Everything You Need To Know About Cat Anxiety
How to help her feel more confident 💕
Have you ever wondered if your cat has anxiety?
Believe it or not, anxiety can be pretty common in cats, just like in people. And some cats can be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.
If your cat has an anxiety disorder, it means that she doesn’t just experience anxious feelings occasionally, but she probably has severe or chronic symptoms that need to be addressed by a veterinarian.
The Dodo reached out to Dr. Jamie Richardson, medical chief of staff at Small Door Veterinary in New York City, to find out more about cat anxiety causes, symptoms and treatment.
Do cats get anxiety?
Yes, cats can develop anxiety either following a traumatic event or in response to a specific stimulus.
“Many cat owners first notice signs of anxiety between 5 months and 1 year of age, but anxiety can develop at any age and may worsen over time without treatment,” Dr. Richardson told The Dodo.
What causes anxiety in cats?
If your cat suffers from anxiety, there are a number of different things that can cause it.
Some common causes include the following:
Changes in your cat’s environment
Your cat can develop anxiety from any changes to her surroundings, like moving to a new home, changes to furniture or type of litter, a new family member, a new pet in the home or even a new pet next door.
Traumatic events, like your cat falling into a pool, fireworks, someone accidentally stepping on her tail or any other outside event, could suddenly cause stress or an anxiety disorder.
Illness or physical pain
A common cause of cat anxiety is an underlying illness or physical pain. Ruling out medical issues should be a top priority in determining the cause of her anxiety, so it’s super important to see your vet if your cat has anxious symptoms.
Improper socialization during kittenhood
Cat anxiety symptoms
“Anxiety may manifest in different ways, and symptoms may not always be obvious,” Dr. Richardson said.
The most common signs of anxiety in cats include:
- Excessive grooming
- Hair loss
- Urinating outside of the litter box
- Aggressive/territorial behavior
Other symptoms may include:
- Hiding/trying to escape
- Freezing up
- Decreased appetite
- Increased vocalization
- Holding her tail against her body
- Holding her ears back
- Hair standing up
“Anxiety can also trigger a number of medical conditions, particularly feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD) and upper respiratory infections (URIs), so you may also notice related symptoms, such as difficulty urinating and increased frequency of urination for FLUTD, and sneezing, congestion and discharge for URIs,” Dr. Richardson said.
In general, you should watch out for any changes in your cat’s behavior and report anything abnormal to your veterinarian. They can ultimately diagnose your cat with an anxiety disorder and prescribe treatment.
How to help a cat with anxiety
Here are some ways to help a cat’s anxiety at home:
If your cat’s anxiety is being triggered by something in her immediate environment (or a recent change in her environment), try to remove or lessen the effects of the stressor. For example, if she’s freaking out over being introduced to a new cat sibling, you should give her the space to get adjusted rather than forcing her to be in the same room so soon.
Give her a safe space
“Provide a ‘safe space’ for your cat to relax — a quiet, darkened place made from cardboard boxes or sheets draped over chairs can work well,” Dr. Richardson said.
Don’t let her feel trapped
“Ensure litter boxes are not placed in a ‘dead-end’ or corner where your cat might feel trapped,” Dr. Richardson said.
This means you don’t want to put your cat’s litter box in a place where she might feel trapped, like a tight corner. Instead, make sure she has different entry points and ways to escape if needed.
Also, your cat might feel intimidated or threatened while eating around other pets, which can cause her to feel anxious. To help, try to isolate her feeding spot as much as possible. “Place feeding and drinking bowls out of direct sight of other pets so your cat can eat in peace,” Dr. Richardson said.
Give her more enrichment
Make sure your cat has plenty of exercise and mental stimulation throughout the day. “A cat with excess energy will often channel it into nervous energy, so it’s important to make sure she has enough toys, enrichment items and playtime each day to keep her in a calm and happy state of mind,” Dr. Richardson said.
Consider calming aids
Pheromone diffusers, sprays and collars can help enormously to calm and reassure anxious cats.
“You can use sprays on bedding, scratching posts and other common areas, and you can plug the pheromone diffusers into wall outlets around your home and near the litter box,” Dr. Richardson said.
Cat anxiety treatments:
The best way to treat most cases of anxiety is with a multimodal approach that includes a combination of treatments.
Here are some common treatments a veterinarian and/or behaviorist might recommend to treat your cat’s anxiety:
Desensitizing your cat to triggers can be accomplished through repeated, controlled exposure to your cat’s specific fear or anxiety stimulus in small doses and at a low intensity.
“For example, if your cat is afraid of a dog barking, play the sound at a very low volume while they are in a calm state to help them become more accustomed to the noise,” Dr. Richardson said.
Counterconditioning teaches your cat to change her response to the anxiety stimulus.
If your cat is afraid of another pet, for example, you’d feed her her favorite treat any time she sees the other pet.
“Over time, their response will change from fear to happiness associated with the special treat,” Dr. Richardson said.
According to Dr. Richardson, for any training, it’s important to always work at a sub-threshold level. This means working in an environment that doesn’t cause your cat any fear or stress (which would be counterproductive).
“Watch your cat’s body language cues carefully, including their ear and tail positioning,” Dr. Richardson said.
When watching your cat’s ears and tail, you want to make sure they stay in a relaxed position.
Ears: Relaxed, forward and tilted slightly out
Tail: Loose, not stiff or sticking up
If your cat’s showing signs of anxiety, you should put a pause on the training session until next time.
The goal is to keep your cat relaxed throughout the entire session, though, so try to keep sessions relatively short at first so you can end on a positive note. “Stop while they are still calm,” Dr. Richardson said.
Depending on the severity of your cat’s anxiety, your vet may prescribe anti-anxiety medication. “These work best when used in conjunction with (not as a replacement for) the techniques discussed above,” Dr. Richardson said.
While your cat’s anxiety might be stressful now, using these tips (and making a trip to the vet) will help her not only feel more calm, but will get you both back to what you do best: making memories together.
We independently pick all the products we recommend because we love them and think you will too. If you buy a product from a link on our site, we may earn a commission.