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Does Your Cat Have Anxiety?

September 20, 2022 6 min read

Cat anxiety is more common than people think it is. It is a state of anticipating threat or danger, even while being in a safe and sound environment. If you are noticing changes in your cat's behaviour and body language, chances are they may be suffering from anxiety. The first year of a cat’s life experiences contributes heavily to the kind of fears, anxieties, and phobias they develop. This gradually increases and worsens depending on their environment as they mature and grow older, especially between the age of 1 to 3 years.

Just like other animals, cats can be scared of loud noises, fireworks, or something as simple as a bath. It is crucial to take action if you see your cat’s behaviour change in the initial stage itself. We have curated a comprehensive guide for you to understand the common cat anxiety problems, symptoms, and some practices to deal with the same. 

Understanding Symptoms of Anxiety in Cats

Do you see a change in your cat's behaviour? Do they seem to be trembling out of fear, panting, or have an increased heart rate even though they are in a perfectly sound environment? Chances are that they are suffering from anxiety. Just like us humans, it’s common for our pets to go through these issues as well.

Unfortunately, there is no way you can understand that your cat has anxiety if you don’t observe them closely. They cannot express themselves with words, but a lot with body language and actions.

Compulsive behaviour (a behaviour repeated over and over again) can become a consistent problem with cats going through anxiety. They may cause damage to the environment around you or themselves.

Some common symptoms of anxiety in cats are:

  • Increased movement
  • Not using the litter tray
  • Being moody
  • Hiding
  • Destructing things
  • Change in body weight
  • Excessive vocalisation (increase in meowing)
  • Increased heartbeat 
  • High respiratory rates
  • Being lazy
  • Vomiting
  • Salivation

You may notice some of these symptoms between the age of 5 months to 1 year. The intensity of these symptoms can change gradually as they grow older.

Mild Symptoms (Early Stage)

  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Avoiding physical touch
  • Dilated pupils
  • Keeping their tail close to their body

Moderate Symptoms

  • Increase in the dilation of pupils
  • Staring at the stimulus
  • High respiratory rates
  • Keeping ears partially to the side
  • Holding their tail against the body very tightly
  • Leaning away

Severe Symptoms

  • Aggression and destruction
  • Staring constantly
  • Fully dilated pupils
  • Trying to shy away or escape
  • Completely freezing or showing no movement
  • Hair standing up

Causes of Anxiety in Cats

Significant changes in routine and environment can trigger anxiety in cats. If you are adopting a cat, try to understand as much as you can about their past routines and behaviour to give them a comfortable space. Because cats tend to change a lot of homes, it's common for them to suffer from anxiety. 

Physical Pain

Any kind of poor physical condition can contribute to increasing your cat’s anxiety. Along with this, ageing-related changes like changes in the nervous system, infections, and toxic environments can contribute to behavioural changes.

Separation Anxiety From Owners

Common for most pet animals, separation anxiety is caused when cats are left alone away from their parents for longer than usual. In such times, they tend to showcase excessive distress behaviours. Being abandoned or moving to a new home/new owners can worsen the anxiety further. 

Trauma

Fear is a consequence of traumatic experiences. Therefore, a cat's life experiences from the time they are born to 1 year of age contribute to the fears they develop.

Lack of Socialisation

Your cat needs to socialise between the age of 7 and 12 weeks, so they get acquainted with the environment around them. Do not deprive your cat of positive social environments as they can become habitually anxious about social settings later on. Also, things like fireworks or living with other pets they are scared of can make them even scared and anxious. 

Best Practices to Deal With Your Cat’s Anxiety

Comfort Your Cat

It’s essential to comfort your cat and soothe them with a gentle rub. Try offering meals they like or give them a comforting space they love to sleep and rest in.

Do Not Punish Them

Pet owners often think that punishing their cat is a great way to deal with their cat’s aggressive actions. But believe it or not, it will only increase their fear. Do not yell at them or lock them away.

Never Confine Them

Imagine human suffering from anxiety being locked in four walls - how would it feel for you? Similarly, for cats, if you confine them to a carrier, they might start scratching around the cage until their nails and teeth start breaking.

Try Cat Soothing Products

This may not be the sole solution; however, trying diffusers and sprays meant for cat stress relief can be helpful. Invest in a wally scratcher for them so that they can play around. But in case of severe anxiety, try going for long-term solutions like medications.

Create a Stimulating and Distracting Environment

Get a few cat toys to keep your cats busy when you’re away. This can help a lot with separation anxiety. Puzzle feeders are also a good choice for keeping them distracted. 

How To Treat Cat Anxiety?

Now that you are aware of the signs of cat anxiety and the potential causes, let's talk about cat anxiety treatment. Each cat will require a unique course of action. Before you find a technique that works for you and your furry buddy, it could take some time and trial and error because what works for one cat might not work for another.

During the early stages of anxiety, you can understand your cat’s body language and teach them some coping mechanisms to help them, as recommended by your vet. This can be desensitisation and counter conditioning.

Desensitisation

Work your way up by first exposing them to their fear in little quantities. With any luck, this will teach your cat to overcome its fear when it arises in real life. The repeated, controlled exposure to the trigger that typically provokes a scared or anxious reaction in your cat is known as desensitisation. Expose your cat to the stimuli at a low level so that they don't exhibit any signs of tension or terror.

Counterconditioning

Finding the causes of your cat’s nervousness is the first step toward counterconditioning. The next step is determining a specific item, such as a favourite treat that your cat likes. Only offer them this goodie while they are receiving treatment. A cat that is scared of the family dog, for instance, could be given her favourite reward whenever she sees the dog. Over time, her first reaction to seeing the dog may transition from fear to pleasure at the prospect of the special gift.

If left untreated, cat anxiety disorders are likely to worsen with them. This is why taking appropriate action as quickly as possible is crucial. In case your cat has self-injured itself, hospitalisation may be the best option until they calm down. 

The primary aim should be to get your cat to be calm and happy. Opting for medications is necessary in case of severe cat anxiety symptoms. Some medications might take a few hours to show relief; however, in severe cases, the vet may suggest medication courses for a few months. It is also essential to take constant follow-ups with the vet and get check-ups done to ensure that the blood chemicals stay balanced. 

Conclusion

Expose your cats to social situations in a positive way to increase their fearful behaviour. Do not force them into situations, but take one step at a time. You may opt for behaviour modification to help your cat with anxiety issues; however, it may take longer to show results. A better alternative is to start treatment early as they can get time to calm their mental health. Try not to expose your cats to new house guests as it may trigger their anxiety. 

This concludes our guide on identifying and treating generalised and separation anxiety in cats. Always consult a professional if your cat is very distressed. Visit the veterinarian with your pet to rule out any underlying problems; if necessary, they should be able to suggest a qualified behaviourist.



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