Does my cat have anxiety (the signs you need to know)?

Anxiety can be an all too familiar feeling for a person struggling with a stressful situation or battling a series of emotional life events.

While we’re able to talk our issues through with a loved one or seek professional help, it’s not that simple for our beloved felines.

They can’t pick up the phone and ask you to come home if they’re scared, and they won’t come out and tell you if something in their life is worrying them. 

That doesn’t mean cat anxiety isn’t a real condition though. It’s very real, and it can be extremely serious. 

Anxiety in pets can manifest itself in a variety of symptoms some subtle, some more obvious. We, as pet parents, need to be alert to these signs, because the longer the issue goes untreated, the more far-reaching the long-term health implications can be.  

Is anxiety common in cats?

Imagining our felines suffering from anxiety isn’t nice. What we need to remember though is that it is a perfectly normal emotion. The key is how we deal with it. 

Cat anxiety can affect all breeds at all ages, but it may impact each individual cat in a different way. Some felines are highly sensitive, easily triggered by the smallest disruption to their routine. Others are better at taking everything in their stride, seemingly meowing their way through life without a care in their world. 

Nonetheless, even the calmest cat can still suffer from stress, and it’s vital we’re able to pinpoint the reason behind their uneasiness before the situation worsens. 

A common cause of cat anxiety is an undiagnosed illness or injury, which over time can begin to affect their behavior. Psychological triggers are just as common, possibly stemming from a traumatic experience or neglect at a previous household.  We can’t ignore the debilitating effect of aging either. As cats enter their later years, dementia and joint pains are just two potential sources of anxiety we need to be wary of.

On top of all this, there’s all the environmental factors to consider, too – moving home, new baby, new pet. 

The causes of cat anxiety are wide-ranging, which is why we need to be extra vigilant in detecting the early signs.

6 signs your cat has anxiety

  1. They can't stay still. Cats are renowned for being expert chillers. When they're not napping, they'll most likely be enjoying a spot of downtime stretched out on the window sill or the sofa. So, if they're suddenly struggling to settle — pacing back and forth, up and down the house for instance, or over-grooming — this could be a sign something is making them feel on edge.
  2. Avoiding their litter box. Cats can stop using their litter box for a number of reasons. It may be that there aren’t enough of them around the house, or they don't like the type of litter, or it isn't clean enough. Once you've ruled out all box-related issues, it's time to consider stress-related reasons. A cat could be urinating in random spots around the house because they no longer feel safe and secure in certain areas; likewise, increased frequency of urination is another indicator of stress or anxiety.
  3. Loss of appetite. If you don't think illness or a change of diet is behind your cat's sudden aversion to food, then look for any potential stressors that may be affecting appetite. Have you welcomed a new pet into your home? Have you moved home? Even something as seemingly innocuous as relocating their food bowl can have a negative effect on their eating habits.
  4. Aggressive behavior. This can be an easy spot for pet parents who are used to a calm and considerate cat for company. Unexpected displays of aggression – hissing, growling, scratching, stalking – aren't necessarily a sign your feline is in a bad mood; it's just as likely they're acting out of fear or uncertainty. Don't fight fire with fire. Punishing a cat for losing their temper is only going to make matters worse. Instead, try to get to the bottom of their change in behavior.
  5. Excessive meowing. A cat crying or meowing uncontrollably (especially in the middle of night) could be them trying to tell you all is not well. Excessive vocalization is often linked to pain or illness, but can also be the result of stress and anxiety. The sooner you locate the issue that's plaguing them, the sooner peace and quiet will return to your house.
  6. Hiding. When things get a little too much for us, it's only natural to want to shut out the world. The same goes for our felines. If your cat has suddenly become a champion hide and seek player, it's probably because they're feeling overwhelmed, or something in the house is literally scaring them.

Should you seek veterinary support for anxiety treatment?

Once you think you’ve figured out the root cause(s) of their anxiety, eliminating it or helping your cat slowly adapt will more often than not result in seeing them return to normal. 

We would always recommend providing your felines with a safe space in the house – somewhere they can retreat to and relax if things start getting on top of them.  This could be their very own room, or easier access to a place up high where they can disappear for an hour or so. 

If, in spite of your best attempts, your stressed out feline doesn’t appear to be calming down, medical assistance should be sought. 

A trip to the vets can be a huge source of anxiety in itself for our felines, so you will need to make the experience as stress-free as possible. Ensure they are comfortable with the carrier by leaving it out in the house beforehand in order for them to get used to it. Place their favorite toy in there and take healthy treats with you. They may need enticing out of the carrier once at the vets, and rewarding them once their check-up has been completed certainly won’t do any harm in anticipation of any return visits.

Cat anxiety requires pet parent patience

Dealing with an anxious cat can be a highly stressful time for pet parents, too. The trick is to remain patient. 

Spend a bit more time with them. It could simply be that they’re craving attention. Even if that’s not the case, it may provide you with a better opportunity to identify what’s troubling them. 

Our ‘How To Make Your Cat Feel More Secure And Safe At Home‘ article is a fantastic starting point for anybody looking to make their home a more cat friendly environment.

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