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Fear of Sudden Movement
By Karen Sueda, DVM
Why is my cat fearful of sudden movement?
Cats may be fearful of sudden movement for several
reasons. Many cats have a timid personality. They
startle easily, even with apparently mild triggers. Also,
sudden movement – such as uncrossing your legs,
standing up, or reaching toward them – may be in-
terpreted as a sign that you are about to interact with
them. For fearful cats, interacting with a human is not
always a pleasurable experience. Finally, shy cats can
be intimidated by a person staring directly at them,
facing them head on, or standing over them.
How can I make my cat more comfortable with sudden movement?
One way is to use the behavior modification techniques called desensitization and
counter-conditioning. (Please refer to the resource called “Using Behavior Modification to
Help Your Cat” for general information about these training techniques.)
Prior to starting the behavior modification techniques, it may help to make your move-
ments as slow and deliberate as possible. Ask other family members and visitors to do
the same. The type of movement that your cat fears may be difficult to avoid, but try to
be as conscientious as possible. Avoid looking at your cat when you engage in these
movements or have someone else distract your cat with a treat or other positive inter-
action. It may be necessary to restrict your cat’s access to areas of the house where
sudden movements are likely to occur (e.g., the living room when friends come over to
watch the game, the kitchen when you are cooking, busy hallways).
How do I use behavior modification to make my cat less fearful?
You will get your cat used to sudden movement by starting with a level of movement
where your cat feels “safe” and then gradually increasing the speed or size of the ges-
ture until your cat is no longer afraid when you move quickly. To do the exercises, you’ll
need treats, toys or other rewards for your cat. You may also need the help of a