Clip cat anxiety at the bud

Cats experience anxiety when they anticipate a potential danger or threat, either real or imaginary. They tend to hide their pain, making it hard to detect. Your pet’s mental health is as important as her physical health. Know how you can effectively manage anxiety in cats.


Nitya Ramachandran

Chronic anxiety can negatively affect your cat’s wellbeing by messing with her immune system and making her more susceptible to a host of physiological and psychological illnesses. In the best interest of your cat, it is best to intervene and seek treatment without delay.

Stealing happiness one symptom at a time
Unlike humans, cats cannot put into words what’s troubling them. However, they make it known that all’s not well by exhibiting various physical symptoms and behavioral changes. Physical symptoms include –

  •  Dilated pupils
  •  Avoidance of eye contact with the stimulus
  •  Aggressive staring
  •  Flight/fight/freeze response towards stimulus
  •  Arched back and crouching pose
  •  Tail held tightly close to the body
  •  Piloerection (hair standing upright)
  •  Excessive salivation
  •  Panting
  •  Faster respiratory rate

Behavioural symptoms include –

  •  Aggression – If your otherwise well-behaved cat becomes aggressive for no known reason, anxiety might be at the root of it.
  •  Failing to use the litter tray – If your cat suddenly stops using the litter tray and starts peeing in other places inside your home, she is probably anxious.
  •  Increased lethargy – Anxious cats show little interest in playing or interacting with their humans and other pets.
  •  Boredom – If your cat thrives on attention, boredom can easily cause her to become anxious and frustrated.
  •  Restless pacing – Cats sleep a lot, so if your cat is spending more time pacing restlessly than sleeping, it’s a sure shot sign that there is trouble in paradise.
  •  Hiding – Not all cats are social. However, if your cat hides most of the time, to the point that you begin to wonder if she exists, then she is most probably anxious.
  •  Changes in appetite – Anxiety adversely affects a cat’s appetite. She could start eating everything in sight or stop eating altogether.
  •  Excessive vocalisation – If your cat has suddenly started to meow a lot, it means she is trying to tell you something.
  •  Hyper-vigilance – Some anxious cats are always on alert mode and can’t seem to relax.
  •  Trembling – If your cat trembles excessively, she is probably anxious.
  •  Physical sickness – Recurrent physical issues like digestive problems, upset stomach, vomiting, and UTIs (urinary tract infections) often signal underlying anxiety.
  •  Destructive behaviour – Anxious cats usually exhibit destructive behaviors such as clawing and scratching the furniture and upholstery.
  •  Compulsive behaviour – Stressed cats can display compulsive behaviors, often to their detriment. For example, an anxious cat might excessively groom herself to the point that it develops one or multiple bald patches.

The curious cause of cat anxiety
Anxiety in cats gets triggered by specific objects, events, or changes in routine or environment. Here are few additional causes of cat anxiety:

  •  Environmental stressors – Substantial changes in your pet’s environment such as moving to a new home, making changes to the furniture, addition of a new family member or pet can cause anxiety.
  •  Illness or physical pain – Infections, diseases, or painful physical conditions can contribute to the development of anxiety in your cat or make already existent symptoms such as fear and phobias pronounced. Aging-related memory loss can also cause anxiousness in cats.
  •  Trauma – Many cats can become fearful when a past trauma is triggered. Cats who were either abandoned or re-homed many times are more prone to anxiety.
  •  Improper socialisation – Kittens with little to no exposure to positive social and environmental stimuli during their socialisation period (6 to 12 weeks
    of age) might become habitual nervous wrecks.
  •  Inability to flee – Inability to escape from a threatening stimulus can make your pet anxious. Being confined during noisy fireworks or forced to share a home with a pet who she doesn’t like can stress her out as well.
    l Separation anxiety – Cats with separation anxiety become very distressed when left alone or separated from their pet parent or another animal close to them.

How to help an anxious cat?
Medical interventions: A thorough medical check-up by your vet including blood tests, urine tests, and any other tests, (as recommended by your vet) will help determine underlying medical concerns behind your Pet’s anxiety. Besides this, an examination of your pet’s daily routine could help trace the triggers for her anxious behaviours. Keep track of her daily routine by noting the time and situation when the symptoms are displayed. Using CCTV cameras to take video recordings of her behaviours will also help in this regard.
Medical treatment involves administering supplements or anti-depressants to your cat to ease her symptoms. Cat calming products, which are available in the form of sprays and diffusers, also work wonders in soothing your cat. Make sure you don’t use any supplements or calming products without consulting your vet.

Environmental interventions: Once you identify the source of your pet’s anxiety, it will be easy for you to discover the best way to calm her. The process may take weeks or even months and require patience, consistency, and commitment. Try to soothe your cat when she is exhibiting anxiety symptoms. Do not punish her because it will only worsen her fears. Don’t confine her into a crate or carrier when she is anxious, as she might panic more instead of calming down. If the symptoms are too severe, complete avoidance of the stressful stimulus works well. Cats, especially the older ones, do not like change. Maintaining consistency in your old pet’s routine and predictability in her surroundings will help keep her calm. If your cat suffers from separation anxiety, adding environmental enrichments can help to keep her mentally stimulated and distracted while you’re away. Adding cat trees, colourful and intriguing toys, and cardboard boxes will help keep your cat occupied while you’re out. Cats prefer hiding in dark, inaccessible places where they cannot be disturbed. Cats also tend to sleep for most of the day. Making provision for cat perches and hiding retreats for your cat will help her calm down to a great extent.

Behavioural modification techniques: Behaviour modification aims at changing your cat’s feelings towards a potentially threatening stimulus, teaching her that it is safe for her to relax. Desensitisation and counter-conditioning are the two methods that could help alleviate the symptoms of anxiety in your cat. These methods require you to be good with your timing, besides an ability to decipher your cat’s body language signals.
Desensitisation involves the gradual desensitisation of your cat to fear triggers through repeated and safe exposure. Counter-conditioning is a technique that works by changing an unwanted behaviour towards a stimulus into a positive one. If your cat is scared of your pet dog, you could start giving her a yummy treat every time she comes face to face with the dog. Over time, her response towards the dog will change from a fear-based one to a positive one. With these practices in place and your love, your beloved pet will be able to overcome anxiety. Just remember not all days will be the same, so be patient and you’ll sail through it together!