Cat Anxiety: Understanding Your Stressed Cat
You may tease someone for being a "scaredy-cat" or even get a chuckle when something startles your kitty and makes her jump. But a fearful, anxious cat is no joke. Cat anxiety can be a serious problem, especially if left untreated. If you think you might be dealing with a stressed cat, keep reading in order to understand what's going on with your kitty and how you can help her.
Cat Anxiety Explained
Cats experience anxiety when they anticipate danger from "unknown or imagined origins that result in normal body reactions ... associated with fear," explains PetMD. In other words, an anxious cat appears chronically stressed and afraid for no obvious reason. However, this doesn't mean that there isn't a reason. It simply means that it may take some time and investigation to determine the cause.
Potential causes that may result in a stressed cat are wide and varied. Cat anxiety may be caused by pain or illness, exposure to something toxic or infectious diseases that affect the nervous system. A psychological trigger may be to blame, like a traumatic experience, lack of proper socialization or a history of abuse or neglect. An aging brain can also cause anxiety, especially in senior cats experiencing memory problems or dementia. Joint pain in older cats can also be a source of anxious behaviors, such as hiding or failing to use the litter box. Other potential causes of cat anxiety can include new or moved furniture, new pet or baby in the home, or even a new home.
One of the most common forms of cat anxiety is separation anxiety, in which your cat becomes anxious and stressed when you leave her sight or she's left home alone. This is especially prevalent among cats with a history of abandonment or who have been rehomed or passed from owner to owner, according to PetMD.
So how can you tell if you have an anxious cat?
Watch for the Signs
An anxious kitty isn't too difficult to spot. PetMD identifies the following signs and symptoms of general cat anxiety:
- Withdrawal and hiding
- Becoming less active
- Trying to escape
- Destructive or aggressive behavior
- Failure to use the litter box
- Sores and lesions resulting from over-grooming
Other symptoms include a loss or reduction of appetite, weight loss, excessive vocalization, lethargy
Helping Your Stressed Cat
The first thing you need to know in order to help your anxious cat is that you should never punish or scold her for her anxious behavior. This will only increase negative associations and fear and make things worse instead of better. The goal should be to help her feel safe and relaxed in her surroundings.
Once you've identified anxious behaviors in your cat, the first step is to make an appointment with your veterinarian to either diagnose or rule out any underlying health issues or toxins that might be causing your kitty stress. Because cats tend to hide their pain, this is not something that is likely to be
On the other hand, if your vet rules out a physical problem as the cause, this may mean that the issue is psychological. If this is the case, your vet should be able to advise you on a course of treatment.
In addition to prescribing anti-anxiety medication to help keep your kitty calm, your vet may recommend a trainer or animal behaviorist who can help both you and your cat through behavioral conditioning and counter-conditioning. Behavioral conditioning involves identifying fear triggers in your kitty's life and either desensitizing her to these triggers through repeated, safe exposure, or removing them from her environment. Counter-conditioning, which is similar, involves training your cat to replace a negative behavior with a positive
If Left Untreated
Untreated anxiety won't get better on its own, and will likely become worse over time, with undesirable behaviors becoming more pronounced. Just as with humans, chronic stress can have a physiological effect on your kitty's health. If it persists, it could compromise her immune system and make her more vulnerable to illness, which will, in turn, compound her stress. She could also develop severe depression on top of the anxiety, all of which could lead to additional behavior problems. It's not only in your cat's best interest but also in the interest of having a peaceful home, to intervene with your cat's anxiety as quickly as possible.
If you think your cat is suffering from anxiety, take heart. With love, patience
Jean Marie Bauhaus
Jean Marie Bauhaus is a pet parent, pet blogger