If there’s one thing we love about cats, it’s their chilled-out nature. They sleep most of the day, they have us to wait on them hand and foot and nothing seems to phase them. Koalas and sloths aside, cats have to be the calmest creatures on the planet — but appearances can be deceptive. Cats are complex animals, and they can get upset, angry and stressed out just like us.
Let’s explore the commonly-asked questions: “Can cats get anxiety?”, “What warning signs should we be looking out for?” and “How can we help our anxious cats?”
Related: Watch out for these signs of ill health in cats.
Can Cats Get Anxiety?
Pet MD describes anxiety in cats as the anticipation of danger or a threat. While your cat might be perfectly safe in reality, an anxious cat doesn’t feel it — it might be convinced that something bad is about to happen. This causes a range of bodily and behavioural reactions, which is how we can pick up on cat anxiety and treat it. While the ways our cats express their anxiety can be fairly stressful for us, it’s important to keep a level head and show your cat that you are to be trusted and that it has nothing to worry about.
What Causes Anxiety in Cats?
Anxiety in cats can be caused by a number of things. Each cat will have different triggers, just like humans. Something that doesn’t phase one cat might cause a serious amount of stress in another.
Anxiety in cats can be caused by:
- Changes to routine (for example, you starting a new job and not being at home as often).
- Moving home, redecorating or renovations.
- A house guest or a new family member (like a new baby).
- A trigger from a previous traumatic event.
- The introduction of new pets.
- Aggressive neighbourhood pets.
- Inappropriate handling.
- A lack of key resources — this includes fresh, clean litter boxes, fresh water, food, scratching posts and a calm, quiet area for them to be by themselves.
Signs of Anxious Cat Behaviour
Cat behaviour is never simple and straightforward. You might think that your cat is content because he or she is purring, but even purring can be a sign of stress in cats. You need to take into account the many other behaviours your cat exhibits to detect whether or not they’re anxious.
Below are just a few signs of anxious cat behaviour:
- A failure to use the litter tray — either because they are deliberately going elsewhere or because they simply don’t need to use it as often as usual.
- Frequent squatting and painful urination.
- Aggressive or destructive behaviour such as scratching the curtains or hissing at you.
- Compulsive over-grooming (keep an eye out for bald patches).
- Under grooming (look for matted, greasy fur).
- Clinginess — following you around the home like a puppy (unless this has always been a part of your cat’s personality).
- Changes in vocalisation (a lot of meowing when they were once quiet and content).
- Changes in appetite — overeating or undereating.
- Changes in drinking.
- Eating non-food items.
- Sudden weight loss or weight gain.
- A sudden reluctance to play with you.
- An unwillingness to come in or go outside.
- Generally looking tense and on edge — look for flattened ears, wide eyes, crouching and jerky movements.
How to Calm an Anxious Cat
It can be heartbreaking to watch your beloved pet show clear signs of distress. Thankfully, there are measures you can put in place to help it — it all starts with identifying the source of stress and working from there.
The best way to protect your cat and stop it from suffering from anxiety in the future is to identify what caused it to get stressed in the first place. If it’s obvious, like a house move, there’s every chance your cat will adjust in no time. If, however, the cause of the anxiety is a little more mysterious, it is worth paying a visit to the vets. The anxiety may well be a result of physical discomfort or an underlying illness, which should be addressed immediately. Your vet will also be able to recommend remedies such as cat pheromone sprays and plugins, which have been proven to soothe and calm frantic cats.
It can also help to provide your cat with a safe space — a place where they can escape, get some quiet time and unwind. Cats often like to escape to high up places, which is one reason cats love our luxury cat climbers and resting spots.
Other things you can do include making sure that your cat has access to clean water and litter trays. Give your cat some quality time and attention if it seems needy — play with it and take the time to cuddle up with it if it needs affection. Some breeds will need one-on-one attention more than others — for example, Ragdolls are almost dog-like in their need for human companionship.
If you notice your cat is stress-scratching, you should also consider providing dedicated scratching posts in areas you notice it scratching the most — it’ll preserve your home and it’ll give your cat an outlet. You can try rubbing catnip into your scratching post if your cat seems reluctant to use it.
Did You Know Your Cat Can Reduce Your Anxiety?
Did you know your cat has likely been keeping your anxiety at bay for a while? It’s been shown that our feline family members are great for our hearts and our stress levels, with one study showing that cat owners are 30% less likely to die of a heart attack or stroke than those without a cat. Your cat has been there for you, even when you didn’t notice, so be sure to take care of it when it needs you — and keep an eye out for the signs of anxiety.
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