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My Cat Is Scared Of Something I Can’t See (Learn Why)

If your cat is scared of something, but it’s not obvious, you may be wondering what it is…

What things can scare a cat?

Actually, quite a lot more than you think! Open spaces, for instance, make kitties uncomfortable, and it makes sense from a predator perspective. One of  the reasons that cats are excellent predators is that they know how to sneak in, undetected, and lack of cover makes that hard.

Changes to an environment that they are familiar with can also make cats wary, as well as other people or new animals. Cats are very schedule-driven creatures of habit and when their environment changes, even a little, this can stress them out or even make them a little frightened.

Think of it as if your cat was in the wild and someone or something made changes to the area where they were sleeping – that’s a pretty good reason to be afraid, it just seems odd to us when we see this behavior in a safe, warm home.

What are the signs of a terrified cat?

A person carrying a grey cat.

A person carrying a grey cat.

While your cat just seems like a maniac when they are frightened, that’s only because you need to know what to look for. Let’s take a look at various kitty body-language cues and what they mean.

What dilated eyes tells you

Dilated pupils are signs of one of two things – they can mean that your kitty is frightened or that they are quite excited about something that they see and are preparing their approach.

You’ll need to factor in some of the other body language cues to determine which, but if your cat’s eyes go almost all black then you know that something has their attention.

If the ears are flattened

Flattened ears indicate fear, although whether this will drive your cat to run or to attack depends on your kitty. When the ears are slightly ‘crooked’, this indicates worry and concern, but not yet terror.

It’s Freezing up

Freezing up is usually a fear reason. Rather than the basic ‘fight or flight’ response, your cat is remaining still in hopes that whatever has frightened them will not notice them. This works quite well when a cat is outside, but looks quite peculiar in the house.

Its hiding away from you

If your cat is hiding all of the time, then they are definitely afraid of something. Take a note of the context when this occurs. Is it when guests are present?

Are you playing with a particular tech toy or holding anything that might frighten them?

This behavior is common in rescues, who may have had a less-friendly home before they came to yours, so keep in mind that objects you consider friendly may not have the same associations for your kitty.

Acting more aggressive

Some cats run and hide when they are afraid, but other cats know that they have teeth, claws, and acrobatic skills and they prepare for WAR. Needless to say, don’t approach your kitty at this time, though you can toss a treat nearby to help calm them.

Take careful note of your surroundings and try to determine what has your kitty on edge but do not touch them at this time – you’ll likely get a scratch or a bite for your troubles!

What are the most common things to scare a cat?

To identify what has gotten your cat wound up like a tight spring, it helps to have a basic understanding of things which commonly frighten felines. Let’s take a look at some common triggers for kitties to give you a baseline to draw from.

New smells

A sphynx cat in front of a plant.

A sphynx cat in front of a plant.

Cats are geared towards scents, perhaps more than any of their other senses. This is why your cat rubs against you and their furniture – scent glands on their bodies and their face mark what they touch with the cat’s familiar, and thus comforting, scent.

Their olfactory senses are actually 14 times sharper than ours, a useful skill for a predator in finding prey or in noticing when another predator may have found their ‘camp’. Due to this, even striking a match can produce a scent that will alarm your cat until it dissipates!

If your cat is frightened lately, try to rule out new scents, such as scented candles, new items, and the like.

Weary of strangers

Cats are very particular about who they like and who they dislike and they are also sticklers for habit and daily routine. Any change in their environment, even something like moving the furniture around, makes them wary until they adjust to it.

New people are even scarier.

If you are having friends over that your kitty doesn’t know, put a treat box nearby so that your friends can introduce themselves positively to your cat. This will help for the next time that they visit – just understand from the cat’s perspective, anyone new is potentially dangerous, so it’s natural to be wary.

Nature is unforgiving and animals that instantly trust a stranger often end up in their bellies!


Cats have a heightened sensitivity to vibrations as well. If you live near a place with a train or subway station nearby, your cat might well notice it. This is the reason why you always hear stories about cats hiding well before an earthquake starts – they’ve been feeling those tremors well before we even notice them.

Fear of predators

If your cat sees another kitty out the window or a passing dog, then they might well raise their alert level. They don’t understand that the doors are safely locked, only that there was a predator nearby and that they need to be wary of a possible attack.

Fear of new objects

Cats loathe change and are very set in their ways, much like furry senior citizens. Anything new in the environment, even moving existing items around, makes them uneasy and puts them on their guard.

Nowhere to hide

Wide-open spaces aren’t endearing to an apex predator at all – after all, there’s no place to hide to sneak up on prey or to hide in an emergency! If your home has a lot of empty space, consider a few kitty towers strategically-placed to provide your cat with ‘hidden’ vantage points. They’ll feel a whole lot safer.

Fear of physical discipline

Even if you don’t get mad and chase your cat around the house, if you’ve got a temper and your scent and body language reflect it, your cat might think that you intend to harm them. Try to stay as calm as possible, even when your little one comes whizzing out and attacks your legs.

For them, this is just play and completely natural, so always try to keep your cool when your cat gets a little ‘crazy’.

How can you keep a cat relaxed and calm?

While it can be hard to guess what is stressing your cat, there are a few basic tactics that you have at your disposal to help calm down a ‘fraidy cat’ and make them feel more at ease. Let’s explore some simple, but effective options!

Give it some space

Sometimes your cat is just overstimulated and the best thing that you can do is to leave them alone. Go to a different room for a while and this will give your cat one less thing to keep track of. Left alone, your cat may calm down a little, or simply move to another less-imposing room.

Keep it away from scary cats

If your cat is getting frightened easily lately and you see them at the window all of the time, then you might just have a neighborhood cat visiting your yard.

Close the blinds tight to make it harder for kitty to look out or if you have curtains, close them and consider even taping them in place with something that won’t harm the material, such as masking or painter’s tape. This should help your kitty worry less that another cat might sneak inside to ‘get them’.

Expose it to its fears then treat it

If your cat is scared of something in the house, then your best bet is to approach it head-on. Shut the door of the room so that your kitty is ‘stuck’ and then start the distraction! Playtime, treats, and even catnip can help your kitty relax in the presence of whatever is scaring them.

Enough exposure will show the cat that no harm comes to them and over time, they’ll become less and less afraid and start to accept this ‘scary stimuli’ as normal, expected, and harmless.

How can I find out what scared my cat?

Identifying what is scaring your cat can take a little time. Start off by determining a few basics. Is it occurring at a specific time, for instance?

If so, what are you doing at that time? Is it in a specific room? One room-specific item that often scares cats is a ceiling fan.

When identifying what might be scaring your cat, keep in mind that their enhanced vision doesn’t always associate things the way that the human mind does. This is why they think that a laser-light dot is solid, and they’ll chase it around, time and time again, even though they never catch it.

In the same way, shadows from a ceiling fan along with that ‘sudden breeze’ that they feel and the stirring-up of scents in the room can freak a cat out! In all fairness, it’s creepy from that perspective, if you don’t know that turning fan blades are supposed to circulate air and generate shadows.

Just be patient with the process and try to think of things the way a cat would. Once you identify what is scaring your kitty, you should be able to help, it will just take a little time.

Why does my cat act like she sees something?

Throughout the ages, cats have had a reputation for being animals that straddle the border between the everyday world and the supernatural.

Aside from their predatory grace and ability to sneak up on just about anyone, a large part of this reputation comes from cats seemingly seeing or even chasing things that aren’t visible to us. There is actually an explanation for this through a condition known as feline hyperesthesia syndrome.

Symptoms include:

  • Dilated pupils and fixed glances into ‘space’
  • Sudden hyperactivity, often resulting in aggressive behavior
  • Mood swings
  • Excess salivation
  • Vocalization
  • Hallucinations, most specifically chasing or running away from something ‘invisible’ to us
  • Over-grooming, sometimes to the point of bald patches

While we don’t fully understand this syndrome, it tends to kick in when kitties are adults, and it’s believed to be related to excess electrical activity in the brain and the spine. Some cats with extreme FHS even have the occasional seizure!

It is also believed that it might be a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder for felines, due to the excess grooming and fixation on specific spots on the wall or certain rooms. The best thing that you can do to help is to destress your kitty as much as possible.

Feed them on a clockwork schedule, so that they stress over food, stock up on toys to keep them interested, and have a lot of one-on-one playtime. This helps them to exercise their natural predatory urges, chasing that feather duster or laser pointer, and this also tires them down a little and helps them destress.

Finally, consider getting another kitty to keep them company – especially if you have an active nightlife. Cats get stressed even when you leave for a surprise trip to the store, so a constant companion can help to balance this out so that your cat isn’t on edge when you leave them alone for errands or socializing.

Do cats hallucinate naturally?

Normally, no, but on catnip… that’s another story. Under the influence of this popular kitty treat, some cats do indeed appear to be experiencing visual and even auditory hallucinations.

They’ll chase things that aren’t there or jump at sounds that we can’t hear, and because they are obviously having fun, we tend not to think about it.

Interestingly enough, somewhere between 30 – 50 percent of cats have no reaction to catnip at all, but the ones that do – well, it tends to be quite noticeable.

The hallucinogenic effects seem to only affect older kitties, as most cats under 2 months simply seem to feel relaxed and females seem to be more sensitive to it than males. While we’ve isolated that sensitive to a dominant autosomal gene,  that’s about the size of what we know about catnip and kitties to date.

If you haven’t given it to your cat yet, wait until they are at least 2 months old for the first introduction. This will let you know if you can expect a dramatic response and if so, you can take catnip off the menu if you think it prudent.

Why is my cat running around like a maniac?

Believe it or not, there is a scientific term for this behavior. FRAPS, or ‘frenetic activity periods’ are sudden energy bursts that kitties get at seemingly random that drives them into crazy-seeming actions. Your kitty might run up the stairs all of the sudden or start jumping at things that aren’t there – for no discernable reason.

This is completely normal and many cat owners refer to it with their own term of ‘zoomies’.

When your own kitty has zoomies, it may be an indication that they need a little more exercise, so whip out the rubber ball for them to chase or your trusty laser pointer and help them to work out some of the frantic energy. You should see a notable decline in the zoomies!

Lindsey Browlingdon