How to Help a Cat with Anxiety
Just like humans, cats sometimes struggle with anxiety. If you notice your feline friend acting nervous, irritable, aggressive, or clingy, this may indicate that its anxious. You may be able to help by offering an enriching, low-stress environment. If your cats anxiety is new or severe, make an appointment with your vet to discuss possible causes and treatment options. It may not always be obvious if your cat is anxious, so get familiar with common signs of anxiety in cats if youre not sure how your companion might be feeling.
[Edit]Creating a Calming Environment
- Offer places for your cat to perch and hide. Avoid trying to give the cat attention as it may interpret this as a sign of aggression. Back off and allow the cat to do what it needs to do to feel safe, even if that means hiding away for a while. Provide your cat with furniture to help it feel more secure, such as a cat tree with perching platforms and built-in apartments. Upside down cardboard boxes with a couple of holes cut into the sides also make good hiding spots. If your cat doesnt feel like it has a safe space to retreat to when things get stressful, it may feel anxious and overwhelmed.
- Your cat may also appreciate having a designated area in the home where it can get away from other pets or children. For example, if you have a utility room, you could put a litter box and cat bed there and put a baby gate in the doorway to keep your dog out.
- Cats also enjoy having high places where they can safely survey the world around them from above. You may want to clear a pathway for your cat thats up off the ground, such as along a shelf or along the back of a couch.
- Give your cat safe areas to eat, sleep, and use the litter box. Your cat needs to feel secure while it is doing basic functions like eating, sleeping, and going to the bathroom. Place your cats food dishes, litter box, and bedding in low-traffic areas where it wont be harassed by other pets or kids.
- For example, if your dog tries to pester your cat at mealtimes, try putting your cats food and water in an area the dog cant reach, such as on a countertop or cat tree.
- Provide toys for your cat to keep it busy. Cats are natural predators that need to engage in stalking and hunting behaviors to feel fulfilled and happy. To keep your cat from getting anxious and bored, provide a variety of toys and other forms of entertainment. Try to offer enrichment items that make your home more like the cats natural environment. Some good options include:
- Puzzle feeders to make mealtimes more fun and enriching.
- Moving toys, like windup mice or robotic bugs, that your cat can chase.
- Fishing rod toys, feather wands, or laser pointers for interactive play.
- Fun things for your cat to watch, like fish tanks, bird feeders located outside your windows, or footage of fish, birds, or bugs on your TV.
- Cat-safe plants, like potted cat grass or catnip.
- Make sure your cat has scratching posts. Cats need to scratch to maintain their claws, but they also do it to mark their territory and relieve excitement or nervous energy. To keep your cat from feeling anxious or engaging in destructive scratching, provide at least one scratching post or horizontal scratching surface.
- You can buy a scratching post or board scratcher from a pet supply store, or make your own scratching post.
- Pay attention to whether your cat prefers to scratch while standing upright or down on all fours. Choose an upright scratching post or a horizontal scratching board based on your cats preferences.
- Cats like to scratch right after they wake up, so place a scratcher near your cats sleeping area. You can also place a scratcher near furniture or other objects you dont want your cat to scratch.
- Ignore your cat unless its asking for attention. This may seem counterintuitive, but one good way to calm an anxious cat is to act as if it isnt there at all. Instead of trying to soothe your cat or sneak around quietly when its acting timid or scared, go about your business as usual. This will help your cat feel more at ease and less like it is the center of attention.
- Dont make direct eye contact with your cat, talk to it, or try to touch it unless it approaches you first.
- If your cat does approach you, reward the behavior with praise, treats, or gentle petting.
- Getting down on the cats level can also make you seem less intimidating, such as by kneeling or even lying on the floor. Avoid looking down at the cat while standing up.
- Use treats to bond with your anxious cat. Treats can help your cat build positive associations with you and its environment. Try offering treats to reward your cat when it approaches you or behaves calmly. You can also put treats around to encourage your cat to explore and get comfortable with the different parts of your home.
- If your cat is nervous about coming near you, try placing a treat in the palm of your hand. Sit quietly with your hand outstretched and see if the cat will come and take the treat from you.
- If the cat is too anxious to get close to you, try tossing a treat to it at a distance. As your cat gets more comfortable, you can toss the treat closer to you.
[Edit]Using Medications and Anxiety Aids
- See your vet to rule out any underlying medical problems. Sometimes anxious behaviors can be a sign of a more serious physical condition. If youre worried about your cats behavior or havent had any luck with adjusting your cats home environment, talk to your vet. They can give your cat an exam and try to determine whats going on.
- Many common signs of anxiety, such as irritability, changes in appetite, or urinating outside the litter box, may also be symptoms of illness in cats.
- Let your vet know when the behaviors started and if youve noticed any other symptoms.
- If your vet cant find any physical cause for your cats symptoms, they may refer you to a feline behavior specialist.
- Try a pheromone spray in your cats living areas. A pheromone spray, such as Feliway, mimics the soothing scents that cats produce naturally from their facial glands. Your vet may recommend spraying a pheromone spray around your cats living and sleeping areas or placing a diffuser in rooms where your cat spends time.
- You can purchase pheromone sprays and diffusers online or from pet supply stores, such as Pet Remedy. You may also be able to buy these products directly from your vets office.
- You can also buy calming collars that are saturated with synthetic pheromones. Place one of these on your cat like an ordinary collar so that it can smell the calming pheromones at all times.
- If you use a diffuser or calming collar, check the instructions to find out how often it needs to be replaced.
- Ask your vet about using anti-anxiety medications. If your cat has severe anxiety and other treatment approaches dont work, your vet may prescribe an anti-anxiety medication for your cat. Follow your vets directions for administering the medication, and dont hesitate to reach out to them if you have any questions or concerns.
- Most anti-anxiety medications work by adjusting the balance of natural feel-good chemicals, such as serotonin and dopamine, in your cats brain.
- You may need to give the medication for a few weeks before you notice a major difference in your cats behavior.
- Let your vet know if your cat experiences side effects, such as vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, or difficulty urinating.
- Discuss using a calming supplement for your cat. While there are numerous supplements on the market that claim to treat anxiety in cats, theres not always a lot of evidence for their effectiveness. Before trying a supplement, ask your vet to recommend one that may be safe and effective for your cat. Some supplements that may help include:
- Milk proteins, such as casein or alpha-casozepine. You can get prescription foods or tablets that contain these proteins.
- L-theonine, an amino acid found naturally in tea.
- Cat-safe botanical extracts, such as Magnolia officinalis and Phellodendron amurense.
- Melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate sleep patterns and reduce stress.
- Tryptophan, an amino acid that helps stimulate the production of serotonin.
[Edit]Recognizing the Symptoms of Anxiety
- Watch for withdrawal and hiding behaviors. Many anxious cats will run from people and spend a lot of their time hiding. If you hardly ever see your cat, or if it gets skittish and runs away when you try to approach or touch it, thats a good sign that your cat is feeling anxious.
- Your cat may retreat under the bed or hide in a high place, such as the top of a wardrobe or even your refrigerator.
- Make note of your cat being extra clingy. While some cats react to anxiety by hiding, others wont leave your side. If your cat wont stop following you around and pestering you for attention, that may be a sign that it is feeling anxious.
- Some cats suffer from separation anxiety, and may become restless and destructive when you leave them alone.
- Keep an eye out for changes in appetite. If your cat starts eating more or less than usual, this can also be a symptom of anxiety. Keep an eye on your cats food habits and pay attention to any changes.
- Listen for unusual vocalizations. An anxious cat may yowl, cry, or meow more than usual. Listen for meowing at unusual times, like the middle of the night.
- Like many other symptoms of anxiety in cats, this behavior can also be a sign of a physical illness. For example, yowling at night can be a symptom of a thyroid condition.
- Notice aggressive behaviors. Cats that are anxious may become irritable and lash out at humans or other pets in the home. While it may seem like your cat is being mean, aggressive behaviors often signal that your cat is feeling stressed and fearful.
- Always consult your vet if you notice sudden or unusual aggressive behavior from your cat.
- Check for problems with using the litter box. Urinating of defecating outside the litter box are common signs of stress or anxiety in cats. In particular, cats that are anxious may spray urine in inappropriate places to try to mark their territory.
- If you notice your cat having litter box issues, contact your vet. These behaviors may also mean that your cat is sick. For example, a cat that urinates outside the litter box could have a urinary tract infection.
- Be mindful of changes in grooming. An anxious cat may neglect its coat, causing it to appear dirty or scruffy. On the other hand, your anxious cat might also overgroom itself, leading to bald or stubbly patches and skin sores. Call your vet if you notice changes in your cats grooming behaviors, since these can be signs of either behavioral or physical problems.
- For example, a scruffy coat, bald patches, or skin sores can also be signs that your cat has a flea allergy.
- Your vet may be able to prescribe short-term anxiety medications or sedatives to reduce anxiety in high-stress situations, such as a move, a long plane or car ride, or a vet visit.
- If you notice changes in your cats behavior, try to think of possible triggers, such as the addition or loss of a pet or human family member in the household, or unusual noise or activity in your home.
- Most of the symptoms of anxiety in cats can also be signs of pain, injury, or illness. Dont assume your cat is anxious just because it displays some or all of the common symptoms of anxiety.
- Be patient with your cat. Getting angry at it or trying to force it to overcome its anxious behaviors too quickly will only make your cat feel more stressed and fearful.