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New Scaredy Cat Behavior :-(

post #1 of 10
Thread Starter 
Hello! I am the proud mama of Linus and Lolabel - a brother and sister pair that I adopted about a year-and-a-half ago. They were found by a rescue organization on the streets of Harlem as young babies and were fostered by a wonderful and loving woman from whom I adopted them at the age of 4 months.

I fell in love with the pair of them immediately - aside from the fact that they were irresistably cute, Linus was particularly affectionate and it drew me to both of them instantly.

Since I've had them, Linus has been the mama's boy. He's the first to greet me at the door, follows me everywhere I go, sits on my lap, sleeps by my head. Lola is more reserved, but always stays nearby.

Recently, I've noticed a behavioral change with them, and I'm not sure what to make of it. Linus has suddenly become a pretty fearful cat. He spends his time hiding under a chair or under my bed and no longer comes running when he hears me move. When people come over, he immediately runs to his hiding place and will not come out until after they've left - not even to eat.

Also, when I come home, there is one added detail to our usual greeting routine. Typically, he is the first at the door, sticks his nose out as I open it, jumps up on the counter when I enter and butts his head against mine as long as I will allow it. He will then follow me around my home until I am seated somewhere and he can be on my lap. This behavior has not changed, but now he does it all with a puffed-out tail. His tail continues to be held high, but it is completely puffed. I don't know what this means.

Lola's behavior change has not been as drastic, but she appears to be taking advantage of Linus' hiding absences to sit next to or on me (which I'm very much enjoying considering in the past she has generally preferred a bit more distance).

I can assure you that these are two of the most well-cared-for and loved cats. They are precious to me and I treat them with nothing but tender loving care. I have never yelled at, punished, or hurt them in any way and neither has anyone that I am aware of.

I don't understand this new behavior or what I should or can do about it.

Any expert advice would be greatly appreciated. I'm worried about my poor little scared baby!

Thanks so much!
post #2 of 10
How long has this new behaviour been going on? Perhaps he got freaked out by something or a noise while you were out and may need a little time to get over it.
post #3 of 10
I don't have a lot of advice but obviously something scared the living crap out of them in your home. Either someone that came there or something new that may have changed in the home. Have any new people come over lately? Has anyone come over lately that was left alone with the cats? Maybe someone unintentionally (or intentionally) did something to scare them or hurt them badly enough. Think about all these things and see if anyone comes to mind.
post #4 of 10
Staci -

Thanks for pointing out your question to me. I am going to ask what I feel is the most obvious question. Do you live in an apartment where someone might be able to gain access to your apartment when you are not at home - landlord or maintenance? Did anyone come over to care for them while you were out of town?

I would say that this kind of sudden change might indicate someone has been in contact that has frightened him for some reason. If not - call the Ghost Hunters.

Maybe some other members has had the same experience with their cats and could give their input. I just can't imagine what would make him so fearful even to come out while you are there and no one else . If he acts this way only when others are around then perhaps he has not been conditioned enough to having company?? Just taking stabs in the dark here....
post #5 of 10
Thread Starter 
Yes, I do live in an apartment building in the city, and my super does have a key, but he does not (to my knowledge) ever enter my apartment without informing me. And at those times, I have always been present.

I haven't been out of town in some time, but the only people who have cared for my cats in my absence have been my trusted friends, who are also cat-owners and lovers, and the woman from whom I adopted them. This is probably a moot point, however, as I haven't been away in a long time and this behavior is only a few weeks old.

Linus will come out when I am alone, but it is much less frequent, and although he continues to be very affectionate, and sleeps with me at night, he spends increasingly more of my waking hours at home in hiding. If I come to coax him out, he will usually come, but his stance is less than comfortable.

Both of them have been socialized with guests fairly regularly, and up until recently were generally quite comfortable with it. They continue to be at relative ease with people who are regular visitors and familiar to them, but will not socialize with any stranger.

I'm also very confused by the addition of Linus' puffy tail in our daily greeting routine.

I would NEVER let anything bad happen to them, and have never witnessed anything bad happen to them. It makes me sad to see my cat so timid in his own home :-(

I don't know what to do.
post #6 of 10
Thread Starter 
Nothing has changed in my home, and no one (that I am aware of) has been in their presence and harmed them in any way. I CERTIANLY would not tolerate that. This is their home, and anyone who were to come here that made them uncomfortable in their own home would be quickly shown to the door.

I do think it possible that the fear was caused by a sound, perhaps. My apartment overlooks a courtyard where there is sometimes loud work going on. I'm just unfamiliar with a fearful sound resulting in cat's avoidance of people. Although I suppose it's possible....
post #7 of 10
I surely understand how upset you must be...it's terrible to see your kitties so frightened. Two thoughts:

When my Clydie was a baby, he and I lived for awhile with my parents in a house with an alarm system. One night, the alarm malfunctioned and the siren went off at 2:30 in the morning. Clyde dove under the bed and stayed there in wide-eyed terror for hours. Several times, he came out and curled up with me again, only to get nervous and scurry back into hiding.

And from that night forward, Clyde was always edgy and nervous in that house. Not until we moved into our own place months later did he really relax.

Also: a friend of mine had three indoor/outdoor cats, but one day last year, a stray dog grabbed and killed one of them in the presence of the other two. Neither of the two surviving kitties was touched during the attack; they only watched it happen. Yet both refused to go outdoors for months afterward, and their personalities changed significantly -- from playful to wary, fearless to timid. It's been over a year now, and they still aren't themselves. (Understandably.)

So maybe some sort of alarm went off in the building, or maybe they witnessed some violence outside a window...? I submit these as possibilities, but the truth is, I'm inclined to think that it's something more direct. Like some of the others who responded, I suspect that someone came into your apartment while you were gone and scared the kitties silly. Maybe an exterminator?

Or...gosh, is it possible that someone else in the building has brought in a pet whose scent is upsetting them?
post #8 of 10
Are they neutered? If they are not, this could be an explanation for his behaviour. When a cat is going into heat or is hormonal, they can become much more jumpy and skittish than usual. Not only that, but you have a male and a female, and they could be influencing each other hormonally. It may also explain his fluffed-out tail.

However, if this is not the case, then something has frightened your cat badly, and you will need to find out what it is. Here is an excerpt from a paper on cat communication...

`The other easily recognisable tail signal is the upright bottle-brush tail. This indicates that the cat feels seriously threatened and has become defensively aggressive i.e. it would rather get away, but if provoked it will defend itself. The tail doubles in size and the hair on the cat's spine also stands erect (pilo-erection). As well as indicating the cat's state of mind, it makes the cat look bigger than it really is in an attempt to make the aggressor leave it alone.'

Here is the link to the article - perhaps in there something may sound familiar and help you to recognise what it is that's frightened him so.

post #9 of 10
Thread Starter 
Thank you both for your replies! Linus and Lola are neutered/spayed, so it's not that. the more I think about it, I'm inclined to think that it is a response to a loud noise rather than of someone being in my apartment. While it is possible that my super came in unattended, I tend to have a pretty sharp sense of things and can tell when someone has been in my home (no one leaves everything untouched, and what they touch is never quite in its place).

I like your suggestion, CarolPetunia, that another animal's scent could be the culprit. My Super just got a new cat and this cat lives in the courtyard, which is just beyond my windows. Perhaps that is it. I'll try closing my windows and see if the behavior changes.

Thanks for the article Sarah. I've actually read quite a bit about cat communication and tail expressions and was aware that this posture could be one of aggression. However, in this case, the hair on his spine is not erect and his behavior is that of affection. Maybe it's just an anomaly, but given his recent fearful behavior, I thought there may be some significance that he now brings to our loving ritual a puffy tail. Still not sure what to make of this one.

Anyway, this gives me a couple other avenues to explore and see if I can make my baby feel safe again.

Thanks so much!
post #10 of 10
since you can't ask the kitty why they are afraid i think that maybe you could just do what i did with my kittys. i had cats that were afraid...really afraid they were ferals. i had to throw a blanket on them to try and hold them. but after i did the ttouch massage for cats on them for a while they were fine. maybe you could try that. good luck.
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