We all want our pets to live long, healthy lives. And chronic anxiety can rob your cat of its chill, and can result in destructive behaviors like clawing furniture, chewing your possessions, and defecating or urinating outside the litter pan. Fortunately, there are some things you can do to identify and address anxiety problems in cats.
Causes of Anxiety in Cats
Many of the factors that cause anxiety in humans are also stress-producing for cats.
- Overcrowding. If you have a cat that’s been adopted from a shelter, the animal may have become habituated to the often loud and chaotic environment of a rescue center. Sometimes the resulting anxiety abates after your pet settles into its forever home, but some cats need extra help to de-stress.
- Loud noises. Cats are very sensitive to sounds, so any loud or chaotic environment can be anxiety-producing.
- Smells. Cats take many of their environmental cues from the odors in the air. Unpleasant or caustic odors (citrus, bleach, cleansers, cigarette smoke, etc.) can negatively affect your cat’s mood, esp4cially if it is already prone to anxiety.
- Other pets. Some cats are naturally more reclusive than others and would prefer to be the only pet in the home. The presence of other pets can produce a long-term anxiety state in more reclusive felines.
- Sudden changes in surroundings. If you’ve ever been through a household move with cats, you’ll know that felines do not like their environments to be disrupted. For a cat that already suffers with anxiety, any household upheaval can be stressful
Signs of Feline Anxiety
- Destructive behaviors (clawing, chewing)
- Defecating or urinating outside the pan
- Excessive vocalizing
Tips for Calming Your Cat
There are a few important things to consider when addressing your cat’s anxiety:
- Provide a stable environment. Cats don’t appreciate unexpected changes in their immediate surroundings. So, if possible, board your animal during any major disruptions (moving, home renovation, etc.).
- Give your pet a place to hide. All cats like a safe cozy hiding place, and this is especially important for anxious cats. If the normal household activities become overwhelming for your pet, be sure your animal has a place to hole up and feel safe (such as a box lined with a favorite blanket).
- Maintain regular routines. Cats, like people, are creatures of habit. So keeping regular meal and bedtimes can help an anxious cat have a better idea of what to expect from each day.
- Don’t smother! While a hug or cuddle in times of stress might be reassuring to us, many cats find that being picked up or detained in any way only adds to their fight-or-flight response. Let your cat be a cat. If he or she wants your touch or comfort, they’ll come to you. Your cat’s body language will tell you if they’re able or willing to be handled.
Anxiety Products for Cats
There are many products currently on the market aimed at reducing feline anxiety. Here are just a few examples:
- The ThunderShirt. This snug garment provides gentle torso compression to reduce anxiety in cats. It comes in 3 sizes for cats from 9 to 13 lbs, and is easy to put on and remove. It can also be hooked to a leash.
- The Sentry Calming Collar. This unique collar uses the biology of pheromones to calm your nervous feline. The collar gives off the same pheromones that kittens receive from their mothers, promoting a calm, reassured emotional state. Each collar lasts 30 days.
- Fellway Plug-in Diffuser. Cats respond dramatically to scent. So, it’s no surprise that calming aromas can go a long way toward relieving your cat’s anxiety. The Fellway kit comes with a diffuser that plugs into any wall outlet, plus and 30-day refill. Uses natural cat pheromones that are odorless to humans.
Note: While essential oils are not recommended around cats (the smells may be too intense for sensitive feline noses), scented mists and water-based suspensions called hydrosols with calming aromas like lavender can help a stressed cat to regain its calm demeanor.
When should I see a vet for my cat’s anxiety?
In severe cases, your cat’s anxiety may require veterinary treatment. If your pet is harming itself in any way—such as over-grooming, nervously chewing its nails, or experiences changes in appetite—it’s time to see the vet. Your veterinarian has a range of therapeutic options available that extend beyond the capabilities of over-the-counter remedies. Be sure to provide your vet with a complete picture of your pet’s history with anxiety, so they can make more informed treatment choices.
Editor’s Note: Does your cat hide or become scared prior to a trip to the vet? Dr. Lee shares advice for reducing anxiety in cats prior to veterinarian visits.
Cecily Kellogg is a pet lover who definitely has crazy cat lady leanings. Her pets are all shelter rescues, including the dog, who is scared of the cats. She spent eight years working as a Veterinary Technician before becoming a writer. Today she writes all over the web, including here at Figo.
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