Anyone with anxiety is all too familiar with the icy grip of fear and constant stress, but humans aren’t the only animal this condition affects: cats can also suffer from anxiety.
Because cats aren’t able to tell us what they’re experiencing, it can be challenging to recognize the signs of anxiety and take steps to help them.
At Rover, we’re here to help. We’ve done the research for you and will walk you through how to recognize cat anxiety and how to help your feline friend.
What Anxiety Looks Like in Cats
Fear is something that every person and every animal experiences at some point in their life—but how do you tell the difference between healthy fear and cat anxiety?
PetMD explains that fear results from a perceived external threat, whether it is a situation, person, or object. Fear is usually a healthy survival skill, but constant fear of potential danger from unknown or imagined sources (anxiety) is abnormal.
Humans with anxiety can often communicate what they are experiencing, but recognizing fear-based behaviors is key to identifying this condition in cats.
Here are the symptoms that PetMD and VetStreet list as possible with cat anxiety:
- Reduced activity
- Escape attempts
- Unusual, potentially injurious movements
- Licking and biting at self
- Throwing up
- Sudden urination or urination outside of the litter box
- Sudden bowel movements or bowel movements outside of the litter box
- Appetite Loss
- Destructive behavior
What causes anxiety in cats?
Cats can develop anxiety for a variety of reasons. According to PetMD, it can be caused by a traumatic experience, social deprivation, illness or painful physical conditions, aging changes, viral infections, toxic conditions, a history of confinement or abuse, abandonment, neglect, an unfamiliar environment, or change in ownership.
If your cat starts to show signs of distress when you leave—or shows signs of distress while you are away—your cat might have separation anxiety. PetMD states that this is the most common type of specific anxiety in cats and dogs. Your cat may show no signs of anxiety while you are home if this is the case.
Treats and Products to Help with Cat Anxiety
If you suspect that your cat may have anxiety, the first step is to consult with your veterinarian. This also helps to rule out other possible causes for the symptoms (such as brain or thyroid disease or exposure to toxic substances, according to PetMD).
Your veterinarian will help with identifying fear triggers, prescribe medication if it is needed, and will be able to make recommendations based on your cat’s specific case.
There are many ways that you can help to ease your cat’s anxiety, but because anxiety is individual to each cat, it may take trial and error to find what works best for your cat. These are a few of the suggested products that PetMD lists to help with cat anxiety.
Thundershirts for Cats
Thundershirts are compression vests that give cats a gentle hug of pressure. This is intended to calm stressed animals. While Thundershirts have proven effectiveness with dogs, most of the support for using them with cats is anecdotal. Thundershirts have a notable following, though, and—if your cat is willing to try one on—it might be worth giving a shot.
Cat-calming collars are infused with a pheromone that mimics the ones that a mother cat radiates to soothe her kittens. Kittens aren’t the only ones that benefit from this, though. Supposedly, they are just as effective on adult cats.
Putting an unfamiliar accessory on without introduction can add to a cat’s stress, though, according to PetMD. Let them sniff it and get used to it before putting it on them. You can encourage your cat by giving them treats while they smell or study it, too.
Cat-Calming Pheromone Diffusers
Collars aren’t the only product that uses pheromones to calm cats down. PetMD suggests using Feliway diffuser plug-ins. These use a synthetic version of the same feline facial pheromones—the pheromone that a mother cat gives off while nursing her kittens.
Diffusers are an excellent option for cats who don’t like to wear clothes or collars, too. It’s also less likely to add to your cat’s stress by wearing a strange, new accessory.
Calming Treats and Cat Food
Your cat’s diet may also affect their stress levels. According to PetMD, anti-anxiety cat food containing tryptophan or anti-anxiety cat treats with alpha-casozepine may help manage stress.
Tryptophan is the same compound that is found in turkey and associated with sleepiness, and alpha-casozepine has been tested in vet visits for cats, which showed that it had at least a mild calming effect.
Behavioral and Lifestyle Changes to Help with Cat Anxiety
Managing anxiety goes beyond medication and helpful products. Your cat’s environment and your behavior can also make a significant impact in helping them.
Keep your cat mentally stimulated
The New York Times suggests that you first make sure that your home offers plenty of mental stimulation to satisfy your cat’s natural instincts. Your cat is a predator at heart, and they crave a challenge. Hanging a bird feeder outside of the window, offering your cat a high perch, and introducing new, exciting things such as empty paper bags and boxes, new toys, or kibble-dispensing puzzles will help with meeting your cat’s natural needs.
Give your cat space
Giving your cat enough space is essential if they suffer from anxiety. The New York Times states that over-petting sometimes pushes cats toward aggressive behavior. Let your cat come to you on their terms, and don’t push affection onto them.
Positive interaction boosts your cat’s confidence, PetMD says, and helps them to feel secure in your home. To keep things interesting, try keeping a stash of cat toys stored in a closet and rotate toys out to keep them fresh and exciting for your cat.
Manage separation anxiety
If your cat has separation anxiety and shows distress when you leave or while you’re away, there are steps that you can take to reduce stress and manage symptoms. VetStreet suggests desensitizing your cat to departure cues that could trigger their separation anxiety and preparing your cat with short, miniature absences to give them a chance to acclimate.
A few common departure clues that can trigger separation anxiety include grabbing keys, putting on shoes, putting on a coat, or grabbing a handbag. Doing these things regularly without leaving your house will help decrease the power they hold over your cat’s stress, according to VetStreet.
Taking short trips—such as trips to the mailbox, quick trips to the store, walking out to your car, or even walking out the front door and then walking back in—will help your cat adjust to you leaving. It helps them build confidence that you will return and desensitizes them to your absence. Giving your cat a treat when you return can help turn this stressful experience into a more positive one, as well.
Every cat is different, so try new ideas
As you work to ease your cat’s anxiety, remember that every cat is unique, and what may work for one cat may not work for another. You may need to try different steps, changes to environment, and add in calming products before you find what works best for your cat.
Throughout this process, it is crucial to be in contact with your veterinarian. They can make recommendations based on your specific case and will advise you on whether medication is a good fit for your cat.
Best of luck in your journey, and stay strong. Positive changes take time to happen, but with a bit of knowledge and a lot of love, you can help your cat live their best life.