Health & Wellness

Anxiety in cats

It’s much different than in dogs

Cats are mysterious, and it’s often hard to figure out exactly what their mood is. No matter how strong your bond is, they tend to hide their emotions — except for when it comes to anxiety. Dr. Aliya McCullough, a Fetch’s on-staff vet, shares all things cat anxiety so you can soothe your best friend. 

What are some of the main signs of cat anxiety? 

There are some key signs that show whether your cat has anxiety, like aggression towards humans or other pets and going to the bathroom inside. If you’ve spent a lot of time at home this past year, and now your schedule is changing, your cat could be suffering from separation anxiety. Regardless of the reason for cat anxiety, there are a couple of things you can do to protect them and your other pets. 

Some main signs of cat anxiety (ranking from generally mild to severe) are: 

  • Decreased appetite
  • Meowing often
  • Decreased or increased changes in activity level
  • Going to the bathroom outside of their litter box
  • Pica or eating things like rubber, soil, plastic, wood, string or fabric
  • Fighting with other cats
  • Excessive grooming or barbering, which can cause painful bald spots

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How to help a cat with anxiety

Talk to your vet about cat anxiety treatment options

Ask your vet to run tests to determine if there’s an underlying illness causing your cat’s anxiety (constantly peeing could be a sign of kidney disease). You could also ask your vet about seeing a behavioral therapist to help train your anxious cat. 

Benefits of behavioral treatment: 

  • Helps your cat manage stressors on their own

Disadvantages of behavioral treatment: 

  • It can sometimes take a long time
  • You must be consistent
  • Treatment programs can sometimes be costly
Create a safe space 

Avoid triggers. If your cat becomes anxious after seeing something in the window, keep them away from windowed rooms. Do you have multiple cats? Put several clean litter boxes, food bowls and beds around your house (add one more litter box per the number of cats you have). When cats are anxious, they become territorial, so you want to make sure everyone has their very own safe space.

Benefits: 

  • Cats are more likely to use clean litter boxes
  • Having multiple litter boxes decreases anxiety about going to the bathroom

Disadvantages: 

  • It’s more work to maintain several litter boxes for pet parents
Enrichment

Cats love interactive toys like ribbon wands. Make sure you spend at least 10 minutes a day playing with your cat and giving them the attention they deserve. If your cat enjoys walking, take them on a walk using a harness and leash. Another option is to spread kibble on the floor and engage them while also providing a tasty treat. 

Benefits: 

  • More quality time with your best friend

Consider asking your vet about cat anxiety medication and supplements

If your vet doesn’t find an underlying illness, your cat may need anti-anxiety supplements (ask your vet about Prozac). Your vet may also suggest testing out different types of pheromones or ingredients meant to calm your pet — diffusers like collars or pills may help. 

Benefits: 

  • These options treat behavioral issues like cat anxiety, aggression, excessive grooming or going to the bathroom in the house 
  • Diffusers or pheromone spray spread scents that mother cats release, which helps to calm them

Disadvantages: 

  • Vomiting, diarrhea, appetite loss
  • Some of these treatment options may not positively interact with other medications — only treat your pet in ways that have been approved or recommended by your vet
  • These treatment options take time and dedication — it can take up to 4 to 6 weeks before they make an impact
  • Don’t use diffusers near birds or aquariums, as they may harm the other animals

What should you not do to your anxious cat? 

  • Punish your cat. Your cat is suffering from anxiety, and punishing them will only make it worse. 
  • Don’t try to confine them. They may get more anxious and end up hurting themselves. Talk to your cat’s behavioral therapist to decide if crate training is right for them. 

Is it possible to prevent cat anxiety? 

Not always. The best way to help soothe your cat’s anxiety is to create an environment for success, or a refuge, that makes them feel comfortable. It’s also helpful to stick to a schedule and avoid any stressors. 

Even though cats are mysterious, your love and care for them brings you that much closer to helping them calm down. Our pets bring so much comfort to our lives, these quick tips will help you bring extra comfort to theirs. 

Dr. Aliya McCullough

Cats

Anxiety

Pet Health

Photo by Daria Shatova on Unsplash

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