September 2013 Issue

‘Stranger Danger’? It’s Genetic

A study has found that friendly male cats produce less fearful kittens, even if they never meet their offspring

Scout was camped out under the sofa, refusing to eat. The cat’s fearful behavior began when Richard and Sue-Ellen Stillwell Jones’ daughter and her husband came to visit. When they walked into the Fort Collins, Colo., home, Scout looked terrified and disappeared under the sofa. She didn’t emerge for most of the day, and Jones was afraid that the stress of having strangers in the home, combined with her lack of appetite, would cause the cat’s pancreatitis to flare up. Scout’s fear of strangers isn’t uncommon, says Katherine A. Houpt, VMD, Ph.D., behavior specialist and professor emeritus at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. It’s a natural reaction to people who don’t smell familiar. “It’s not surprising that cats are fearful,” she says.

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