Cars, bicycles, runners, and dogs are some of the MANY things that could be scary for your cats outside, and it is inevitable that they will encounter them while out exploring. Cats are very sensitive to sound and smell, so they could be spooked by any unfamiliar activity or objects nearby. Then, what should you do when your cat is scared and anxious during their cat adventures?
The goal for us adventure cat owners is to prevent the worst outcomes when your cat is terrified, which may be redirect his/her aggression towards you or even escape from the harness.
When Archer first started his adventures, he was scared of all types of noises; ranging from cars to baby strollers passing by. Of course, the scariest thing for almost all cats are DOGS! They are always sharing the path with us, and would definitely be showing up on our adventures.
Being an adventure cat owner, my first advice for you is to STAY CALM in situations of fear or anxiety. If we cannot keep our heads clear when our cats are struggling, it would be difficult to support and guide them to ensure they feel more comfortable and confident.
Now, here are some steps on how to handle your cat in a stressful situation outside.
Step 1: Observe your cat’s body language.
It’s important to pay attention to your cat and know when they’re feeling uncomfortable. Cats usually indicate their fear or stress by arching their back and fluffing up their tail. Sometimes they would even lower their body, and lay flat on the ground like a pancake! However, the worst case is when they freak out and try to run away. As a result, observe your cat’s body language to assess the level of fear he/she feels at the moment, so you could manage the situation accordingly.
Step 2: Keep a safe distance and stand in between your cat and the target.
Pay attention to your surroundings so that you could prepare a safe distance between the target and your cat. The target could be things of concern; such as, dogs, bicycles, wild animals, or sudden noises. Redirect your cat to the side of the path, and maintain a distance between your cat and things of concern. Act as a barrier between the target and your cat to make him/her feel more comfortable.
Step 3: Hold the leash tight and get closer to your cat.
In times of fear, your cat may try to dash off to a certain direction to avoid the scary things. Hold the leash tight in your hands, and tug the leash slowly to bring your cat closer to your body. This action would help your cat to feel more assured since you’re there for them, and will allow you to react appropriately when they are within your arms reach.
Step 4: Lower your body to the same level as your cat, and gently stroke them.
As you have the leash tight in your hands with your cat right by your footsteps, lower your body to be at the same level, and gently stroke your cat’s side and back to instate confidence. Also, speak softly with words of encouragement so your cat could associate the activity as a positive behaviour.
I do this with Archer, every time he feels nervous, to help him be more confident in similar situations. As soon as I pet him, he would feel more relaxed with his tail perk up again.
Step 5: If your cat continues to struggle, pick him/her up and put inside safe space.
Finally, if you are unable to keep your cat calm and composed in the situation, immediately place him/her in the safe space, like a backpack or travel carrier. Wait until your cat is comfortable with the environment before continuing with your adventure.
Sometimes, even when we try to encourage our cats to stay calm, their natural instinct may still take over to exercise the fight or flight situation. If you feel that the circumstance may be out of control, ensure your cat is in an enclosed space to reinstate his confidence.
Whenever I anticipate something scary is approaching, like an excited dog, I would immediately pick up Archer, and place him on top of his cat backpack to keep him out of reach. As the cat backpack is his safe space, it will help him to calm down quicker.
It is VERY normal for a cat to be stressed or scared when there are unfamiliar noises or objects. As a result, do not be discouraged if your cat still feels anxious or stressed, even after you have attempted your maximum effort. The truth is, even though Archer has been on adventures for over a year with an extensive experience exploring the city and nature, he still feels nervous by some sounds.
In addition, you could help your cat to feel more confident in uncertain situations by bringing them to a variety of places for more exposure . Just remember that our role as a cat owner is to provide guidance in times of uncertainties, and ensure they have the confidence for the next adventure!