Q & A: Scared of strange people

Q: I have recently adopted a cat and want to know why she is scared of strange people?

A: There are many reasons why a cat may be afraid of strangers. Lack of socialisation with people at an early age is a common factor, especially in cats who have been adopted and may have a feral or stray background.

Poor experience is another possibility – cats who have had negative encounters with people will understandably seek to avoid similar experiences.

Health could also be a factor in that a cat suffering from illness or pain may not be able to cope with added pressure of encountering new people. This would also apply to cats suffering from general stress or anxiety, either chronically or acutely.

Ideally, you should consult with a qualified cat behaviourist to assess your cat’s behaviour and her environment in order to pinpoint potential stressors that could be having an effect, and to provide you with a unique treatment plan to build your cat’s confidence around people.

In the meantime, it’s essential to respect your cat’s fear and not force her to interact with people in any way – this will only serve to heighten her fear. Rather, she should be provided with a safe place where she can comfortably stay away from people and not encounter them by accident.

Keeping a few tasty treats handy can also be useful – if your cat ventures out, you can quickly reward her for her brave behaviour. Treats should not be used to lure cats towards strangers though, as this can backfire.

Katherine Brown, behaviourist

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