Will two San Jose scaredy cats ever overcome their fears?

Will two San Jose scaredy cats ever overcome their fears?

DEAR JOAN: This past December, we adopted two kittens — 3 and 4 months old — from an animal rescue.

They seem to be easily startled at noises and are reluctant to be picked up at times. I’m wondering if their state of high alert for noises and sudden movements will decrease over time.

Is this something that they were taught as very young kittens when they were out in the world? The only history I know is that they were found in separate parking lots as young kittens, taken to the animal rescue people and then put in foster care until we adopted them.

— Cheryl T., San Jose

DEAR CHERYL: It’s a scary world out there, and cats are naturally cautious creatures. Living outdoors, cats learn as kittens to be wary of loud noises, sudden movements and strange creatures, including humans. All of those things can be harbingers of danger and approaching predators. It’s not unusual for any animal, but especially cats, to be a little jumpy in new surroundings..

Cats may eventually become less skittish, but in most cases, unaddressed fearful behaviors will increase as they get older. Fortunately, there are ways to make them less afraid.

It appears you already know what startles your kittens, but to know if there are other things, look for clues. When startled or fearful, your cat might freeze in place and hunker low to the ground. They might run away and hide, or become very defensive by going on the offense – hissing, spitting, scratching and biting. Their eyes may widen and their ears twitch, as they search out warning sounds. If you observe these behaviors, look to see what triggered it.

The best way to help your scaredy cats is to provide them with places of safety. Create dens for them by tipping an open box on its side and filling it with blankets or towels. Some cats prefer to go high. I had a cat that would escape to the top of the refrigerator when he was frightened. Install shelves they can safely navigate or purchase a tall, sturdy cat tree.

Some cats will seek your protection and comfort, others just want to be left alone. Let them decide and don’t try to force interaction.

Some vets recommend aversion therapy – exposing the cat to its fear and then providing comfort and support. Others say that only heightens the fear.

As the kittens mature and learn they can trust you completely, that might be enough to ease their fears, but the best thing you can do is try to minimize their exposure, respect their boundaries and keep loving them.

DEAR JOAN: Regarding your recent column on horse racing, I’m hoping you’ll add a postscript.

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You mentioned that the horses are highly-social animals, but failed to note that they’re generally kept singly in isolated stalls when not racing or training.

Some 2,000 horses die on American racetracks every year. Clearly, this “Sport of Kings” should be outlawed nationwide; rodeos, too.

— Eric Mills, coordinator, Action for Animals, Oakland

DEAR ERIC: Thanks for the addendum. Your organization works tirelessly toward the protection and well-being of animals, and I appreciate that.

Animal Life runs on Mondays. Contact Joan Morris at AskJoanMorris@gmail.com.