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Fear of Sounds
By Karen Sueda, DVM
Why is my cat fearful of certain noises?
Fearful cats are often alarmed by certain sounds,
such as the doorbell ringing, someone knock-
ing, the vacuum running, or a heavy item being
dropped. Some sounds, such as the doorbell
ringing, signal that other frightening events (e.g.,
visitors arriving) are about to occur. Other noises
are loud, sudden and unexpected (e.g., the
vacuum revving up). Because of their underlying
fearful or anxious temperament, “scaredy cats”
may not recover as quickly as other cats or may
display an exaggerated response to these sounds.
How can I make my cat more comfortable around these sounds?
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.)
Before you start the exercises, you’ll need to prevent reinforcement of the anxious
behavior. So, you’ll want to provide your cat with a “safe room” to go to before the fear-
inducing sounds occur. The safe area should be an out-of-the-way location, such as a
back room, where the sound of someone knocking or the vacuum running is muffled.
Your fearful cat should feel calm and relaxed in the safe area. Depending on the duration
of her stay, the room should be set up ahead of time with comfortable resting areas, a
bowl of water and a litter box. Once you’ve put your cat inside, provide her with a special
food treat, interactive toy or food-dispensing toy to distract her and create positive as-
sociations with the muffled noises that will come through the door.
Depending on the noise that your cat fears, you’ll want to prepare her for the exercises
by doing the following for a period of time:
Knocking or doorbell ringing. A few minutes before guests arrive, take your cat to the
safe room. It may help to ask guests to call you as they approach your home so they do