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Scaredy-cat

Stavanger Savannah

Savannah Child
We have a lovely young female Savannah who came to us last Christmas as a 4 month old and rapidly acclimated to our home.

Since March of this year, when the harness arrived, we've been working on getting her outside as well. This however, has not gone as smoothly. She doesn't mind the harness at all (Mynwood Cat Jacket, highly recommended, btw), but is terrified of being outside. As far as any of us can tell, completely without reason.

We've taken things very slow, she's allowed to go back inside as soon as she wants and we don't drag her around the block, but rather let her explore. However, she doesn't seem the least interested in exploring, and instead finds the most sheltered spot under a table in a corner and cowers.

Every tiny occurrence makes her meow, her "oh my God I'm dying" meow. A puff of wind, a leaf rustling by, a bird flying overhead, cars, people waling by, etc. We live in a quiet residential neighborhood, not a lot of traffic at all.

We've tried using treats, she's completely uninterested in them. Same with toys. Tried cuddling and petting her, which she accepts for a few seconds before rushing back to wherever she happens to be hiding.

Now normally, I would expect an animal to acclimate and habituate to repeated exposure to the same environment (literally right outside the main door), and that's what concerns me, as she is as skittish and terrified of being outside today as the first time we took her out. No progress, no improvement. There haven't been any episodes where she's had reason to be afraid, no stray dogs (or any dogs at all) anywhere, and we're always right there with her, in addition to the fact that she can go in whenever she wants.

Thinking things over, she is a bit skittish in general and reacts to noises and sudden movements inside as well, and people we spoke with hinted that the breeder we chose bred skittish cats. We chose to ignore those rumors as the breeder has years of experience and we figured it was maybe just sour grapes from other breeders or their customers. Lately I wonder if maybe there may have been some truth it what we were told.

I've had a lot of cats, and have friends who have kittens and cats (no Savannahs, just mixes and a Bengal) and none of their cats act like our Mrs. Peel.

Summed up, it seems that our young lady has a complete lack of kitty self-esteem. She falls apart as soon as we open the door.

Has anyone seen anything like this, and more importantly, what did you do to deal with it?

Thanks!
 

Patti

Admin
Staff member
Sounds like a smart kitty to me who knows the great outdoors is an unsafe place. I'm wondering why you are persisting on trying to force her outside when she so clearly doesn't want to go? At least you'll never have to worry about her bolting out the door and running away! From what you've described she feels safe and comfortable inside the house, I would keep her where she feels secure.
 

Pam Flachs

Savannah Super Cat
I agree with Patti. If your girl feels safe in her own home...let her be. Not all Savannahs like the outdoors, just as not all Savannahs enjoy playing in water.

My F7SBT girl, our first Savannah, has never liked going outside, even for walks or the occasional photo shoot. She will not even go out on either of our enclosed porches, and we have never forced the issue as long as she is happy being where she enjoys it...inside the house.
 

Stavanger Savannah

Savannah Child
Hi Patti, Pam.

While I can see your logic, i.e. if she doesn't like being outside, don't go outside, it seems to me to go against "normal" cat behavior.

Besides that, I live in a very small flat, where opportunities for her to play and really stretch her legs are limited (she does bounce off the walls from time to time though), and I really think that getting her outside where we could play in a yard or park would be good for her. I just bought a DaBird, and it's too big to use indoors!

Other opinions besides "that's just how she is, accept it"?

Thanks for your feedback!
 

John Popp

Site Supporter
You can try several trips outside with her harness on and never letting her leave your arms and bringing her back in when she wants to. She may never ask to get down from your arms to explore although it will give her a sense of security when she is outdoors. From there you'll just need to follow her lead and as others have stated it might not ever come to be.

Lastly, really forcing the issue with her on the ground with a lead could end up in a bad situation where she does get really frightened and ends up backing out of harness. No matter how good the harness or how well attached, a frightened cat can back out of them and that could lead to disaster. So take it very slow and never let her leave the security of your arms until she's ready, although again that may never happen.
 

Stavanger Savannah

Savannah Child
Hi John,

thanks for your reply. In fact, she has backed out of her lead, once when we had first received the harness. Scared us plenty, but it was in a closed parking area and she went for the furthest, darkest corner. So it was easy to go and get her. Won't let that happen again! We're a lot more careful to get the harness properly fitted before we go out now.

I've done as you suggested many times, both holding her, and carrying her in a cardboard box she plays in at home and feels safe it. It has flaps so she can duck out of sight or pop her head up to watch, as she wants. The thing is, she doesn't want to be carried either. It's like she only trusts herself (which I suppose makes sense if you're a cat, you can't depend on anyone else to defend you).

We brought her and her box to a small secluded park about a block away where there are hedges and trees (and birds!), she ran under the hedge and spent time under there for the most part. When we sat under a tree she hid in her box. Apparently the other animals noticed her behavior, as the tree filled up with birds that seemed to be making fun of her as she cowered in her box and we petted and reassured her. We haven't gone back there as I don't want to put her through the indignity of being made fun of by a flock of sparrows ;-)

There is another small park and a churchyard a block in the other direction, we might try that later. Right now I guess we'll keep working on getting her acclimated and feeling safe around the front door.
 

John Popp

Site Supporter
It sounds like you have things framed properly and the rest will be up to her although it may never come to be. One other thing I might try is a dream machine with a variety of sounds to leave on while you're away. The great outdoors is a scary place not only with the sites, but also with the sounds and smells. Sounds that we don't even notice on our own can be terrifying for a cat and our boy still has a rough time when he hears a car. Dogs give him a bit of pause but he is incredibly curious about them and birds are why he lusts to be outdoors.
 

NikkiA

Site Supporter
Our boy Jarvis LOVES to sit in the window, especially when it is open and he can smell the smells through the screen, but he is scared of the great outdoors.
If we are in the back yard, he wants to be with us, but the sounds & smells are just a bit much for him.
It took him until about June to decide he was interested in going with us at all (Jarvis is a year and a half old).
When we know we are going to be going outside, we put his harness on him, and his leash, and we open the screen door to our back yard. We attach his leash to the railing just in case he gets scared and goes to bolt.
Then we go about our day, gardening, grilling, enjoying the patio etc.
He tends to come out, and lay down on the steps. We can't close the screen door, or he gets upset, so we leave it open.
He does not make it far, but he is getting more and more comfortable, and that is all that matters to us. If he gets scared, safety and security are only a foot or two away. We do tend to tempt him out further with food, but we do let him make his own decisions.

Our experiences carrying him outside have NOT ended well; both times, Mike ended up with some nasty scratches because Jarvis got scared by loud noises. Can you take her on to a patio by your flat?
 

admin

Paige
Staff member
The other thing you can do is buy a pet stroller...she may feel much safer in it, you can take her many more places and you can get out with her...but you may have to start very slowly by putting her in it in the house.

However...she may just be one of those cats that does not like the great outdoors...continuing to force her because it is what you think she needs or what you want her to do is not going to help her be less afraid, IMO...
 
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