taken to the HS and we adopted him. He even sleeps with us. Just can't figure him out. Gets me up to feed him and to play with him in the early morning. Puzzling!?!?!?


5/14/2010 1:26:46 AM



5/11/2010 3:12:35 AM


margene    Ft. Lauderdale, FL

5/4/2010 9:36:32 AM

We hope his loving owners help him, he sounds adorable. Dont give up on Jerry please!

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