One of my cats will avoid any central parts of the house or run through them very quickly. He also runs in fear any time someone walks into the room he's in or if he hears voices at the front door. His favorite spots are secluded dark corners or under blankets (He climbs up into them on his own).

I've speculated a few unique causes (vision and memory) though I don't think either are the issue in this case as the issue is only temporary.

It's kind of sad because he actually loves to be pet more than any cat I've seen (more than my other two). In the midst of comfortable slumbers he sheds his fear impulses and actually welcomes people to come and pet him (rolling around showing his belly, stretching, etc).

He is about 2 years old now and was a highly sociable rambunctious kitten but even at his young age he did exhibit some odd flight patterns. We initially kept him in a bedroom alone while we introduced smells and presence to our other cats who were full grown at the time though still young. When we entered the bedroom we often had to search for him and it wasn't unless he was nearly sound asleep that he was ever out in a visible space. He always came around very quickly so I didn't think much of it at the time.

Even now if I peruse him from his fear-flight he almost always gives in and in fact wants to be snuggled/pet (nudging with his head/purring/rubbing against legs) but it is always his initial reaction to run in fear as fast as he can. He often ends up back in the bedroom usually on the bed.

Typically whenever anyone else comes over (not all that frequently) he won't budge from the corners and is even more terrified of the new people (so not all people are equally terrifying at least). He often won't let them pet him and stares unblinkingly thinking the worst is about to happen until he eventually bolts.

Are there ways to improve his anxiety reflex so he can feel safe/unafraid while walking around and more importantly while seeing people? We (my girlfriend and I) treat him with nothing but love and try to bring him out into the more open spaces when possible but he never stays for very long unless we make him a blanket tent or something similar.

He used to actually come to us sometimes but nowadays he will only ever interact with us when he wants food or sometimes to play but never for snuggling/sleep/company. Our other two cats will come for attention, will sleep near us or in our laps, etc.

He also often runs under the couches to hide. Neither of our other two cats do this at all.

I am also quite tall so I think that may have something to do with it but I'm not about to start crawling around everywhere. Shoes are more terrifying than socks.

  • What are interactions between the 3 cats like?
    – Mazura
    Commented Oct 7, 2014 at 8:00
  • They sleep together and play together. Pretty much always positive/not fearful.
    – Enigma
    Commented Oct 7, 2014 at 13:36
  • Has he ever been stepped on? When you scruff him does he submit (roll over)? Have you recently rearranged furniture or had your house professionally cleaned? Girlfriend reports same behavior when you're not home?
    – Mazura
    Commented Oct 8, 2014 at 3:11
  • never stepped on to my knowledge. he submits easily even when not scruffing him. like i mentioned, it is just an initial reaction. nope, nope and yes she also sees the same thing.
    – Enigma
    Commented Oct 8, 2014 at 3:39

5 Answers 5


Here are some suggestions that may help:

  • When he runs, don't pursue him. Your pursuit reinforces his behaviour.
  • Don't disturb him when he's hiding.
  • Put a cardboard box or something else he can hide in near your sofa (or wherever you relax). This can help him get more comfortable with being near you.
  • When he does make an appearance, don't make a big fuss. You can greet him, but then go back to whatever you were doing.
  • Try lying on the floor and coaxing him to come to you (perhaps with treats). You don't have to do this a lot, but it will help in the beginning.
  • When he does come near you, don't reach out and pet him without warning. Instead, extend your hand as a request to pet him. If he walks away, that's a "no", so respect that. If he stays close, that's "yes". Reach out slowly and pet him. Early on, he may flinch even if he stays put. I'd treat that as a "yes", but approach extra gently.
  • When you pet him, try not to bring your hand down from above. Put your hand down at his level, and then move it toward him. Imagine if you had a friend that was 10 times your height. Even if you trusted this friend completely, you'd flinch if he brought his hand quickly down toward you!
  • Don't "pat". Stroke him, scratch the chin and around the ears, and if he lets you, rub his tummy.
  • If he allows you to pick him up, do so as gently as if he were the most fragile, precious thing in the world. Cats really appreciate exaggerated gentleness.
  • When people come over, ask them not to try to pet this particular cat. It will interfere with your training him.
  • The blanket tent is a great idea!
  • 2
    Good stuff here, I would use a pet carrier with the door off, instead of a box for the 'safe/hiding' spot near the sofa, as it simplifies Putting a cat into a carrier issues. Commented Oct 6, 2014 at 17:16
  • I would add that with the treats, just sitting next to him while he's eating out of his food bowl should help.
    – Spidercat
    Commented Oct 6, 2014 at 17:17
  • He actually loves the carrier. He essentially lived out of it when we first got him. (may not have helped)
    – Enigma
    Commented Oct 6, 2014 at 17:45

I like the answer above. But part of it is missing the point which is the cat's fear of strangers.

You need to begin making strangers a positive association.

You can do this by having the stranger offer a small treat- the cat's favorite cannot refuse treat. Do not have the stranger get too close but close enough that the cat can see the stranger offering the treat. The cat will be weary of course. Just have the stranger offer the treat then put it down and back off. A few kind, gentle, and softly spoken words are in order.

If and when the cat approaches the stranger later, then follow the answer above. Be sure not to make it too much of a big deal. The cat may run away again. But do have the stranger say hello to the cat gingerly. If you have a phrase you have used in the past like -it's okay- that reassures the cat, use that.


Your cat's fear could be caused by a number of factors. mhwombat has some reasonable advice on interacting in a calm way with your cat. He could have bad learnt associations with people, and since you can't get him to talk to a psychiatrist about his kittenhood the best you can do to fix that is to be safe and calm people - unfortunately this means letting him come to you, rather than you (ever?) going to him first.

It sounds like he doesn't feel safe. Retreating to particular favourite dark corners could be a sign that he doesn't consider much of the house to be his territory.

You should always talk about significant behaviour problems like this to your vet. Otherwise if it gets worse you might end up dealing with scratching, urine in the wrong places, or a cat that runs away.

If he is stressed, and it sounds like he is, then Felliway may help. Its a sort of pheromone (imperceptible to humans) that diffuses like a plug in air freshener and makes the cat feel safer - just as if the cat had marked the house as his own super safe territory. Ask your vet for their opinion - they may recommend it.


My redheaded step child won't sleep with me either, for fear of unceremoniously being asked to leave by the other one. Be sure there isn't an underlying domestic dispute going on.

How should you pick up a cat?

The best way is to put one hand under the cat’s body behind its front legs, then support the back legs and hindquarters with the other hand. That way the cat is fully supported and comfortable. Many cats held in this way will enjoy putting their paws on their owner’s shoulders.

To see if mine want to be picked-up, I lift their front legs about 4 inches (10 cm) up off the ground, palm under the breast plate, thumb nocked on a leg. Proceeding slowly, I always allow them to deny me scooping them up by jumping over if they really want to. After a while of doing this, they learn to lift a hind leg into your awaiting other hand. It is a lot of bending, but I absolutely detest when I see cats being manhandled (as do they). To prevent unnecessary bending, I do Frankenstein-grabby-hands above them. They either run away or give me the go-ahead.

Every time you pick them up this way is an exercise in trust. In that they learn escape is always possible and that nothing bad happened last time because you:

Never contain them to yourself, no: "Hey I'm petting you now. Where do you think you're going?" Also, cats over-stimulate easily (some times in seconds) and even light petting is enough of that after a while.

My friend's dominant cat hides every time from me, while the other couldn't care less either way. People don't come over much so it's kind of an event. So long as yours is getting a healthy amount of interaction from both of you, and he plays well with the others, this is perfectly acceptable normal (adult) cat behavior.

Changes in behavior are to be watched carefully. I'm a little unclear as to when and how this began, and its suddenness. Never having met him and not being a vet myself, I hesitate to merely suggest that he grew up. It seems he was always a little skittish, now he's just less submissive and more independent.


In addition to the other (very good) suggestions, you can talk to your vet about anti-anxiety medications. We put our shy girl on Amitriptyline for urinary cystitis, and it had the unexpected side effect of making her a lot less anxious about our day-to-day moving around the house. She even let a stranger pet her (for the first time in 6 years).

Amitriptyline can be made into a dermal gel by a compounding pharmacy, so you won't have to stress your cat out additionally by forcing a pill or nasty liquid into his mouth.

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