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Does your feline pal shy away from loud noises? Do you often find them hiding under your bed after the doorbell rings or when you vacuum? Or maybe they pant or start to growl at you during thunderstorms or fireworks. Lots of cats are afraid of loud noises, but you can help your furry pal learn to cope with their fear, and even to ignore those scary sounds.
If you suspect your cat is afraid of loud noises, you may see signs of anxiety or fear when they hear them. A scared cat can exhibit specific body signs or many different behaviors, such as hiding, freezing in place, panting, scratching, or becoming aggressive with family members or other pets. It’s important to identify which noises are causing your cat to become anxious, so keep a keep eye on what particular sounds cause their fearful reactions.
Next, you’ll need to help your cat get used to those sounds with desensitization, a technique that exposes your cat to their fear gradually to help them feel more comfortable with it on their own terms. This process can be short or quite lengthy, depending on the cat, and relies on your persistence, patience and love throughout to reassure your cat and help build their confidence.
Often, desensitization techniques are paired with counter-conditioning, a technique that replaces your cat’s fearful association with the sound to a positive one, usually by way of delicious, high value treats. Together, these two methods can gradually replace your cat’s fear with indifference, and sometimes even curiosity.
It’s important to never use punishment while helping your cat overcome their fears. To do so runs the risk of the fear becoming worse, and could even cause your cat to fear you.
Kittens who grow up in a noisy household get lots of early exposure to loud noises, and are less likely to become fearful of them as they grow older. If you’ve been raising a batch of kittens, it helps to expose them to those loud sounds right away. Most of us, however, get our felines when they are over 8 weeks of age, or as adults, and don’t have any control over their early exposure. In these cases, following the methods listed below can be highly successful, as long as you go at your cat’s own pace.
Before you start the following techniques, however, you’ll need to create several safe places for your cat to go when they are getting too stressed. These can be in a quiet bedroom, safely above on cat trees or shelves, a cat carrier or crate, or even under furniture. Wherever your cat feels safe, be sure they have a clear path to it before you begin. If they have their own quiet room, it can help to put their food and water dishes, and litter box in there too. During the entire training process, be sure to always let your cat escape to a safe place when they feel overwhelmed.
The The Desensitize and Counter-Condition Method Method
Decrease the volume of the noise
Once you’ve identified the noises that scare your cat, choose one to work on first. You’ll want to start by decreasing that sound to find out what volume your cat is comfortable with. With radio, tv and recorded sounds, you can manually turn the sound down, and sometimes you can also do so with doorbells and phones. For those sounds that can’t be turned down, try muffling them with blankets or towels directly on their speakers, or under the door in your cat’s quiet room.
Increase the distance between cat and noise
For some things, like a vacuum, fireworks or sirens, you can increase the distance between your cat and the sound. If vacuuming, start by putting several closed doors between your cat and the vacuum to muffle the sound, or even an entire floor. For sirens and fireworks, start by closing the windows and shades, and put your cat in a room furthest from the sound.
Start with lowest scary volume
Once you’ve found the lowest volume that your cat can hear of the sound and stay calm, use this as your starting point. If the mere sight of a vacuum starts your cat’s anxiousness, start by running the vacuum out of sight. As you progress, you’ll be turning the sound up, or decreasing your cat’s distance from it during several sessions, but if they show any signs of distress, you should take a step back, or return to this base setting.
Add in positive reinforcement
Play the sound at the tolerable volume, and whenever your cat doesn’t react to it, give them a particularly yummy treat, a fun play session, or even a nice pet or massage. Be sure to only reward them for calm behavior after the sound has been played.
Keep increasing the volume or distance
Gradually, keep increasing the volume or distance to the sound, and watch your cat for any signs of distress. Again, when they remain calm, reward them with a treat or play session each time. If they become anxious, lower the sound or decrease their distance, and try again. This process will vary considerably from cat to cat, with some needing several weeks to get over their fear. Be sure to stay patient with your kitty, be acutely aware of their behaviors and stress level, and always take a step back when they are reacting negatively.
Once your cat can remain calm, and can eat and play during a higher volume of the scary sound, you can move on to other noises that cause your kitty anxiety. Start at the beginning and use the same technique for each one. Eventually, you can add in other factors, like multiple sounds at once, or different situations such as strangers in the house along with the sound. With each new fear, be sure to reward your cat for remaining calm after the sound is heard. Eventually, your cat won’t react to those sounds, and will even begin to ignore them completely.
The The Pheromone Method Method
Reduce overall anxiousness
In some cases, a fearful or anxious cat can develop chronic anxiety, and can remain on edge even when the sound isn’t being heard. They may anticipate the scary noise and are always ready to fight or flee. Cat pheromones are chemicals produced by felines that allow them to mark their territory, bond with others, and remind themselves that an object or place is safe. Synthetic pheromones placed around the home can reduce your cat’s overall anxiety and can generally decrease negative reactions to fearful stimuli, such as loud noises.
Using pheromones with other techniques
Place a room diffuser of cat pheromones in your cat’s quiet room, or near other safe areas to give them a sense of security long before you start playing noises to desensitize your cat. Wipes and sprays can also work on cat areas, blankets, beds, and carriers to maximize their comfort levels. Continue to use cat pheromone products while desensitizing and counter-conditioning your cat to give them an extra sense of comfort and safety.
By Kim Rain
Published: 08/18/2021, edited: 08/18/2021