Why is my cat scared of men?

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Does your cat seemed to be wary of certain people? Behaviourist Francesca Riccomini advises...

(Q) We adopted our rescue cat Tammy eight years ago. She has always been nervous and will not tolerate brushing or spot-on treatments. More recently she has become very unsociable, especially around my husband. If he raises his voice she darts under the bed.

In the mornings she goes to him for a fuss - but as soon as he comes home from work she goes under the bed and won't come out until he has settled down to watch TV. Tammy rarely goes out, and will only play with me for a few minutes with her dangly toy. What can we do? We just want her to be happy!

Behaviourist Francesca Riccomini says: Retreating is normal feline behaviour when faced with something 'unnerving'. By the sound of it, Tammy didn't have the right early experiences to become confident around people. This may be the reason for her reaction to your husband, as many pets only encounter women early on and therefore find men quite scary.

It may help if your husband talks quietly to her and gently drops treats close to her to create positive associations. It's important that Tammy isn't trapped into stressful circumstances but allowed to retreat. Hiding in dark and/or elevated places is the feline ideal. Ensure there are a number of hidey-holes around your home - boxes, tunnels, igloos and radiator beds are all useful.

If she prefers to spend time alone, don't worry. The worst thing would be to impose attention on her. Offering attention in a hands-off way as you do with interactive toys is excellent; although as many cats have a very short attention span in this respect, brief interest can still be satisfying. Being handled upsets many cats because they feel 'trapped'.

The key here seems to be predictability, as Tammy is less stressed by your husband's presence in the morning and in the evening when he has changed out of work clothes. Just letting Tammy hide until she has adjusted to him being home is ideal, and it may help if you use Feliway as well.

Change around the home could explain her increasing nervousness so minimize changes in the layout, scent and noise elements of your home. When you decorate, or have guests for example, it's likely there will be an effect on Tammy. Again, provide hiding places and use Feliway to help. You could also talk to your vet about a prescription 'calming diet' for cats.