cat anxiety symptoms cat with anxiety

The Ultimate Guide to Cat Anxiety: Causes, Symptoms, Treatments

As a responsible pet parent, it’s good to know the symptoms of cat anxiety because the condition is becoming a serious problem, not only among humans but also in animals, especially cats. The topic of our pet’s mental health has been largely ignored for a long time but things are finally changing. People are now becoming more aware of the mental health of their pets and want to learn more about it. At the end of the day, we all want our pets to be happy and content!

To completely understand anxiety in cats, we will go through the following questions:

In this guide, we will be educating cat owners about one of the most common mental health problems – cat anxiety. Apart from the signs of anxiety in cats, we will talk about the different types of anxiety, as well as treatment options, prevention strategies, and everything else you need to know about the condition.

Anxiety In Cats

Cats are sensitive animals that can fall prey to anxiety easily. Their mental problems can be mistaken for physical ones so it often gets missed or wrongly diagnosed. The problem with this is that anxiety can worsen over time if it is not dealt with. This can severely impact the well-being and health of your feline companion. It is therefore essential for every cat owner to know the signs of cat anxiety. Although cat anxiety symptoms can vary among individual animals, most of the time, the major signs are the same. 

The Difference Between Cat Anxiety & Depression

Before we start our discussion on cat anxiety, let me clarify something. Anxiety is generally confused with depression, but they are not the same thing. In fact, they are two of the most common but distinct mental health problems in cats (and humans!). 

In general terms, anxiety is associated with a fear of futuristic events which may or may not happen. On the other hand, depression is caused by past experiences.

So, let’s start from scratch and learn all the information we need to diagnose and treat cats that are suffering from cat anxiety.

Cats can seem unpredictable in their moods and behaviors. They roam around at home like they own the place, and they dive at a toy before dashing out of the room. Let’s face it, our little furbabies give us countless moments of joy and laughter but their erratic behaviors can make it difficult to assess their mental health! 

Saying that, if you suddenly notice your cat is freaking out for no apparent reason, then that’s something to worry about because it could be a sign of anxiety. 

Cat anxiety symptoms can vary and may occur for different reasons. However, anxiety is mainly due to the anticipation of some perceived threat. Remember, that this danger may not be real, but it can still lead to a physical response in your feline.

The physical signs of anxiety in cats include vomiting and urinary issues but they can also cause emotional distress. So, a cat suffering from anxiety is prone to developing behavioral problems such as urinating outside of the litter box.

What Causes Anxiety in Cats

cat anxiety symptoms sleepy orange cat

The causes of cat anxiety can be divided into three main types

  • Physical changes 
  • Psychological changes 
  • Health Problems

Physical Changes

Overwhelming situations or certain stimuli can play a significant role in the development of anxiety in cats. For example, environmental changes in a cat’s surroundings may trigger anxiety, such as relocating to a new home or revamping the current home. The addition of a new pet or family member can also make your cat anxious.

Psychological Changes

A previous painful or traumatic experience can lead to your cat developing anxiety. Similarly, so can neglect or abuse. If you are an introverted pet owner, this can also lead to cat anxiety because most cats need some sort of social interaction. This is particularly true of the more interactive breeds such as Siamese and Ragdoll cats. 

Health Problems

According to recent medical data, health problems are the most common reason for cat anxiety. It can develop as the result of pain or illness, exposure to something toxic, or infectious diseases that affect the nervous system. 

Senior cats are also more likely to suffer from anxiety, as they begin to experience memory problems or dementia. Joint pain is another common indicator of an anxious cat. 

It’s important to accurately work out the reason for your cat’s anxiety so you can eradicate any environmental stressors that may be exacerbating the issue.

Types of Cat Anxiety

There are two major types of anxiety 

  • Situational 
  • Generalized

In situational anxiety, the anxious behavior is triggered under certain circumstances. These can include being left alone, visiting a veterinarian, or traveling.

Cats with this type of anxiety may also become extra clingy with their owners. When the owners are away, these cats will often over-groom themselves, hide away, or destroy things in the home. These are among the more common signs of anxiety in cats. 

In generalized anxiety, a cat is in a constant state of anxiousness, no matter what the circumstances are. 

Let’s delve deeper and take a look at some of the most common types of anxiety in cats. 

Separation Anxiety  

Separation anxiety belongs to the situational category and is considered to be one of the most widespread mental health issues in cats. As the name suggests, it is related to separation. In this condition, cats become stressed and anxious when they are left alone or when you are no longer visible.

Historically, cats that are regularly transferred from one owner to another are the most susceptible to separation anxiety. 

If you are planning a long vacation, you should expect some cat anxiety symptoms to develop. Wherever possible, you should keep your cat with you to prevent separation anxiety, unless the traveling aspect is going to be even more stressful! Alternatively, ensure your cat has a good pet sitter that they trust, or book them into a comfy cat hotel where they will receive plenty of reassurance and fuss.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) 

Obsessive-compulsive disorder can be characterized by overemphasized, repeated, or tedious responses in your cat. It is usually defined as a mental malfunction that is linked to high-stress levels. However, no specific causes of OCD have been identified yet so it is still a relatively misunderstood condition.  

Pet owners often repeat actions that they think are helping to release the stress of their pet but actually, these don’t always work. Instead of calming your cat, they can in fact heighten stress levels! Especially if you are being overattentive. 

Bear in mind that Siamese and other Asian breeds are genetically predisposed to developing obsessive-compulsive behaviors, such as pica. 

Cat Anxiety Symptoms

It is very important for owners to know the signs of anxiety in cats to ensure timely detection of the problem. This will increase the chances of successful treatment and improve the life quality of your pet. If anxiety goes unnoticed, it can become worse over time.

So, try to treat it as soon as possible by taking appropriate steps to mitigate any potential stressors.

Remember that there is always a reason behind cat anxiety, even if we can’t see it! You just need to be patient and observe your cat so you can find the root cause of the problem.

Signs of anxiety in cats usually appear between the ages of 5 months to 1 year. However, this is just a guide as anxiety can develop at any stage in a cat’s life.

As we mentioned above, anxiety symptoms can vary between individuals, depending on the root cause. However,  Some widespread cat anxiety symptoms include:

  • Hair loss due to over-grooming
  • Failing to urinate in the litter box
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Repeated attempts to hide or escape and staying stunned or still
  • Trembling
  • Restlessness
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss
  • Excessive vocalizations 
  • Vomiting
  • Chasing people in the home 
  • Scratching furniture and scraping at curtains
  • A rigid tail that is held low to the ground
  • Ears facing backward or flattened against the head
  • Ears fully erect as if sensing danger

Medical conditions such as Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD) and Upper Respiratory Infections (URIs) can also be caused by anxiety so you should look out for these as well.  

Compulsive behaviors resulting from anxiety can be very problematic in cats. Severe anxiety can cause a cat to reach such a state that it unintentionally hurt itself or others. This can manifest as aggression or intense over-grooming, as well as other strange self-mutilating behaviors. 

Diagnosis of Cat Anxiety 

A timely diagnosis of health and mental problems is vital for successful treatment. 

Depending on the situation, there are certain actions and triggers that can make your cat anxious and act weirdly. Simple alterations in their surroundings or routine may seem insignificant to us but they can potentially be the cause of the problem. 

The first and most important step in diagnosing this disorder is to identify the cause behind it. You can then seek guidance from your vet to tackle the problem. If your cat is behaving weirdly, think back to when the behavior started. Did you make any changes in the home that could be to blame? 

To help your vet diagnose the cause of anxiety, you will have to do a few things first: 

  • Firstly, you have to start observing your cat and make notes on when and where the behavioral changes occur. Try to collect as much information as you can because this will narrow down the specific symptoms, behaviors, and situations. You can even record a video or take a photo of the incident to help your vet diagnose the issue even easier. 
  • Secondly, you will need to share a complete medical and dietary history of your cat with your veterinarian. This will help them to work out if there are any hidden medical issues linked to the anxiety.

Make sure you report even the most minute of details to your vet. Some things may be of no importance to us but they may be very significant to your cat.

Depending on the condition of your cat, the veterinarian may recommend some additional tests which can include blood work and urine tests to rule out any medical issues.  

After diagnosing the issue, your vet will let you know about medical options as well as behavioral modification techniques. If needed, they may also recommend you to a board-certified behaviorist. 

If your cat is diagnosed with anxiety you don’t need to worry. Just love your cat, be patient, and do as much as you can for them. Rest assured that your beloved kitty has a good chance of recovering fully and returning to a healthy and happy life. 

Training Techniques for Cat Anxiety

There are two techniques that work well at curbing anxiety in cats. Discuss these options with your vet to see which one is the best option for you. 

Desensitization

In this technique, your cat is exposed to potential triggers slowly but constantly. This helps to desensitize your cat against these particular triggers. This doesn’t mean you should throw them into the deep end! Instead, gradually increase the stimulus until your kitten stops responding to that fear. This repeated exposure results in productive behavior and a reduction in cat anxiety symptoms. 

For example, if your cat is scared of the sound of the vacuum cleaner, record the sound and play it at a very low volume. Over time, gradually increase the volume until it just resembles background noise to your cat. If your cat seems afraid at any point, go back a step. It is important to be patient during this process. 

Counter conditioning

This technique is used by altering the response against a specified anxiety stimulus. Let me elaborate on this with an example. Let’s say a cat gets anxious every time it hears your car approaching the garage. In stimulus substitution, you have to associate a positive feeling with that sound by giving a treat. Eventually, your cat won’t get anxious when listening to the car sound. Instead, it will get excited for a treat. Positive reinforcement is the key to behavioral modification! 

Preventing Anxiety in Cats

Studies have shown that preventing a behavioral problem is easier than correcting it. You should take care of your cat and ensure its mental and physical health is as good as it can be. 

Properly socializing your kitten with other pets and family members is the first step in training your cat. So, make sure you do it right. By exposing kittens to as many different situations and stimuli as possible during the critical socialization period (2-8 weeks of age), you can reduce the chance of cat anxiety symptoms developing in the future.

When you adopt a pet, slowly introduce it to other pets and family members. A new environment is scary enough, without the addition of multiple strangers! If you continue to notice cat anxiety symptoms or your pets are trying to harm your new arrival, separate them immediately and keep your kitten in a different room for a short while.

Early interactions can easily turn into accidents, so make sure you are always present to prevent any undesirable incidents. 

If initial interactions don’t go as well as you had hoped, you can still try to reintroduce them later. Start by introducing your pets to each other’s scents by swapping towels, brushes, bedding, or other items. Around the same time, you should also be gradually increasing your own interactions with your new kitten. All of this will increase their adaptability to the new environment. Slowly allow your new kitten to interact with other pets until they can co-exist freely.     

As your kitten grows, you can help them overcome any fear of other cats and people by taking your pet alongside when meeting with other humans, vaccinated cats or dogs, or when traveling in a car. 

Now let’s take a look at tips to prevent anxiety in cats. 

Environmental Anxiety in Cats

Try to keep the surroundings clear of any potential triggers. Loud noises and fast movements should be minimized as much as possible. You should also set up a strict routine when it comes to feeding and playtime, as this will help your cat to feel more secure. 

Create a Safe Area

If you have recently adopted a pet, you should try to keep it in a space where it feels comfortable. Providing a safe area will give your cat a territory of its own where it can relax during times of anxiety. 

You don’t have to necessarily buy a fancy box for this. Boxes made from cardboard are cheap and they’ll serve as a safe place for your kitten. 

Specified Litter Box Area

Litter trays should be placed in appropriate, quiet locations with multiple tray entrances. These prevent your cat from feeling trapped. As a general rule, you should have a litter tray for every cat in the house, plus one more. So, even if you only own one cat, it is best to have two litter trays. Especially if you live in a multi-story house.  

Separate Feeding Areas

You must feed a newly owned pet in a separate confined area because they feel nervous when eating directly in front of other household pets (if you have any!).  

Exercise and Toys for Mental stimulation 

Exercise plays a significant role in keeping your pet active and stimulated. You can take your cat for a walk outside or enjoy playtime indoors. A tired cat is likely to sleep and ignore most anxiety triggers.

The provision of plenty of toys and exercise will help to drain their energy and keep them calm. So, it plays a vital role in reducing cat anxiety symptoms. 

Pheromone Sprays

Pheromone sprays are a great way to control the mood of your cat. Most vets recommend Feliway, which aids in minimizing cat anxiety symptoms because it mimics a cat’s facial pheromones.

This spray is used for calming cats that are stimulated by environmental changes around them.

Multi-cat Feliway can be used to soothe a cat whose stressor is social immobilization.

You can use a pheromone spray anywhere around your home but particularly in places where your cat is most likely to roam. You can also spray it onto their bedding. 

Diffusers such as the Feliway pheromone diffuser can be plugged into an electrical socket in a room that is frequently visited by your cat.

The use of a pheromone collar is another good way of releasing stress from your kitten.

Treatment of Cat Anxiety 

For the treatment of cat anxiety, a multi-modal approach is best. This includes a combination of behavioral modification techniques, changes in the cat’s environment, soothing, and medication, depending on the severity of the anxiety. 

Consistency and commitment are key elements for successful treatment plans, as it can take months to reduce or manage anxiety. You need to be patient and realize that even the smallest changes in behavior can have a meaningful and cumulative effect. Just never give up on your cat! 

If your cat’s condition requires immediate treatment, your vet may suggest medication. 

These come in two main types: 

  • Short-term medication
  • Long-term medication

Cats can suffer from acute or chronic anxiety. To tackle these, your vet can recommend short or long-term medication, depending on your cat’s condition. 

Short-Term Medication for Cat Anxiety

If your cat is suffering from acute anxious behavior, vets usually opt for this solution to release stress in a few hours, before prescribing a more permanent treatment.

There are a plethora of medicines that could be used to treat anxiety in cats, but treatments can vary between individuals, depending on the cause. For this reason, you must seek advice from your veterinarian.

Long-Term Medication for Cat Anxiety

Bear in mind that it can take up to one and a half months for an initial positive effect to be seen from long-term medication. Regular intake is essential so you must stick to the plan laid out by your vet.

If your cat starts to improve on a particular medication, you should stick with it for several months. You can then cut down the dosage after a consultation with your vet.

If you’d like to learn more about cat anxiety medication check out our article here.

What If Cat Anxiety Goes Untreated?

If your cat is suffering from anxiety, you shouldn’t just leave it to sort itself out because it is likely to just get worse. Even acute (short-term) stress can pave the way for more severe health issues if it is not dealt with.

If cat anxiety symptoms prevail, they will have intense consequences on the immune system and can even result in a debilitating life-long ailment. 

Severe anxiety can also develop into acute depression which results in additional behavioral issues. So try to intervene as soon as possible to release your kitten’s stress and start proper treatment. 

How Much Does It Cost to Treat Anxiety?

Every case is different and the treatment depends on the specific cat anxiety symptoms. So, it’s very difficult to give an estimation regarding any prescribed treatment plan. 

Anxiety treatment includes an examination by your vet, medication, testing, and training.

The cost ranges from a few dollars to thousands, depending on the extent of the issue. 

The following table gives you a general price range of the various type of examination that may be required for a cat with anxiety:

Expenses

Range($)

Medical

50-75

Diagnostic Testing

25-300

Medicine

30-60/month

Trainer

50-300/ session

Miscellaneous supplies

25-200

Final Thoughts On Cat Anxiety

Anxiety in cats is a growing problem that can pose a serious threat to their health and well-being. All pet owners want their furry companions to be happy and content. So, by understanding the signs of anxiety in cats and observing your cat closely, you can nip the issue in the bud before it escalates. Make sure you consult a vet as soon as possible to start treatment early and you will soon have your beloved kitty back to being a joyous companion that will give you plenty of laughs along the way.