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Why Is My Cat Scared of Strangers? 6 Possible Reasons (Vet-Reviewed)

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By Nicole Cosgrove

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Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Paola Cuevas

MVZ (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Cats are known for being less playful and social than dogs, but cats still generally like to be around people. Occasionally, cats may become scared of strangers, though. When this happens, you want to figure out why your cat is afraid of strangers so you can provide them with the safest and most relaxing environment possible.

Here, learn about six possible reasons your cat is afraid of strangers. These explanations can help you socialize your cat with people or at least desensitize them to people’s presence so they are less stressed out whenever guests come to your home.

Top 6 Reasons Why Cats Are Afraid of Strangers

1. Breed and Personality

It’s a simple fact that certain individuals are less social than others. Just as this is true of humans, it is also true of cats. Some breeds and individual cats may be wary of strangers for no reason other than they are introverted and prefer to be by themselves.

What to Do:

If this is the case for your cat, there’s likely not much you can do. You can try to desensitize them to keep them from becoming stressed, but you shouldn’t force them to do anything they don’t want to do. If their personality is to blame, there isn’t much you can do, anyway.

Image By: PDPics, Pixabay

2. No Early Socialization

Socialization is key to having a social, happy cat. The earlier you can socialize your cat, the better. Kittens that are exposed to different people and animals grow up to be social and comfortable around new people and animals.

If your cat was not socialized from an early age, it is likely that your cat gets nervous around strangers. In other words, your cat did not learn the skills they needed to socialize and feel comfortable with new people.

What to Do:

Although it’s better to socialize your cat as early as possible, socializing them at a later age is better than not really socializing them at all. If you know your cat needs socialization, slowly introduce your cat to new people and animals. Eventually, your cat will get comfortable as they become more familiar with them. Positive reinforcement presented by the newcomers can work wonders for this, though make sure it is offered only when the cat is calm and not stressed or frightened. If the cat looks curiously at the newcomers, have them gently toss the cat a treat; eventually, they will return for more.

3. Past Events

Cats have very good memories. If they were abused in the past, they likely will be hesitant around many people and strangers. They do this out of a sense to preserve themselves, and who can blame them?

What to Do:

If your cat is afraid of strangers because of some past event, it’s important not to make your cat feel stressed or pressured. Instead, try to create a relaxing and stress-free environment so your cat knows that they are safe.

Try to create new, positive memories with your cat instead. For example, invite a friend over who you know is quiet and gentle. Have that friend begin to feed your cat so they will start to learn that not all people are bad. This technique will take some time, but it will help to make your cat more comfortable around people.

Curious and Scared Black Sphynx Cat with green nails
Image Credit: photosounds, Shutterstock

4. Stressful Environment

Sometimes, cats don’t come up to strangers because the environment itself is stressful. Let’s say that you have a few people over, and your cat stays in your bedroom. You try to coax them out, but one of your friends is playing a guitar. Your cat might be scared about the novel guitar sounds, not the strangers themselves.

In other words, the environment is what your cat is avoiding, not the people, per se.

What to Do:

If your home’s environment is suddenly altered due to visitors or other reasons, make sure to provide your cat with a safe haven. For example, make sure there is at least one room that is quiet and peaceful so the cat can relax and recuperate from all the stress.

Additionally, don’t force your cat to socialize if the environment is stressful. This will only make matters worse.

5. Other Pets

Cats tend to be skittish around other animals, including dogs and cats. If the stranger has brought another pet or even smells like another animal, the cat may be wary of coming close.

In this case, cats aren’t afraid of the stranger. Instead, they are afraid of being approached by another animal that could harm or even kill them—their instincts are kicking in.

What to Do:

You should never force your cat to socialize with a stranger, especially if they have another animal with them or smell strongly of other animals. Allow the cat to approach the stranger (and animal) on their own terms. This way, the cat does not feel at risk or scared.

two american wirehair cat
Image Credit: Fernando Calmon, Shutterstock

6. Behavioral or Medical Problem

Occasionally, cats can be so scared of strangers that it becomes a behavioral problem. Other times, a medical issue is the culprit. For example, anxiety tendencies can be triggered by the presence of strangers or any other novel stimulus. Likewise, if your cat is suffering from some kind of discomfort, they might hide to avoid being touched, as it could cause them pain. These are less likely cases, but they are not rare or unheard of.

What to Do:

If you know that your cat suffers from anxiety or suspect that an illness might be causing pain or discomfort, call your vet right away. They will be able to determine if there is a medical problem and/or guide you on how to deal with your cat’s anxiety.

Tips to Desensitize and Socialize Your Cat

If your cat has an introverted personality or does not like strangers due to lack of socialization or past events, there are things you can do to socialize your cat now. Ultimately, the goal of desensitization is to show your cat that strangers are not a danger and that they may actually enjoy other people.

Here are some tips to follow when socializing your cat:
  • Do not harshly correct your cat whenever they try to run away or hide from other people. Yelling or punishing them will only make the issue worse.
  • Do not force your cat into a noisy or stressful environment. Instead, try to remove any noisy distractions and make the environment as stress-free as possible.
  • Allow your cat to meet new strangers on their own terms. Do not try to tease them in the process, and do not allow any other people to tease them either.
  • Use positive reinforcement with your cat’s favorite treats, encouraging them to come out of hiding whenever strangers come over.
  • Reward your cat for coming out but only if they are calm.
  • Be patient. Socialization takes a long time, especially if the cat is a victim of abuse.
  • Give your cat enough time to adjust to novelty situations.


Cats are generally more independent than dogs, but they still love humans. If your cat is very fearful around strangers, there is likely a reason. These six causes could explain why your cat is so afraid of strangers.

Once you figure out why your cat is afraid of strangers, try to desensitize them, and use positive reinforcement techniques to socialize them. This will help your cat live a less stressful life. Remember, be patient during the process, and understand that your cat is simply acting on instinct.

Featured Image Credit: Tung Cheung, Shutterstock

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