Pet parents view their feline friends as very independent creatures. That’s true enough. If you’re a cat owner, you know they’ll pick and chose their time to be social. While there are definitely different personalities among felines, most behave like they’re the most important family member. Such confidence!
Therefore, cat anxiety can be a real worry. If it’s out of character for your furry friend to display distress behaviors, you want to find out what’s going on. Following are possible causes and how to help an anxious cat.
What is Cat Anxiety
Does your cat get startled at a really loud noise? Are they timid when you bring a visitor home? For instance, a new baby can be a big change for everyone in the household. It’s normal for cats to be a bit nervous at these times, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re dealing with a case of cat anxiety.
On the other hand, if they seem to be constantly on edge and showing signs of worry, it should be investigated. An anxious cat displays fear even though there doesn’t seem to be anything threatening in their environment.
Just like humans, a cat’s body has physical reactions when they’re scared. This includes an increased heart rate and faster breathing. Basically, the body is going into ‘fight or flight’ mode to handle danger. Cat anxiety will present the same way. In addition, cats may show distress behaviors like hiding, vocalizing a lot and destroying things around the house.
Causes of Cat Anxiety
The origins of cat anxiety are varied. As with many behavior changes, the root cause of anxiety in cats could be illness. If your fur baby is physically unwell or has been injured, it might be why they’re anxious. Pain can certainly show up as anxiety.
An aging feline can also become anxious. That’s because they may have an age-related condition like dementia, or become confused due to other memory problems. It’s not only humans who experience these issues!
Cats may develop anxiety if they’ve experienced trauma as kittens. The first year of a cat’s life is when anxieties will surface in this case. Pet owners should be on the lookout for worrisome signs since anxiety can often get worse if it starts when cats are young.
Situations like not being able to escape the sound of fireworks can cause trauma. A traumatic event can even include a move to a new house, or other animals joining the family.
Separation anxiety is very common in pets. If a cat is really bonded with someone in the household, they may worry when that individual is out of sight.
Felines might also show symptoms of stress when they’re left in the house on their own. Separation anxiety can worsen if a cat’s owner or one of their companion animals should die, or if the cat is continually rehomed.
Finally, like humans, pets can develop obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). A cat with OCD will do things like sucking on fabric, pacing constantly or over-grooming.
Signs of Anxiety in Cats
Cat anxiety symptoms are sometimes obvious behaviors like trembling, or signs such as not using the litter box that can be mistaken for something else. Here are indications that your kitty cat may have mild to severe anxiety:
- Avoiding eye contact
- Flicking their tail
- Keeping their tail close to the body
- Crouching and leaning away
- Faster respiration
- Dilated pupils
- Ears flattened back
- Trying to escape
- Hair standing on end
- Decreased appetite
- Urinating outside the litter box
- Furniture scratching and destroying items
A cat who is anxious may also tell you they’re unhappy with increased vocalization. Alternatively, cat anxiety could result in behaviors like lethargy.
Helping Your Anxious Cat
It’s critical to consult with your veterinarian to rule out health concerns that could be the source for what you’re observing. Cats are notorious for hiding it when they’re not feeling well, so you need to be on your toes to address a health problem before it progresses.
If health problems are ruled out, and it’s separation anxiety or nervousness you’re seeing, here are ways to help.
Cats don’t like change. Keeping their environment as stress-free as possible is a good move. Although kitty cats are all different when it comes to how much change they can handle, they all want some control.
This is where knowing your cat and what environmental changes may cause them distress is key. If there’s going to be something different around the house, try to stagger changes and limit the number of disruptions to your cat’s environment at a time.
Buy a Cat Tree
Have you noticed how your cat loves to sit in high places? A cat tree is the perfect perch for them to survey the goings on in the room or look over the yard outside. Felines spend the majority of their day either sleeping or resting. So, having several places in addition to their pet bed where they can do this helps reduce anxiety.
Give Litter Box Options
If you cat is anxious, they may not be using the litter box all the time. An anxious cat might mark items or areas in the home in an effort to take back some control over what’s upsetting them.
For instance, if they feel threatened by a neighborhood cat they see outside they might urinate or spray by a window or external door. If they’re urinating on your belongings, this could be a sign they’re trying to comfort themselves with their own scent.
This behavior, understandably, causes you a lot of distress and it needs to be dealt with quickly. Make sure to keep your cat’s litter box clean and place several around the home.
If you have a few cats, it’s a good idea to have enough litter boxes so they each have their own space. If they don’t have to share, they’ll be less anxious.
Offer Fun Activities
Cats love to play and explore. Try offering your cat more opportunities for enjoyment with a few new toys. If you’ve spoiled your kitty with lots of items, put some away and then rotate them to keep your cat interested. There’s nothing like rediscovering a favorite toy!
Using a food puzzle or playing a game where they hunt for their cat food is another idea. It can keep your cat stimulated and help them forget their anxiety for a while.
Use Natural Remedies
Consider using a natural product for anxiety relief. CBD oil that’s specially formulated for pets can be beneficial. There are some aromatherapy products that can also help calm your cat. If you’re unsure about using a product, ask your vet for advice.
Another interesting natural option is Feliway. This product is a synthetic replication of the facial pheromone cats rub on objects. Your cat deposits pheromones when they rub their cheeks on something. It makes their environment feel more familiar and safer. Feliway comes in a spray that can be used around your home to sooth your cat’s anxiety.
Comfort Your Cat
You want your cat to feel safe and cared for when they’re anxious. This means giving them lots of one-on-one attention. By speaking softly and caressing them, you’ll reassure them and help reduce anxious responses.
Remember, never punish your fur baby for showing fear or anxiety. This can exacerbate cat anxiety symptoms. Keep in mind too that it won’t help your cat’s anxious behavior if you try to wrestle them forcefully into a cat carrier.
If your cat’s anxiety is heightened by feeling confined, they may injury themselves. It’s best to help them calm down first or find another way of transporting them. Some cats feel safe in a car if they’re wrapped in a blanket and held by a passenger.
Employ Behavior Modification
Behavior modification is an approach that works well to reverse anxiety in cats. There are two different methods that are often combined to alleviate cat anxiety symptoms. The first is desensitization. This involves exposure to the fear trigger repeatedly in a controlled fashion.
It could be that your cat is anxious when the family pooch is in the room. In this case, let the cat get close to the dog for short periods. Stay with your cat and give them verbal reassurance that they’re safe from the dog. Over time, this low-level exposure will assist your cat to have less anxiety in these situations.
Counter conditioning is the other technique to use at the same time. Every time the dog comes close to your cat and your cat begins to get anxious, give them a treat. This turns the negative experience into a positive one and your cat’s emotional response to the stressor will follow.
Be aware, this type of therapy doesn’t show results overnight. Time, consistency, and patience are required before you’ll notice has less anxiety in your cat.
Try Anxiety Medication
Cat anxiety medication can assist. Before prescribing any medication, your veterinarian will give your cat a thorough examination to ensure they’re well physically. The visit will include a blood test and a urine test.
Most mood-altering medications take a few weeks to change brain chemistry. Generally, expect your cat to stay on this medication for a few months to a number of years. During this time, your veterinarian will need you to closely monitor their level of anxiety and any other differences in how they’re acting.
The goal is for you to have a calmer cat that still has their unique personality. Your vet will do another blood test occasionally while your cat is on the medication to make sure there are no adverse body reactions.
The other thing about cat anxiety medication is that some are quicker-acting. These work in a matter of a few hours. So, they may be the medication of choice for cats who react with fear when they hear fireworks. You can give them the prescription just before these events.
Usually, other methods to calm anxiety are used at the same time as cat anxiety medication. It’s not uncommon for veterinarians to recommend that pet owners try counter conditioning along with medication.
Above all, it’s crucial to act purposefully when you’re dealing with an anxious cat. The longer the condition is left untreated, the more intense the symptoms may become.
On average, treating your cat’s anxiety takes about four to six months. However, if you delay, it will be that much more difficult to reverse and it may take years, not months, to reduce you cat’s anxiety.
Plus, the longer your cat is stressed the greater the risk it will compromise their immune system. They’ll be more susceptible to contracting illnesses when their immune system isn’t functioning as it should.
Our Final Thoughts on Cat Anxiety
Cat anxiety can be a real worry for owners. It’s not unusual for our pets to have separation anxiety or react in fear when they experience a new situation, and there are may tips you can try to alleviate their worry.
Having said that, when an animal’s nervous system seems to be on high alert continually, it’s time to develop a treatment plan with your veterinarian.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do you know if your cat has anxiety?
Cat anxiety symptoms range from obvious behaviors like trembling to signs that can be mistaken for something else, such as not using the litter box or aggression. Also, as cats age they may have dementia.
How do you treat a cat with anxiety?
If a vet confirms there isn’t a health problem, try options behavior modification or medication.
How can I calm my anxious cat naturally?
CBD oil that’s specially formulated for pets is one of the tips to try.