cat panic attack anxious cat under a sofa

Can Cats Have Panic Attacks?

We’re taking a look at exactly what a cat panic attack looks like and how serious it can be.

Many cat owners are surprised to learn how much they have in common with their feline companions. As well as loving to eat, sleep, and play, humans and cats can also both suffer from mental illnesses like anxiety and panic attacks.

In this article, we’ll be going over the specific cat panic attack symptoms to help you identify when your pet might be suffering from one and what you can do to help.

Cat Anxiety

A panic attack is an extreme reaction to overwhelming feelings of anxiety, in both humans and cats.

While the reasons for both species experiencing anxiety might be different, many of the symptoms are the same.

For example, when cats feel scared or threatened, they may react by lashing out.

Alternatively, the complete opposite reaction could take place and you might find your cat hiding away from the threat in a dark corner of your home. 

It’s perfectly normal for cats to experience short bouts of stress in certain situations. However, if the threat is perceived constantly, then your cat may have developed anxiety. This can lead to panic attacks if it is not dealt with swiftly.

Older cats with poor eyesight are generally more likely to develop anxiety because a lack of vision can make them feel more vulnerable to attack. Cats that were not socialized properly as kittens are also at higher risk.

Cat Panic Attacks

cat panic attack hissing angry cat

The generally accepted definition of a panic attack is a sudden burst of intense fear that results in severe physical reactions. Even when there is no actual threat present.

Essentially, this means that your cat will exhibit physical signs of anxiety or a panic attack, even if there’s nothing for them to be afraid of.

For a cat, the cause could be as simple as a stranger entering the home and smelling like another cat.

Cats are incredibly receptive to smells and are very territorial by nature. So, your cat may feel threatened because they think another cat is in their home.

Other potential causes of panic attacks in cats include:

  • Pain or illness
  • Moving to a new home
  • The addition of a baby or new pet into the home
  • Previous traumatic experiences
  • Lack of proper socialization as a kitten
  • Old age
  • Separation anxiety

Cat Panic Attack Symptoms

Now that we understand a little more about how anxiety works in cats, let’s go over some of the most common symptoms of a cat panic attack:

Changes In Activity Level

You probably know your cat’s personality better than anyone else in the world. That’s why you’re the best person to pick up on any behavioral changes in your pet.

Both a significant decrease or increase in activity can indicate that your cat is suffering from a panic attack.

For example, if your cat enjoys playing with toys every day but you find that they suddenly refuse to play, anxiety may be the cause.

Similarly, a cat that is normally calm and docile might become more agitated and energetic as a response to a panic attack.

Trembling

Trembling and shaking are clear indicators of fear, anxiety, and potentially a panic attack.

If your cat still feels comfortable enough to be around you, it will be easier to notice any trembling or shaking. 

However, cats will often withdraw from social interaction when they are suffering from extreme anxiety. So, it is important that you keep an eye on your kitty if you are concerned. 

Fast Breathing

This is a very common sign of a panic attack in both humans and cats.

If you’ve ever seen two cats staring each other down in the few seconds before a fight breaks out, you may have noticed how remarkably still they both are.

In the case of panic attacks, your cat might exhibit the complete opposite reaction and their breathing will suddenly increase rapidly. In this situation, you should be able to see the rib cage moving quite clearly.

Excessive Meowing

Ok, this symptom isn’t quite the same as it is for humans but at least it’s a very clear indicator of a potential panic attack. 

If your cat is usually quiet, then a sudden increase in vocalizations could indicate that they are suffering from stress. However, again, you need to know your cat’s normal behaviors in order to identify any changes.

Of course, meowing can just be a sign of hunger! So, make sure you note when and how often your cat starts to vocalize excessively. Then you can begin to identify the triggers and work out if any intervention is necessary.

What To Do If Your Cat Has A Panic Attack

Firstly, if your cat is having a panic attack, the best thing to do is to leave them alone until they have calmed down.

You won’t know for sure what is causing their feelings of anxiety so you could end up making the situation worse unintentionally.

However, it is important to remember that all cats have their own personalities. Some will prefer to hide away but others may seek comfort. 

To test this, you can sit a short distance away from your cat and talk softly. Make sure you hold your body low to the ground so they don’t perceive you as yet another threat! If your cat comes over, make sure you are slow and gentle with any movements you make, and watch your cat’s reaction carefully. 

If your cat refuses to move, then simply leave them alone. 

If your cat has stopped eating or drinking because of a panic attack, you could bring their food and water closer to them. Alternatively, you can leave their bowls in a quiet room away from any people or other pets.

If you really can’t bear to see your cat in a state of anxiety, there are plenty of natural remedies you can try. 

You can also seek the advice of a vet if you are concerned, as they can give you advice on the best ways to deal with cat anxiety. These include behavioural modification techniques, desensitization, and certain medications.

Final Thoughts: Cat Panic Attacks

Hopefully, you have found this guide on cat panic attacks helpful.

You should now be able to recognize cat panic attack symptoms in your own feline friend and have the knowledge to help them out however you can.

Of course, as with all health issues, you should speak to your vet if you think your cat’s panic attacks are getting worse, as there may be an underlying medical cause.