Just like humans, cats can suffer from anxiety, but the symptoms aren’t always easy to notice. Correctly interpreting your cat’s behaviour is the first step in learning how to calm an anxious cat.
Vet advice courtesy of Dr Cathy Lau BSc (Hons) BVSc BVMS from Greencross Vets Baldivis.
Causes of stress and anxiety in cats
Your cat may come across as independent and aloof, but this cool exterior often hides an inner scaredy cat. Many cats feel stress due to reasons that often surprise their owners. As a creature of habit, situations such as moving house, visits to the vet, noisy events, separation from their pet parent and a change in daily routine can all play a big part in making your cat feel a little anxious. Some of the most common causes of stress and anxiety in cats are:
Lack of space
Cats aren’t made to live in confined spaces or share their territory with cats from other social groups. Multi-cat households can be a very common cause of feline stress. Make sure that there is one more litter tray than the number of cats that you have at home and that these litter trays are twice the length of your cat, including their tail.
No control over their environment
Cats have no control over their food, water, bed and litter tray placement and this is quite unnatural for them. They also do not prefer to share these resources. If you have multiple cats at home, we recommend that you provide them all with their own separate bowls, litter trays and bedding. Remember to keep their food and water bowls separate as cats don’t like drinking next to food and vice versa.
Being unable to escape stressful situations
Running away or escaping to somewhere high is how cats cope with challenging situations. Cats love vertical space where they can overlook their environment and if they can’t, it’s likely to cause them some stress. Provide your cat with a scratcher with hidey holes and platforms to keep them reassured.
Cats are solitary animals that prefer brief, but frequent interaction with members of their social group. Eating, sleeping and toileting are private actions, and cats can easily become stressed when they have to do so with others around. Keep their litter tray, and bedding in private, low traffic areas.
Spotting cat anxiety symptoms
Stress isn’t always easy to notice in cats, and when our cats display certain signs of anxiety, we often misinterpret these symptoms as naughty or spiteful instead of a cry for help. If your cat is expressing the below behaviours, it’s important to know that your furry friend is simply trying to cope with a stressful situation:
- Change in grooming habits, either becoming excessive or lacking
- Ears flattening
- Hair on their back and tail going up
- Arched back
- Lowered, concave or tucked tail
- Withdrawal (e.g. hiding, freezing and shutting down)
- Urine spraying
- Biting and chasing people
- Excessive scratching
- Fighting with other cats
Cat anxiety treatments
Have you ever noticed your cat happily rubbing their cheeks on objects around your home or maybe even on you? This is both an affectionate behaviour and a way for your cat to mark their territory by releasing pheromones from the scent glands in their cheek. This scent creates a familiar environment for your cat where they feel safe and secure.
Available as a diffuser and a spray, Feliway is a synthetic copy of this natural pheromone and is highly effective in calming anxious cats. Especially useful in households with multiple cats, it has been proven to reduce unwanted behaviours such as urine spraying and scratching.
Adjust to suit their needs
To help your cat stay calm, it’s also helpful to adjust your home environment to meet their needs. In their natural environment, cats need to hunt and eat 10 times or more per day. Therefore brief and frequent interactions where you play with them, followed by a small meal multiple times a day is ideal. This will help to reduce aggressive behaviour.
In addition, it’s also important to keep your cat mentally and physically stimulated. Try filling up a toy with dry kibble or treats and letting your cat manipulate the toy to dispense food, or hiding small amounts of food around your house so your cat has to forage for it. These puzzles are especially useful for indoor cats as it enriches their environment.
If you suspect your cat may be suffering from anxiety, always seek the advice of your local Greencross Vets. For stress and anxiety relieving aids, take a look at our range of cat stress and anxiety treatments online or instore for products that will have your cat back to their purr-fect, purring best in no time.