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What to Do if Your Cat Is Scared of Loud Noises (Vet Answer)

Bynewsmagzines

Feb 9, 2023
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The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Cats are known to have sensitive hearing. They perceive higher-frequency sounds than humans and likely hear noises farther away than we can detect. Despite this, cats are not born with a natural aversion to loud noises. Fear responses to specific sounds develop through life experience. If you have a cat who is scared of loud noises, apply calming strategies such as pheromones, calming supplements, or behavior modification, and have lots of patience.

divider-catUnfortunately, there is no “quick fix” for cats who are scared of loud noises. It is important to know that:

  • Helping a cat with noise this type of fear takes time and patience
  • Treatment often involves a combination of strategies (e.g., pheromones, natural supplements, medication, and behavior modification)
  • Every cat is an individual, so it may take some trial and error to figure out what works best for your kitty

The good news is that there are many ways to help a fearful cat! It is wise to seek help from a veterinarian, especially if noise aversion is new for your cat or their fear seems to be getting worse. Vets can suggest a variety of tools and strategies to help your feline friend feel less afraid.

cat-meowing
Image Credit: Stanimir G.Stoev, Shutterstock

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Why Are Some Cats Afraid of Loud Noises?

Cats are not born feeling naturally afraid of loud noises. Rather, certain situations contribute to the development of this fear.

Examples include:

  • Not being exposed to a variety of sounds as a young kitten
  • Forming a negative association with specific sound(s) based on a bad experience
  • Feeling vulnerable due to illness or pain
  • Changes in brain chemistry as a result of aging

What Are Signs of Fear in Cats?

scared British blue-point cat hiding under the bed
Image Credit: zossia, Shutterstock

Just like us, cats can experience different levels of fear, ranging from mildly anxious to full-on fight/flight/freeze mode. The organization, Fear Free Happy Homes, has created an excellent handout describing signs associated with different levels of fear, anxiety, and stress (FAS) in cats. A link to this handout can be found here.

Signs that your cat is experiencing FAS may include:

  • Dilated (wide open) pupils
  • Wrinkled forehead
  • Tail held close to or tucked under the body
  • Ears held to the side or pinned back
  • Breathing quickly
  • Flight response: running away (tail is often puffed up)
  • Freeze response: body is flat, tense, and immobile

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6 Ways to Help a Cat That is Scared of Loud Noises

As previously mentioned, it is a good idea to consult a veterinarian before trying to treat your cat’s fear of noises on your own. They can help rule out medical conditions that might be contributing to the problem, recommend natural calming products, prescribe medication (if needed), and explain how to approach behavior modification.

Here are some things that might help:

1. Create a refuge for your cat

A refuge is a safe place your cat can retreat to when they are feeling anxious or scared. These are some of the ideal features of a refuge:

  • Located in a quiet part of your home, away from people and other pets
  • Contains food, water, and a litterbox
  • Includes a raised perch, toys to play with, and a scratching post
  • Treated with calming pheromones (see next section)
  • White noise to help mask scary sounds (you can even play music that has been shown to decrease cat stress levels!)

2. Cat-specific pheromones

Pheromones are chemical molecules, detected by a special structure called the vomeronasal organ, which sends signals to the brain in response. All species produce their own unique pheromones.

When treating fear and anxiety in cats, we use pheromones that promote feelings of calm and comfort. Pheromone therapy is extremely safe so this is an excellent place to start! Veterinarians commonly recommend Feliway products, which can be purchased without a prescription.

Start by plugging a diffuser into an outlet close to the floor, in an area of your home where your cat likes to hang out. Some owners notice changes in their cat’s behavior within the first week, but it is a good idea to use the product for a full month before deciding whether or not it is helping.

Some cats respond well to pheromone therapy alone, but more often, it is used in combination with supplements, medication, and behavior modification.


3. Natural calming supplements, prescription diets, and probiotics

There are a variety of supplements available to help nervous kitties, which harness the natural calming effects of ingredients like L-theanine, L-tryptophan, and alpha-casozepine. Examples include Zylkène, Solliquin, and Anxitane. They are all considered very safe and should not sedate your kitty, but always consult your veterinarian before giving your cat a new supplement (even a natural one).

There are several prescription diets available that have been formulated with calming ingredients. Examples include Royal Canin Calm and Hill’s c/d Multicare Stress.

Purina ProPlan Veterinary Supplements offers a calming feline probiotic supplement in a palatable powder form that is simply sprinkled on your cat’s food once daily.

As with pheromones, some cats will show more improvement with these products than others. It may take a few tries to determine what works best for your kitty. Natural products tend to be most effective when used in combination with other strategies.

SSRI class of drugs medication used as antidepressants
Image Credit: Sonis Photography, Shutterstock

4. Calming clothing

Calming clothing is designed to wrap pets snugly, with a gentle pressure intended to create a feeling of safety. There is currently not much evidence to support its use in cats, but many dogs respond well and it is certainly worth trying! A popular example is the Thundershirt.

Be aware that the sound of a Velcro closure could trigger a fear response in sensitive kitties, and be careful to ensure your cat’s fur does not get stuck in the Velcro!

If your cat reacts by standing completely still and refusing to move, this could be a “freeze” response (indicating a high level of FAS) and you should remove the clothing right away.


5. Anti-anxiety medication

For some cats, the previously mentioned strategies may not be enough to help manage their fear. Panicky feelings are not fun for anyone, including our feline friends, and brains in a high-FAS state are not able to respond to behavior modification.

Some medications can be used as needed, or given in anticipation of a stressful event (like fireworks or a thunderstorm).

Cats who also suffer from other fears or general anxiety may benefit from long-term medication. These often take several weeks or more to build up to effective levels in the body, and may require monitoring of your kitty’s liver and kidney function to make sure they are not negatively impacted by the medication.

Your veterinarian will be able to provide more specific recommendations for your particular cat.

vet checking up the cat
Image Credit: YULIYA Shustik, Shutterstock

6. Behavior modification

Behavior modification should be undertaken with the help of a Fear Free Certified veterinarian or professional trainer.

  • Desensitization involves exposing your cat to recordings of the sounds they are afraid of, at a level that does not trigger a fear response. Over time, the volume is gradually increased until your cat no longer reacts to the loud noises. If, at any time, the cat starts showing signs of FAS, the volume is decreased to the previous level that did not cause a reaction.
  • Counter-conditioning refers to pairing a pleasant stimulus (food, affection, play) with an unpleasant stimulus (in this case, loud noise). It is used in combination with desensitization.

Behavior modification requires a lot of time and patience but, if done properly, can be very successful.

divider-catWhat Not to Do

It is important to mention strategies to avoid if your cat is afraid of loud noises, as some of these actions could make your cat’s fear worse and negatively impact your relationship with them.

  • Never scold or punish your cat for behaviors resulting from fear.
  • Do not intentionally expose your cat to loud noise for a prolonged period of time to try and get them used to it (this is called flooding and can make their fear more intense).
  • Avoid following and hovering over your cat when they are exhibiting FAS, which may be perceived as an anxious behavior and increase their fear response.
  • Do not assume that the fear will get better on its own (untreated fear and anxiety tend to get worse over time).

divider-catConclusion

It can be very upsetting to see your cat in distress! If you have a cat who is scared of loud noises, do not wait to seek help. With time, patience, and a combination of strategies, it is possible to reduce their fear and improve their quality of life.


Featured Image Credit: Helen Bloom, Shutterstock

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