Screaming Cat Freak-Out

So Tink was out on the deck today, sniffing around around in the leaves, and she finds this one spot she got really curious about. Lots of up-close sniffing, whiskers a-twitching, the tail going and everything. There’s been a fat squirrel raiding the birdfeeders, and I think that’s who she smelled — but unfortunately, Zeugma came up right beside her just when she was sniffing this odd scent, and startled her terribly, so much so that Tink hissed at Zeugma and bolted inside. Zeugma, apparently thinking it was a game, gave chase, and before I could follow, there arose from the living room an absolutely unholy commotion: not just yowling or growling or spitting, but screams like I’ve never heard cats make, like as loud as people screams. The screams were still going on when I got in there, Tink with her ears flat back against her head and her tail all bottle-brushy, and Zeugma — having realized that it wasn’t a game — spitting back with the Halloween-cat arch and bristle. They tore off into another couple circuits around the apartment until I was able to scoop up Zeugma and close her in the bedroom. Tink was hiding under the kitchen table, and she started screaming at me — really, it was scary how loud she got — as soon as I came in the room, so I backed off, and she dashed behind the dryer, where she hid all afternoon, growling when I got too close.

I felt horrible to have her so scared of me. When I was young, there were times when I was that terrified of my dad.

Tink usually eats around six, so I waited until six thirty or so to rattle some food into her dish. After some coaxing, she came out and took a couple bites, and calmed down enough to let me carry her into the bathroom with the food: I thought with a small, dark, enclosed space she’d feel a little more secure and protected. She seemed OK, until I went to get her litter box, and when I brought it in she shrank back from me, screaming, ears back flat, into the tub, and — this is the part that upsets me most, because it tells me how scared she was — voided her bladder. I got out of there as quickly as I could and closed the door.

So Tink’s in the bathroom, making the occasional growl or caterwaul, and Zeugma’s in the bedroom, mewling about how lonely she is. I let her out of the bedroom briefly, but she started to pass by the bathroom door and Tink screamed from behind the door and Zeugma’s tail puffed up and she fled for the living room.

A couple hours later, Tink started asking to be let out of the bathroom, and high-tailed it for my office when I opened the door. Still, she’s hissed at me each time I’ve come into the room, although having me nearby and non-threatening seems to embolden her enough to come up and ask for a belly rub after a while. She’s pretty clearly still freaked out, though. And Zeugma is lonely and confused and begging for attention.

They’re about a year and a half old now, and the only time anything even close to this has happened was when I brought them home from the vet after they’d had shots and they were nasty to one another for a couple days. But never this bad: Tink’s never, ever screamed like that. So I’m worried. And wondering how I’ll tell students tomorrow, “Well, I don’t have all your papers graded because my cats were going psycho.”

31 thoughts on “Screaming Cat Freak-Out

  1. kirill

    Woah Mike, cats are always fun but at rare times they do freak out. I’m fortunate enough to never having any of my cats wail at me like that, but I do remember reading a thread about one such case a while ago. Usually if you leave them alone and provide them with food and water, the problem goes away in a day or two. So don’t worry about it too much, cats have bad days too.

    Oh, how are they with bathing?

    Reply
  2. Mike

    Well, far as bathing goes, they smell just fine, and they’re inside cats, so there’s not much opportunity for them to roll in stinky stuff: I haven’t had to bathe them yet.

    I think the biggest part of the problem, aside from the squirrel-scent, is that Zeugma got in a good claws-out swipe at Tink, and gave her a scratch on the flank. They’ve both given me worse when playing, but I think Tink was pretty startled.

    Still, Tink’s finally decided that I’m OK and she wants to be my friend again. The only problem is that being my friend means she gets to lie down on the grade book.

    Reply
  3. joanna

    Poor cat. Is she back to accepting your other cat, or are you having to keep them apart? Watch how they interact for a few days.

    Reply
  4. michelle

    Oh man! How traumatizing. When B separated from the AF, we returned to Little Rock with our two cats, and stayed with his parents for three months while we house-shopping. His parents, although never abusive, hated the cats, and the second cat never recovered from the experience; forever timid and skittish afterwards.

    Hope she’s better soon and they reconcile.

    Reply
  5. Mike

    Not yet, I’m afraid. Last night, there was a brittle and tentative peace between the two of them, and even a couple nose-kisses and butt-sniffs, until I tried to move the litter boxes back to their original places. Zeugma got underfoot while I was carrying one and made me overstep and stumble and put my foot down too loudly, which startled her and made her hiss, which made Tink scream, and then they chased one another around again all a-bristle and spitting until I put them in separate rooms.

    I’m hugely frustrated with them: with Tink for being such a neurotic freak, and with Zeugma for being so gleefully willing to escalate.

    I can’t believe I’m wasting so much of my time with trying to cool them down. God, I’m whipped.

    Reply
  6. joanna

    Put a few drops of Bach’s Rescue Remedy in their water and see if that doesn’t help calm them down. They’ll gradually sort things out, so it’s really a question of calming them down a bit so that they break out of that chain reaction.

    Reply
  7. Michelle

    Don’t beat yourself up over your compassion for your pets, man. Hope Joanna’s recommendation works. You may have to live with them being catasses to each other for a while.

    Reply
  8. Benji

    have you seen this? it’s one of the ten funniest things i’ve ever seen in my life — though my sense of humor tends to lean in the “it’s a mad mad mad mad mad world” direction.

    http://www.StupidVideos.com/?VideoID=837

    nine posts about cats gone wild. three posts about poor derrida. i think this says something terrible about the state of society today.

    Reply
  9. Mike

    Aww, the poor cat.

    Re the state of society and cats versus Derrida: I think you’re absolutely right that it says something terrible: namely, our academic system has a despicable anti-cat bias in that there is not a single feline department head or full professor in the entire American higher education system. Cat tenure now!

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  10. Benji

    haha! “poor cat” — i KNEW you were gonna say that! that cat is SO adopted, man — this movie’s been around the world, like, eight times. i just hope if i’m ever reincarnated as a stray cat, i remember that film’s valuable lesson: if you want to get the kind of publicity that will find you a happy home, viciously attack the first male Package you see.

    Reply
  11. joanna

    oops, just reread the article. The cat is student, not a teacher. But I wonder why he is allowed to be left behind, huh?

    Reply
  12. Anonymous

    hmm – i’ve been talking a lot with a friend of mine lately about the unreconstituted pathology of the typical elementary school playground. i think this cat’s enrollment in school is going to lead, inevitably, to his enrollment in pet psychotherapy later in life. (or maybe regular pet psychic readings?)

    apropos of nothing: i bought this poster on e-bay some time ago in a fit of nostalgia and now i have no idea what the hell to do with it.

    http://imdb.com/title/tt0077305/posters

    e-bay: clearly evil.

    Reply
  13. Em C

    I found this page on google… my cat is freaking out like that right now! And I have no idea why! Today is October 10, 2005… this story was written on October 11, 2004. Maybe it has something to do with the time of year? Ever since I brought my cat out to play in the leaves (which he was rolling around in and such) he’s gone crazy sniffing everything and hissing when you try to get close! He used to be so cuddly all the time. I hope this behavior stops soon :(

    Reply
  14. pghbekka

    And almost three years later, here I am with the same problem. I have to thank you, your post is the best description of what I’m going through, and I know your cats get along again, so I just have to have patience. It’s only been sixteen hours. Best Girl wasn’t even this bad when we first brought Woogie home three years ago. Now I’m impatient, and sad, and wondering what happened, for crying out loud? This too shall pass.

    Reply
  15. mike Post author

    They haven’t done it in a long while, but it’s always been Tink rather than Zeugma who does the screaming, so there’s certainly a dispositional aspect to it, bekka. Keep ‘em separated for a few days and they’ll forget about it.

    Reply
  16. Nick

    I wonder what there smelling to make em that freaked out…. I wonder if we could see what they were smelling if we would be that freaked out?

    Reply
  17. Heather

    Our female cat (Mika) has tried to pick a fight with other cats on two occassions which resulted in her chasing our male cat (Spaz) around the house, hissing, growling & crying. The first time was bad, we couldn’t get near her to calm her down and ended up locking her in a room for a few days. She calmed down enough to let her out again. She gets along with Spaz , but not the neighbours’ cats. We think she might be jealous that Spaz is trying to make other friends. The second time this happened was this afternoon. I think she tried to jump through the screen door. She’s in lockdown right now.

    Reply
  18. Jen

    What you just described with your cats just happened to me about an hour ago except get this….myself and my cats were asleep! 4.30am and my 1 and a half year old nuetered female just jumped up and started screaming and growling and my other cat (female, 1 year 4 months old, not nuetered but never come into season) ran off the bed pee’d on the floor (which neither of them have EVER done), and bolted into the living room and hid under the coffee table staring at the bedroom for 15 minutes. Other cat is still screaming and growling in the bedroom, arched back, bushy tail, and I am TOTALLY freaked out! I have no idea what upset her, she’s back in the room now, (quietened down after a couple minutes growling and screaming) during the day she likes to sleep under the bed, but my other cat is sat next to me on the sofa, eye’s locked on the bedroom! Can cats have nightmares??? I think i might from now on!!!
    Please someone tell me they’ve experienced something similar cos I’m REALLY creeped out by this.

    Reply
  19. Snarfff

    Well, it is good to know I’m not alone in having my cats take a leap off the deep end. Last night one of them had a total freak out because a neighborhood cat was on our fire escape. She jumped at the window, knocking the screen out, and leaped onto the escape. It was about midnight but I had been reading in bed so I managed to get to the window fast enough to pull her back in before she could jump into the bushes. But since then she’s been totally freaking out with my other cat. These two have been together for four years and I’ve never seen this happen before. I’ll try to give it a few days, maybe try the Bach’s Rescue Remedy mentioned above (for all three of us, I think). I hope they get over it soon because it is totally stressful to be in an apartment full of feline rage.

    Reply
  20. koala1605

    this happened to me tonight, I was at the computer, my 3 cats sitting on the porch with the door open to let in air then I heard the growling and howling. My oldest who is 12 freaks out and growls at the other 2, the youngest (female) just looks shocked and hisses back, the middle one (male) starts high pitched howling, I tell them to shush and they scream at me, the oldest runs under my bed and wont let me near him without some serious growling, he normally sleeps in the bed with me but when he does this he scares the crap out of me, he seems to do this when he sees another cat outside, it usually lasts a few hours for the oldest one to come around but freaks me out Glad to know I am not the only one with this problem

    Reply
  21. Amanda

    my cat seems to do this during the changing of the seasons, it is winter turning to spring and today i brought him outside on a leash. he is fine on the leash, but he started sniffing bushes and he started panting and sniffing very vigerously. this happened last year in the fall aswell, and last spring too. so, my theory is that it’s over-stimulation. all the new smells of the season and even the sight of another cat when they are in this elevated state can make them go total psyco. i let my other cat out with him, and with just the sight of him made my other cat freeze and lock, screaming and sooo poofy. i picked him up and he i could feel that all his muscles were locked and he didnt move. they do get over it, calmly talking to them and giving them time to get over it. cats are very easily stimulate.

    Reply
  22. Gayle

    I have the same problem with my cat! I have two; Bugsy and Knuckles. Bugsy is the one that gets his freak on, Knuckles has never done it. Mike you were bang on. It has something to do with scent. My cat will be fine and then, after a period of sniffing, he freaks. It has happened when my husband walks in the house, or when he is tied up outside, or when the dog comes in the house. The only common thread is that he smells something and it sets him off. There is a lot of screaming and hissing. There have been times when we have all been afraid of Bugsy, that is how freaked he gets. This is the most loving cat you could ever meet. Its so disturbing and I am afraid he will actually hurt someone one day. The last time it happened, he left one of his claws in the top of Knuckles head! He loses his mind to the point that we have to throw a blanket over top of him and put him in a room separate from other animals and people. There has to be someone out there who knows what is bringing this on and how we can stop this from happening before someone gets hurt. I am now thinking that maybe he needs anti-depressants but I really don’t want it to come to having to drug the poor cat. If anyone has experience with this please respond. We are desparate to figure out how to deal with this.

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  23. Ed

    I have 2 male cats, and for the second time one of them managed to went out the door for a few hours until my kids found it and brough it home. We were in the kitchen trying to see if he was hurt or something from being outside in the streets, when my youngest cat (3 years old) showed up in the corridor; all of a sudden he just turne 180 degrees, runned away to under the living room table and sreams at anyone just passing by. The other time my oldest cat run away and was recovered, the youngest one reacted just like now. We are preparing ourselves to 3 to 4 days of total cat madness. BUT this time I’M allmost SURE WHAT IT IS: When a house cat goes out, he almost for sure will get into fights – irt does not matter if big or small: FIGHTS. So, he will bring the alien cat scent into the house. That’s what my youngest cat smells and causes all the havoc. In this moment, the youngest is locked in the veranda (its warm, don’t worry) and the oldest is locked in the attic. I’m tempted to try to bathe him tomorrow, but I dont know if it deserves the effort – if it will make the problem go away, that’s what I mean. My apologies sfor my lousy written English :) Portuguese cats are psicos too :)

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  24. Sue

    9-15-09 Mister freaked out last night, he was in the bathroom window like he alway is, I was in the other room it was about 10:00pm. all of the sudden I heard him screaming like he was being atached, I ran down the hallway to the bathroom I kept hearing this screaming I was started to freak out. I got to the bathroom and he had just jumped through the screen. He was outside now on the grass and there was another cat out there, one that I ahve never seen before, they were just growing at eachother, I didn’t know what to do. Finally the strange cat took off and Mister was on the prowl looking for the other cat. It took me alway 45mins to get him back int he house. Once I gto him back in he was acting really strange. Now mind you he is the nicest cat ever, I never heard him hiss or growl or anthting. Finally I put him hte landry room and shut the door. his food and liter box is in there,. This morning, he seemed to be O.K. What a trip that was. I hope that never happens again. It scared me.

    Reply
  25. sherry

    I have a 9 year old male and a 3 year old female who is very skittish. She was a stray and is afraid of everything. I recently , yesterday brought my mothers at, 10 year old female to my home. My mother passed away and I had to bring her here. The two older ones hiss and growl horribly at one another aand the young female is terrified just from listening. I keep the the older female in a carrier( extra lg,one) when the male is in the house or I put them in seperate rooms and let them hiss at one another. I hope they get over it soon. Lady actually charged Smokey the male today. I,m afraid he will hurt her because he almost doubles her in weight. she weighs 9 lbs. and he weighs 16. what d you think am I doing it right?

    Reply
  26. jilian

    well,my cat is a boy tuxido cat,he is going to be 2 yrs old.i was hoping that you could help me.my cat is acting weird.today he running constantly around the living room.and i heard him laugh.i MEAN a HUMAN LAUGH!!!!! im seirious he laughed REALLY REALLY REALLY WEIRD! so help me!!!! im 9 plz!!!

    Reply
  27. Nancy

    I am sooo glad to find this site!!! I took one of my two 13 year old sister-cats to the vet yesterday..when I got her home her sister started growling at her like always, and of course she growled right back. I needed to do some errands, and based on past experience they ‘get over it’ in a few hours. Well..3 1/2 hours later when I got back, the one I took to the vet was sitting up high in the living room on a perch..the other one was in one of her ‘nests’ in a lower kitchen cupboard. All HELL let loose when the one in the lower kitchen cupboard jumped down..as soon as she saw her sister that I had brought home from the vet 3 1/2 hours previously..she went P-S-Y-C-H-O!!!!!! Hissing-screaming-spitting-growling-and in a crouching position! Her sister then spit back and RAN for the bedroom(HER ‘nest’). Then the cat that didn’t have to go to the vet started RAGING at ME!!! OMG!!! I WAS SCARED TO DEATH!!!! I think she smells the vet on us but she has NEVER EVER got THIS UPSET BEFORE! It is the next day, things are NO BETTER so I have put the cat that is RAGING in her bedroom at one end of the trailer(heated, litter-pan-food-water-and SOFT BED up high on a bureau..she even has a large window to look out). I’ve let the one who came home from the vet out of her bedroom at the other end of the trailer..we BOTH slept in there with the door CLOSED last night and half of today). The RAGING cat has only seen me now, and seems to have stopped her growling, etc; at me. I’m NOT chancing it with her seeing her sister just yet. I will let her spend her night alone in her regular ‘safe haven’ and see what tomorrow brings..I hope to get her to get over this in a day or two..or three. But for now..I believe this is the right thing to do. Their relationship has already been ‘damaged’ to some degree possibly..and I don’t want ANY OF US to get hurt or go through another night like last night. Btw..they both have medical issues that they are being treated for..going on. The RAGING cat, Brandi..hyperthyroidism and elevated liver values..and the one that came home from the vet with me..kidney values are elevated(vet is running urine culture to see if could be caused from UTI). I LOVE both of my ‘girls’ very much, and I’m glad to realize that this behavior isn’t all that unusual. Thanks everyone! :)

    Reply

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