boyfriend afraid of cats -- what do?

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boyfriend afraid of cats -- what do?

Post by fakely mctest on Tue Feb 24, 2015 1:05 am

So I have two lovely and wonderful cats. One of whom is drooling on my keyboard as I type this because they are both gross droolmonsters when they are super happy and purry. I also have a lovely and wonderful boyfriend who is more of a dog person but who has interacted with cats in the past.

In the manner of many cats, my personal cats aren't super into new people/change, even if they're sweethearts to me. They're not mean, but timid/standoffish with strangers.

As my boyfriend and I have gotten more serious he's spent more time at my place and now thinks he may have something of a mild phobia when it comes to cats. He says that, in particular, if they're moving about under the bed or otherwise making small noises he can feel his heart start to race. Unfortunately, his reaction is to make loud noises (he's sort of a loud, goofy person in general, which I love about him but is not suited to feline personalities and likes in general) or move around quickly. So this sort of exacerbates the situation because it stresses the cats out, which makes them hissy, and they are just not his number one fans. Most recently, one of them was hiding under the bed and broke a number of nails trying to attack his booted feet.

Anyhow, apart from basically keeping the cats and the boy in rooms separated by a closed door at all times: any suggestions for how to handle this? I don't know anything about phobias. If we just tried to spend some quiet time with the cats would that help or am I trying to rationalize a solution to an irrational fear?

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Re: boyfriend afraid of cats -- what do?

Post by reboot on Tue Feb 24, 2015 1:45 am

Maybe just some daylight time with him in the same room as the critters, allowing him to get used to their sounds? It might be more that he is afraid of things he cannot see making noises than cats specifically. Also, give him kitty ground rules (which are much the same as for skittish dogs): slow movements, talk to the cats in soothing tones, do not approach, let them sniff his hand, etc.. Also, if he is willing to part with one, ask him if you can hang onto an undershirt/t-shirt and put it in/near a cat snoozing zone. If they get used to his smell, they will get used to him faster
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Re: boyfriend afraid of cats -- what do?

Post by Kiskadee on Tue Feb 24, 2015 3:42 am

With the disclaimer that I'm not at all a therapist or an expert on phobias, this is actually something I have experience with! I have a pair of snakes (not for shock value, I've just always loved reptiles), and so I'm used to dealing with people who are afraid of my pets.

Of course, the easiest short term thing is to keep people/pets apart, but I'm sure you don't really want to do that as a long term solution. Is there any time of day your cats are quietest and calmest? If so, I would suggest the two of you spend time with them when they aren't moving around quickly and both human and cats may get less spooked. In particular, make sure you are there as a calm presence so that he doesn't do anything that makes the cats nervous, making them act in ways that make him more nervous. For the same reason, I would suggest not giving them a bunch of alone time together at first, if at all possible. You shouldn't ever push either of them or verbally downplay his fears - that seems unkind and counterproductive. Hopefully if things go well, they will at least get used to each other. Not a ton of stuff that I think you should actively do, just try to maintain a calm, nonconfrontational environment and don't put any pressure on your boyfriend to get over the fear right away.

There's some differences in the situations, but you'd be surprised how well this has worked for me, even with people who were actively phobic and were initially afraid to look at snakes. For a lot more details, there's a guide available online for people to support others who have animal phobias through exposure to the animal. Of course I can't find it know - sorry.

Good luck! It sucks when people/animals you care about don't get along.
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Re: boyfriend afraid of cats -- what do?

Post by KMR on Tue Feb 24, 2015 12:59 pm

My experience is from the perspective of one with a phobia, so maybe sharing my experiences will be useful. I have a mild dog phobia. Specifically, it gets triggered when a dog jumps on me (I just hate the feeling of it) or when a dog is running at me, which makes me think it's going to jump even if it ultimately doesn't. If a dog is calm and not jumping on me, I am generally fine around that dog, it just takes some time for me to be convinced that the dog is not likely to jump on me.

Getting more exposure to dogs and a better understanding of dog behavior has helped to reduce my phobia somewhat. I know that many dogs will try to jump on you when you first walk into their home, but will then usually stop jumping and calm down shortly after. So if I can get through the initial encounter, I know that I can generally relax after that. I know that if I give a dog too much attention, it'll get playful and might start jumping, so I try to avoid petting them too much (surprisingly hard to resist, even with my phobia, since I still think dogs are pretty cute and cuddly). So if your boyfriend is just not used to cats, it might be helpful for him to just learn some of the ways that your cats will typically behave and react. Heck, I've been a cat lover since I was a kid, but never having actually owned a cat, I used to be a bit apprehensive around them too thinking they might scratch me, and it took some exposure to other people's cats to really get used to them myself.

Since I know what my specific triggers are, the way I handle my phobia whenever I'm visiting the house of a dog owner is to just give some basic recommendations to the owners for what would make me more comfortable. In my case this generally consists of: 1) If you know your dog is likely to jump on a new person when they first come in, just hold it back until it calms down. 2) If your dog starts jumping on me, take quick action to call it off. Beyond that, it's up to the owners whether they want to let the dog wander freely or if they'd prefer to put it outside or in another room, but most will just leave their dog be and it's almost never a problem for me. As long as the owners respect my phobia rather than dismissing it (some people just don't understand and will say things like, "My dog won't hurt you, so there's no need to be scared") and don't try to push my boundaries, I'm fine.
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Re: boyfriend afraid of cats -- what do?

Post by InkAndComb on Wed Feb 25, 2015 11:13 pm

If you haven't invested in feelaway yet, please please do! I have similar kitties (made a post about this) and the difference was very noticeable.  I can't vouch for any of the 'relaxing spray" stuff (I read the ingredients and saw valerian root in many, so I think those types are more "make your pet sleepy, oh hey now they're less aggressive!"), but the one I got (plugin for the wall with oil/liquid that diffuses) contains the chemical that is released when you pet their cheeks. It's supposed to make them feel less anxious, especially with moving and stuff, and this may ease the cat-new-people-stress. Vet suggested it, works well, no side effects (except less dominance peeing, so yay!)

With my boyfriend, I did a few things to help with the hissing-and-friendliness; new cat toys.  The toys only come out when the SO is about, so the cats associate it with them.  I suggest "fishing" toys (long pole and string with dangly items, or bells, etc).  This way he has a proper distance from the cats, and can control where they are (this seems to set many of my skittish friends at ease with them). Cat dancers are good for this too!

Are your kitties indoor-outdoor? I will go out with my cats on the porch; they really enjoy this, and are too afraid to go far, but it makes them more comfortable with company. SO got his first pats in while being outside; kitties don't have established territory, so they will often be friendly to those around them (This MAY stress out the kitties if they aren't used to going in and out though.  As always, don't leave unattended if not outdoor cats).
 
Kitty-in-a-box: Cut out a hole for the cat to go in and out, but then cover the top of the box so this is their only exit/entrance.  Play with fishing pole toy, so you can hear the cat scooting around, but it will take time for them to get in and out (no unexpected cat surprises or hissing).  This will also limit exposure; if he's trying to adjust to sounds and stuff specifically, this could be helpful.

Catnip, if your cats don't get aggressive on it; I literally had SO dress in an outfit he didn't mind got dirty, had him lay on the ground on his back and covered him in this.  Kitties got curious, ended up patting him and sniffing, rinse-and-repeat.  This may be hard for the SO if he's super scared; usually a person is big enough for a cat to be wary, and having them as close to the ground as possible (and in a submissive pose no less) can ease their mind.  In addition, having them be wary might make him more aware that they don't intend any harm (logically this is a given but phobias can act up in different ways).  

Not a professional, but DO have grumpy/hissy/shy cats.  I hope something here helps! It took a year and a half for my SO to pet my grumpiest cat comfortably, but now he can even pick him up and my cat will favor him :I Kitties are silly
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Re: boyfriend afraid of cats -- what do?

Post by reboot on Wed Feb 25, 2015 11:23 pm

One big things for pet owners to remember as well is to aim for détente rather than love/friendship. Of course we would all love it if everyone loved our pets as much as we do, but the reasonable goal is peaceful coexistence.
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Re: boyfriend afraid of cats -- what do?

Post by fakely mctest on Fri Feb 27, 2015 1:15 pm

reboot wrote:One big things for pet owners to remember as well is to aim for détente rather than love/friendship. Of course we would all love it if everyone loved our pets as much as we do, but the reasonable goal is peaceful coexistence.

This is my goal, honestly. If he's able to make peace with them then they'll probably reach a point where they can just studiously ignore him. I think it's more difficult because they're only indoor cats, so they feel strongly about "their" space and any intruders in it AND they can't flee somewhere else entirely.

I really appreciate all the suggestions! I had to give the cat with the broken claws a bath yesterday to clean out his feet but that sort of thing is not what I want to do long-term.

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Re: boyfriend afraid of cats -- what do?

Post by InkAndComb on Fri Feb 27, 2015 6:44 pm

fakely mctest wrote:
reboot wrote:One big things for pet owners to remember as well is to aim for détente rather than love/friendship. Of course we would all love it if everyone loved our pets as much as we do, but the reasonable goal is peaceful coexistence.

This is my goal, honestly. If he's able to make peace with them then they'll probably reach a point where they can just studiously ignore him.  I think it's more difficult because they're only indoor cats, so they feel strongly about "their" space and any intruders in it AND they can't flee somewhere else entirely.

I really appreciate all the suggestions!  I had to give the cat with the broken claws a bath yesterday to clean out his feet but that sort of thing is not what I want to do long-term.

Pardon me if I missed this; have you considered nail caps already? They're a hassle so I haven't settled on them, but they were useful while I was training the new cat not to use the door as a scratching post.

Another suggestion, didn't think of this and I feel silly. Who feeds the cats? If he starts feeding them half of the time, they might view him in a more neutral light. This is what my SO did first to get the cats to treat him as part of the daily grind (oh, SO is up so it's breakfast. GF is serving so it's dinner, etc).
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Re: boyfriend afraid of cats -- what do?

Post by reboot on Fri Feb 27, 2015 6:55 pm

Hell, with my cat (the epitome of the tiny, clumsy, asshole ninja), feeding every time someone came over would buy some serious love and loyalty
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