It can be extremely frustrating and sometimes unpleasant to live in a house with an anxious cat. But, no matter how challenging, you'll naturally want to do all you can to help calm your stressed-out kitty.
Before you start looking for the magic pill that will stop all the wailing and pulling out of fur, it's best to understand what cat anxiety is, where it comes from, and how to deal with it - before it causes more serious illnesses or behavioural problems. Read the article below to learn all you need to know about cat anxiety.
Is your cat acting strangely? Something's not quite right. Your usually aloof, confident, and independent cat is now all of a sudden needier, meowing excessively, being a tad aggressive at other pets in your house (even at you, sometimes), jumping at the slightest sounds and acting reluctant to go outside and explore.
Hmmm… what could be going on?
And your instincts are on point: with odd or unusual behaviour in felines comes the possibility of cat anxiety.
Yes, cats can have anxiety, too. In fact, most people think that anxiety in cats is normal. If you’ve ever heard the term “scaredy cat”, you’ll understand why. Even if cats are characteristically more poised and austere than dogs in general, the picture of a scared cat, tail stiff and furs standing on end is a trademark symbol for anxiety. And it’s true - some cats are simply born more scared and anxious than others while calmer felines can develop anxiety later on in their lives due to several factors.
But, whether anxiety in cats is an inherent trait or developed at some point doesn’t mean it should be ignored. Just like anxiety in humans, cat anxiety should be dealt with accordingly because there could be an underlying cause that could be more serious.
Sometimes comforting your kitty with a toy or a cuddle will do the trick but in some cases, if anxiety runs deeper or has been going on undetected for quite some time bringing with it physical symptoms like vomiting or inability to pass urine, then your anxious cat needs your immediate help.
We’ve put together the information you need that will take you through the causes and symptoms of cat anxiety, the best ways to care for a stressed cat, cat anxiety treatment, as well as give you good insight into feline behaviour.
Cat Anxiety Causes & Symptoms
Cat anxiety is a common condition in domesticated cats. It is a mental disorder that causes the cat to exhibit symptoms of stress and fear. Unlike humans, cats do not show outward signs of anxiety such as sweating or increased heart rate, instead, they tend to show subtle signs such as hiding, or aggression.
And while it's important to understand the underlying causes, learning how to identify feline anxiety is even more critical.
Remember that cats are wired genetically to hide pain or discomfort so the signs of cat anxiety can be subtle and a little difficult to spot. Because of this, many veterinarians recommend annual visits for routine exams and checkups.
In the meantime, here’s a Q & A-style checklist that can help you determine if your cat has anxiety.
Cat Anxiety Symptoms Checklist
- Is your cat eating too fast or too little? A reduced appetite or change in eating behaviour can be a sign that your cat is stressed out. It can also be a symptom of something more serious so any significant change in appetite is always a good reason to take a trip to the vet.
- Is your cat avoiding the litter box? Aside from anxiety, litter box avoidance can be a surefire sign of cat UTI and other feline illnesses.
- Do you notice slight tension in your cat's body? This includes slight muscle stiffness & rigidity in the hind legs.
- Do you notice if your cat has dilated pupils? In some extreme cases, anxious cats may exhibit dilated pupils in one or both eyes.
- Is your cat "hunched over" with an erect tail? This classic posturing usually signals anxiety and stress.
- Does your cat curl up into a ball? This is termed as "buckling up" and particularly true for feral cats or cats who haven't been spayed or neutered. Note that this isn't a definite sign of anxiety but it is an indication that something isn't right.
- Does your cat sound unusual? Subtle vocalisations that are beyond their normal feline noises like chirps or squeaks can be a sign of anxiety. Excessive, loud and long meowing can be a symptom of cat anxiety, too.
- Does your cat have excessively long & frequent grooming sessions? This may be a coping mechanism for a stressed cat.
Ask yourself the above questions, and if you say yes to all or most, then it’s time to let your cat come in for a proper diagnosis at the vet’s.
Other telltale signs of a stressed cat can include:
- Hiding or sleeping in unusual places
- Pacing from window to window before being left alone
- Destructive scratching on furniture or door frames
- Frequent clawing on furniture and/or on the owner
- Marking territory by spraying or urinating outside of the litter box
- Rubbing against furniture or walls and acting aggressively towards family members (especially children)
- Head shaking
- Yawning more frequently
- Inability to find a comfortable position
Now that you know what to look for, let’s find out what causes cat anxiety in the first place.
Causes of Cat Anxiety
There are many things that can cause cats to act anxious. One is genetics - there's a common genetic predisposition for some cats to have anxiety issues. Another possibility is that the cat doesn't get enough exercise or room to move. Other cats develop certain fears and phobias as they grow older and gain more life experience.
But one of the most common causes of stress in cats is simple - change:
- Moving house
- New house, new owner (especially for newly-adopted pets)
- Cats adjusting to a newer, healthier life after a history of abuse/neglect
- New pet or person in the household
- New furniture, including changes in the layout of rooms and new interiors (redecoration, new carpets)
- Loud noises and bright lights such as sirens, traffic lights, fireworks, thunderstorms or building work
- Changes to the routine of your household, like a routine vaccination, change to feeding times, a change to working hours or going on holiday.
- Visits from family or friends that your cat hasn’t “met” before.
- A change in the litter box, for example, a dirty litter box, another animal using the litter box, or a different type of litter used
- Being left alone, confined or isolated
- Fear of dogs and other critters
For senior cats, joint pain and an ageing brain may cause them to behave anxiously. Just like older humans, older cats appear more agitated, easily annoyed and more anxious than usual.
Separation Anxiety in Cats
Another common, and often more serious, source of anxiety in cats is separation - being separated from old owners and the familiarity of home can cause any cat to display anxious behaviour.
Cats are highly territorial, and sensitive animals. This is why it’s natural for them to become upset when their owners leave or abandon them.
But aside from being abandoned or left at home for long periods of time, there are other reasons for cat separation anxiety:
- Toxins in the home environment can trigger a cat's separation anxiety. A stray chemical or pesticide can cause this behaviour as well. If you have been cleaning your home or using pesticides on your lawn, this may be a possible cause of a cat's separation anxiety.
- The death of another feline friend in the home can also be a possible cause of this behaviour. If you have recently lost a beloved pet, you might notice that your cat has become more anxious since then. The sight of their favourite toy or blanket belonging to their deceased friend can trigger them to have separation anxiety.
- Moving from one room to another can cause separation anxiety. A new space that’s unfamiliar to your cat could trigger them to become more anxious when alone and can make them feel like they need you nearby to feel safe.
💡 Petz Park Cat Care Tip
Are you adopting a new cat? Awesome!
Adopting cats is always a great, new adventure - both for you and your new kitty. If this is your first time, the shelter may have given you some information about how to deal with cat anxiety. Cats, after all, have unique personalities and can develop emotional issues after being abandoned or passed around from owner to owner.
There’s no easy, magic formula for helping a newly-adopted cat feel more at ease in your home. It takes time, patience, dedication, understanding and usually - a lot of trial and error. So, don’t give up! Committed cat parents know that only the first few weeks of adoption are the hardest.
Here are a few tips to help your new, nervous kitty adjust to your home and family:
- Give the cat time to adjust. Don’t overwhelm your cat with a busy schedule/set of activities and keep them in one room until they get used to your home.
- Hire a pet sitter temporarily. You may need to leave your new furry feline friend at home while you go to work, so during the adjustment phase, hire a pet sitter to check in on your cat to make them feel less lonely/isolated. You can ask the same shelter where you got your cat as they may have volunteers who can help look after your pet.
- Give your cat plenty of space and room to move. To help your naturally territorial cat find a spot to call their own, give them lots of opportunities to move around. This will help them feel less threatened.
Treatment for Cat Anxiety
Treating feline anxiety isn't as simple as giving a pill; in fact, giving medication to your cat without knowing why or if they are anxious may make the problem worse.
However, if your cat is displaying extreme signs of anxiety such as hyper-vigilance, trembling, salivation, won’t stop grooming, pupils in both eyes dilated, following you everywhere and paces/can’t sit still or find a comfortable position no matter how hard they try - it’s time to take them to the vet.
Your vet will order blood, urine or other diagnostic tests to check for further illnesses that may be causing them anxiety. Once your vet determines that the underlying cause of the anxiety is an illness or physical health issue, you will be provided with a course of treatment options such as antibiotics, along with diet modification or, in some extreme cases, surgery.
If your cat is in tip-top health and your vet determines that your cat does indeed have an anxiety disorder or another psychological issue, then treatments like anti-anxiety medication can help your cat calm down. Dietary and environmental changes can also be recommended.
For cats with extreme anxiety issues that can sometimes result in over-aggression, your veterinarian may refer you to a board-certified cat behaviourist or trainer who can help tone down all that aggression and alleviate anxiety.
But, the key to ensuring that your cat doesn’t develop anxiety in the first place is in your hands - prevention.
Here are some practical tips to ensure your cat doesn’t develop anxiety or can easily bounce back from it:
- Keep a diary of your cat’s activities. As mentioned, anxiety can be triggered by anything new happening around the cat’s environment. If your cat’s been behaving oddly, take a look at recent events and determine if this could have contributed to their anxious behaviour and from there, you should be able to find a fix.
- Be prepared. If you need to leave your cat for an extended period of time, make sure you leave them with someone your cat is familiar with and leave toys/blankets that are familiar to them if you need to have them stay somewhere else while you’re gone.
- Take your cat to regular vet check-ups. If you just adopted a cat with a history of trauma, if you have a senior cat or an overweight cat, make sure you come into every appointment, as scheduled. Having an expert assess their behaviour and keep their health in check frequently will help you deal with cat anxiety promptly.
- Provide your cat with the right nutrition. Just like in humans, nutrition plays a key role in your cat’s overall mental and emotional health. Providing a healthy, balanced diet and boosting that diet with the right cat supplements for anxiety can help your cat become calmer and less stressed.
- Give your cat lots of opportunities for playtime and socialisation. An overly-isolated cat is an anxious cat. So to keep you and your cat happy, make sure you provide them with space to move, a loving family to take care of them and cat play dates with other cats or pets. But during these socialisation sessions, make sure you avoid catfights and any stressful experiences.
- Get a cat tree. If you don’t already have one, now’s a good time to get one. Providing cats with lots of places to perch and high-resting spots can help them feel calmer and more secure.
Anxiety is a natural emotional response to stress that occurs to varying degrees in most cats. While it can be normal, too much anxiety can affect the quality of life of both cats and humans. Fortunately, there are many things that you can do to help your feline friend when they are suffering from anxiety.
With the information provided above, you should be able to not only know the proper ways to treat cat anxiety but to also spot it before it results in something more serious.
*This information is intended as general information only. It was not written or intended as a substitute for medical advice. Please seek professional guidance from your pet’s veterinarian before taking any action that could affect your pet’s health.