SPCA New Zealand
Advice & welfare

Ask a behaviourist
Why is my cat acting strange after being outside?

My cat Toby came home really stressed out last night. He didn’t want to be touched, and sat alone in a dark room all night. He is much better this morning, but why was he acting like this?

When cats go outside, there are so many things that can happen to them without us ever knowing. Toby could have got a fright, been chased by a dog, had a near-miss with a car, been scared by fireworks, or been in a fight with another cat in the neighbourhood.

It’s likely that Toby felt trapped or had a fearful event, and that’s why he came home distressed. Just like a person who has been stressed or scared, Toby needed time to calm down. If this happens again, the best thing to do is give Toby space to calm down. Allow him to retreat to a quiet room, and play some music to help him relax. Make sure that you let Toby choose when he’s ready to leave and interact with you again.

Remember that you can’t reinforce fear by comforting, so do offer pats and cuddles. Just don’t take it personally if he doesn’t want them, and don’t force affection on him. In some cases, the fearful event can be so stressful that cats can be distressed for several days, or even weeks. In these circumstances I suggest that you watch his behaviour and ensure he is eating, drinking and toileting normally. Check Toby doesn’t have any physical wounds and that he’s not in pain.

If you have any concerns, see a vet sooner rather than later. If you’re worried about any of these things, or if his distressed state continues into the following week, seek veterinary attention. Also note that when cats are fearful or in pain they can be aggressive, so be careful.

Have you got a question you’d like Dr Jess Beer to answer? Please email it to animalsvoice@spca.nz and it could be chosen for our next column.

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