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Cats and Anxiety

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Our feline companions, though often living a relaxed and complacent life, can experience many types of anxiety for various reasons.

Learning to recognize the common signs of anxiety (opens new window) can help any cat parent better treat their cat’s anxiety and keep the stressors to a minimum. Though it will be a household effort to help your cat overcome their anxiety, it should be a reassurance that many techniques, methods, and professionals are available to help you and your cat live a stress-free lifestyle.

Stress and Anxiety in Cats

When it comes to diagnosing and treating anxiety or stress, the process may not be quite as straightforward. Many symptoms of anxiety can overlap with other health problems, and it can show itself differently from one cat to the next, with symptoms ranging from minor to severe.

As the caretaker and advocate for your feline best friend, it’s essential that you seek out your veterinarian’s help whenever you believe that there’s an underlying issue. Noticing odd changes in your cat’s behavior, including their body language, may indicate that something else is going on, so you shouldn’t worry about overreacting.

Cats and Anxiety Symptoms

Anytime a cat feels anxious, symptoms of some sort will be displayed, whether something subtle or glaringly obvious. Common symptoms for most cats include:

  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Dilated eyes
  • Having accidents outside of the litter box
  • Hair standing up
  • Tail flicking or being held tight against the body
  • Ears back against their head
  • Freezing in place and crouching to hide
  • Trying to escape the situation
  • Aggression

These symptoms can range in severity and frequency. For instance, when a cat is experiencing social anxiety, they may escape the room and remain hidden. If the same cat has severe anxiety around dogs, they may display more extreme symptoms such as ears flat against their head, raised hair, and even aggression towards the dog.

Cats and Anxiety: What Are the Causes?

Cats can experience anxiety due to nearly any reason. Common causes include large groups of people, loud noises, other animals, severe weather, being left home alone, going to the veterinarian, and significant changes in their routine.

How or when your cat begins feeling anxious can additionally stem from experiences they’ve had in the past. If you adopted your cat at an older age, then it’s possible that they previously had poor experiences traveling in the car, spending time in their carrier, or being left home alone.

Before you can begin treating your cat for their anxiety, it’s first helpful to understand what is causing them to be anxious.

Cat Anxiety After Moving

Major life changes can be a common source of anxiety for cats and their parents, for that matter. Most cats find comfort in their routine and prefer to stay in their familiar environment. With moving, not only are schedules broken, but a plethora of loud noises, new people, and different sights, sounds, and smells are tossed their way.

In preparation for moving, ensure your cat is comfortable being in their carrier for an extended time. Reassure them that this is a safe area and reward them with some treats whenever they go inside. As you begin bringing boxes out for packing, keep some open to allow your cat to investigate and play with them while throwing a few toys or treats in some boxes. This can show your cat that the boxes can be fun and aren’t a cause for worry.

It may also be helpful to try and leave your cat’s stuff untouched until the very last moment. Keeping your cat’s food and water bowls, scratching posts, and litter box in the same areas while the rest of the house is being packed up can provide even just a bit of normalcy for your pal. On the day you move, it is best to put your cat with all their necessities in a room where the door can remain shut. Not only can this help keep your cat out of the hectic environment, but it can also eliminate the possibility of them trying to run out the door.

When it’s time to move your cat, encourage them into their carrier (without forcing them) and leave them in their carrier during your drive since taking them in and out could lead to further issues. Once you have reached your new home, it’s recommended that you once again set up a safe space for your cat that can be closed off. Set up your cat’s litter box, food and water bowls, bed, and a plethora of toys in this area. Allow your cat to exit their carrier whenever they are ready.

Introducing your cat to only one room can give them a sense of security, and they won’t feel quite as overwhelmed with an entirely new environment. While your cat is safely in their space, this could be a great time to unpack and get your furniture in place. If you haven’t already, it also can be helpful to do a safety check around your new space, ensuring that there are no broken door latches or ripped screens that your cat could accidentally slip through.

After a day or so, open the door to your cat’s safe space and allow them to begin exploring their new environment. They will most likely still be timid and unsure, so it’s crucial that you allow them to move about at their own pace. For some cats, it may only take a few days, but others may need weeks before they begin feeling relaxed in their new home.

Cat Anxiety During Storms

Although many people find the rumbling of storms soothing, our feline friends don’t typically share that opinion. Not all cats experience anxiety when a thunderstorm rolls through, but it’s no wonder why some become incredibly stressed.

With a change in atmospheric pressure, high winds, persistent rain, loud thunder, bright lightning, and darkened skies, many cats, with their acute senses, begin feeling on edge.

For some cats, the best way to handle a storm is to hide until the weather is once again calm. If this is the case in your home, it is best to let your cat stay hidden as long as they want. It’s important that you don’t force them out of their hiding space since that is where they feel safe, but you can stay close by to reassure them that it’s okay. You can try coaxing them out with some fun toys, a favorite treat, and some comforting words. By keeping close by and providing company, your cat may learn that staying near you is still a safe way to make it through a storm.

Cats can pick up on people’s emotions, so it may also be helpful if you remain calm during the storm. If you begin to stress out, your cat will most likely pick up on those cues and think they need to stress as well.

The trick is to discover what works best for you and your cat. If you feel more comfortable waiting out a storm in your basement, encourage your cat to join you. In the instance that music or a movie playing in the background helps drown out the sound of the storm, try playing something before the storm even reaches its worst.

Cats and Separation Anxiety

Any cat can experience separation anxiety at nearly any point in their life. This type of anxiety can be brought on by being the only pet in a household, living in a home with only one person, being abandoned or orphaned, or having a major change in their schedule, such as a stay-at-home parent returning to work.

Since separation anxiety occurs when you aren’t around, it may take a little while to notice any symptoms. Things to keep an eye out for include:

  • Messes outside of their litter box
  • Being destructive with furniture or other items around the house
  • Excessive grooming
  • Extreme vocalization
  • Hyper-attachment when you are around

Though you can notice some of these behaviors after returning home, it may be helpful to set up a camera in your home to monitor your cat’s behavior while you are gone. Getting a better understanding of your cat’s actions while you are away can also help a veterinarian more easily diagnose your cat with whatever the underlying issue may be.

To help lower the odds of your cat experiencing separation anxiety, manage your environment as much as possible. Keep unnecessary stressors low, provide your cat with fun, enriching toys, a few hidden treats, or play some music while you are away. If you will be returning to your office every day or leaving on an extended vacation, practice a few weeks in advance by leaving your house for short periods of time, reassuring your cat that you will return. Continue to lengthen that time allowing your pet to continue building their confidence by being by themselves.

In some households, the perfect solution may be to get another pet. Considering this decision is crucial, as adding a new pet to the family can also cause anxiety for some cats. However, for others, adding a friend may be the perfect solution.

Some cat parents have also found that having a vigorous play session with their cat right before they leave can help alleviate some anxiety. Not only does playing wear your cat out, but it also gives them a serotonin boost.

Can My Anxiety Affect My Cat?

There’s little doubt that people and their pets have strong bonds and lasting relationships.You often feel you can understand what they’re thinking, and they know what you are saying. With such a unique relationship, it’s not surprising to learn that a person’s emotions, including anxiety, can affect their cat.

This is not to say that someone with anxiety will pass it along to their cat as if it were something infectious. Instead, when a person experiences anxiety, their body language, facial expressions, overall mood, and routines may change, all of which a cat can notice.

Between noticing these changes in you, having their schedules altered, and possibly receiving less attention than normal, your anxiety could coincidentally cause your cat to develop some anxiety of their own. To help negate the effects of your anxiety on your feline friend, continue your regular schedule as much as possible. Cats are creatures of habit, so providing them with a routine can help them immensely. When you aren’t feeling your best, it isn’t always the easiest to provide extra care or attention, but if you can, continue giving your pal the attention and love they need.

orange and white cat licking her nose

Cats and OCD

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) (opens new window) is a condition that causes cats to engage in repetitive or excessive behavior that often doesn’t seem to have a purpose. Some common symptoms of OCD include but aren’t limited to excessive grooming, constant vocalization, pacing, and chewing on fabric.

OCD can be caused by other mental disorders and significant changes in their environment. When a cat is already stressed, this could also lead to OCD tendencies, and how a pet parent reacts to their cat’s behavior could exacerbate the symptoms.

If you begin noticing OCD behaviors from your cat, try to document them and schedule a veterinary appointment to get an official diagnosis. Your veterinarian will consider your observations and run any necessary tests to rule out other possible health issues that could be causing the symptoms.

Upon receiving a diagnosis, you and your veterinarian may work together on clearly defining a treatment plan. It may be recommended that you create a daily schedule for your cat, limit the stressors in your home, possibly provide medication, and schedule follow-up appointments with your veterinarian.

Like other types of anxiety and mental-related health conditions, the treatment path is not always a straight journey. It will take some consistency and care on your end to help provide your feline friend with the help they need, but in ideal instances, your cat can control their OCD behaviors and continue to live a normal, happy, and healthy life.

Cats and Anxiety Treatment

Cat parents should be reassured that there is now a plethora of treatment choices when it comes to cats and their anxiety. Sometimes finding the right option for your best pal may be a trial-and-error experience, but what’s most important is discovering which methods work best for your situation.

If you can, keep track of your cat’s anxiety, taking note of their triggers and how long it typically takes them to once again feel at ease. As you begin different types of treatment, continue to monitor their symptoms and recovery time, seeing which options are effective.

Although some veterinarians try to steer away from long-term medications unless your cat has an extreme case of anxiety, there are some medicinal options for situational stress. With thunderstorms, for instance, you may be able to give your cat just one dose before the storm rolls in, and that will be enough to keep them relaxed. You then don’t need to worry about any more pills until the next storm passes. If you believe your cat could benefit from this type of treatment, talk with your veterinarian about some options.

The information presented in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute or substitute for the advice of your veterinarian.

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