Pawsing for Peace: Understanding Cat Anxiety

Just like us humans, anxiety in cats is a common occurrence. Most fears and anxieties in cats develop because of unpleasant early life experiences. Be a responsible pet parent and know what you can do to keep anxiety at bay for your feline friend.

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The anticipation of a real or imaginary threat can cause anxiety in cats. Stress can cause physiological and behavioral changes in the cat. If left untreated, the situation usually gets worse. Hence, it is vital to address the condition as early as possible.

Spotlight on the symptoms

  • Following you everywhere

If your pet follows you wherever you go, she does not want that you leave her alone. While this behavior might make you feel adored by your pet, it could indicate that she is experiencing separation anxiety.

  • Excessive grooming

Cats are fastidious groomers and like to stay clean. However, when the grooming reaches a level where your pet begins to lose hair by the spades, it could be a sign of underlying anxiety.

  • Litter box accidents

Cats are particular about using their litter box to do their business. However, if your pet starts peeing in places outside of her litter box, she is probably anxious or stressed.

  • Change in food habits

It is unusual for a healthy, happy cat to stop eating or start eating everything in sight. It could very well mean that your pet is using food or lack of it to deal with the anxiety.

  • Hiding

Cats are not exactly known to be social butterflies. Most cats like their space, but if you notice that your pet is hiding all the time, it could be a sign of anxiety, illness, or pain.

  • Restlessness

Cats sleep for 15-16 hours a day. If your pet can’t seem to sit still or is pacing about more than she is sleeping, it could be a sign of anxiety.

  • Excessive vocalization

Cats meow to communicate with humans. If your pet has started meowing a lot lately, she is trying to tell you that all is not well in her world. An anxious cat’s meows will also sound troubled or distressed.

  • Lethargy

Cats gripped by stress and anxiety tend to lose interest in everyday activities they usually enjoy, such as playing or interacting with their humans or other animals. Stress can cause a cat to become lethargic.

  • Aggressive behavior

If your typically well-behaved cat has started displaying high levels of aggression of late for no apparent reason, the root cause of it might be anxiety. Cats usually do not act out this way unless they are stressed or sick.

  • Trembling

If your pet is so fearful that she starts trembling, she might be overstimulated and anxiety-ridden.

  • Sick

If your pet doesn’t seem as happy or energetic as she used to be and starts to avoid you instead of spending time with you, anxiety can be the cause. If your kitty experiences frequent health issues such as diarrhea or vomiting, she is likely to be stressed.

Guiding your feline friend through anxious moments

If you notice signs of anxiety in your pet, follow these tips –

  • Comfort her

It is okay to try to comfort or soothe your pet when she is feeling fearful. Contrary to popular belief, doing so does not reward unpleasant behavior.

  • Do not punish

Punishing your pet or yelling at her for having a fear response will aggravate it further. It can even cause her to become aggressive toward the person handing out the punishment.

  • No confinement, please!

At no cost should you put your pet inside a crate or carrier when she is feeling anxious. Most cats panic when caged or confined and tend to injure themselves by biting and scratching at the crate.

  • Create a safe haven

Provide a quiet, safe space for your pet to retreat when she feels overwhelmed by the environment around her.

Cue in the causes

  • Illness or Physical Pain

Any illness or painful physical condition can cause anxiety in your pet or exacerbate already existing symptoms. Changes in the nervous system caused by aging can also lead to fears and phobias.

  • Trauma

A traumatic experience such as abuse, abandonment, or rehoming can cause cats to become anxious. Situations that trigger a traumatic memory can trigger anxiety.

  • Improper Socialization

Cats who are not exposed to positive social and environmental stimuli during their critical socialization period (7 to 12 weeks of age) may become fearful or anxious later on.

  • Inability to move away from a stimulus

When your pet can’t escape from a triggering stimulus, such as being confined during loud fireworks or being forced to co-exist in the same house with a pet that frightens them, she can become easily anxious.

  • Separation Anxiety

A cat having separation anxiety may exhibit distressful behaviors when she is alone. A traumatic history of abandonment or rehoming can cause separation anxiety.

  • Environmental Changes

Cats are sticklers for routine. Any change in their routine life or environment can trigger anxiety in your cat. Shifting to a new home, bringing in a new pet, and entry of a new person into the family can all cause your cat to become stressed.

  • Tread carefully to detect silent signals

Your vet will conduct a comprehensive physical examination of your pet to ascertain that no underlying illnesses, pain, or physical injuries are promptinganxious behavior. If no medical cause is visible, your vet will carefully and thoroughly examine your pet’s history to unearth clues about the situations and stimuli that trigger an anxious response in her.

  • Creating a ‘Zen Den’ and managing feline anxiety

Try to avoid situations that causefear or anxiety for your pet. Keep her sheltered in a protected environment that has negligible stressors. If your pet fears unfamiliar people, do not force her to meet new houseguests.

  • Anxiety Medicine

Fast-acting medicines for cat anxiety reduce the symptoms within two to three hours. These work wonders for situations that do not last long, such as a visit to the vet or fireworks during festivals.

  • Behavior Modification

Behavior modification aims to teach your pet coping skills that she can use in multiple settings. It helps change how your cat feels about a scary stimulus. Two commonly used methods of behavior modification are desensitization and counterconditioning. Both methods require time, patience, and consistent effort to yield fruitful results.

  • Desensitization

In this process, a cat is exposed to low levels of the frightening stimulus so that she does not display any signs of fear. For instance, if your cat is scared of the sound of thunder, you play the sound at such a low volume that it does not cause any fear or stress. When playing the sound multiple times at a low volume does not elicit a fear response, you can increase the volume slightly and repeat the process.

  • Counter-conditioning

This method seeks to convert the negative emotional response to a scary stimulus into a positive one. For example – a cat afraid of the family dog is presented with her favorite treat every time she sees the dog. Doing so over time changes her response to seeing the dog from fear to the good feelings associated with the yummy treat.

Exposing your cat to a variety of people, social settings, and environments in a relaxed and positive way when she is still young will go a long way in decreasing anxious behavioral responses at a later stage.

Just like for humans, anxiety in cats can become a serious issue if left neglected. Trust your vet with the right treatment and medications.

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