Is Your Cat a Bundle of Nerves?
There is nothing like the contented purring of a relaxed feline companion, but anxiety in cats can be a real and frequent challenge. It can lead to misbehavior (destruction of property, foregoing the litter box for your bed, excessive calling), or it can lead to physiological and psychological discomfort. Anxiety about going to the vet can cause pet parents to avoid seeking care.
Common causes of feline anxiety
- Illness or physical discomfort
- Past trauma
- Insufficient socialization in early life
- Separation anxiety (i.e., you’re not there and they’re upset)
How can you tell if your cat is experiencing anxiety?
There are a few clear giveaways that a cat is suffering from heightened stress, regardless of cause. If you see these signs and they persist, it’s probably time to check with the vet. She or he can probably help you determine the underlying causes and explore a treatment plan.
- Aggression or territorial behavior
- Excessive grooming (can lead to hair loss)
- Skipping the litter box in favor of other locations
- Excessive vocalization
- Visual signs of tension: taut tail, facial expressions, tense muscles
How to treat or prevent feline anxiety?
Obviously, you’ll want to work with your vet if you have a furbaby showing signs of anxiety. Some of the things they might recommend at home might include behavior modification, requiring an investment in time and sweat (possibly also blood and tears!) on your part:
Teach your cat coping skills.
You can’t necessarily avoid all negative stimuli forever, so helping them to cope better with stressors rather than trying to shield them from them can be one part of a behavior modification treatment.
Pairing a stressor with something desirable, in order to change the association. For instance, if the vacuum cleaner is scary, maybe associate it with Greenies or another treat.
This is the process of slowly reintroducing your cat to a stimulus in order to diminish the unpleasant underlying association.
Additionally, a treatment plan with your vet might take include things at the vet’s office, or medication.
- Cat-specific music has been shown to decrease anxiety in the veterinary clinic.
- Pheromones might be used to adjust undesirable behaviors.
- Feliway spray has been shown to be an effective treatment for feline anxiety.
- Pre-appointment medication can be used to calm a cat before going to the vet.
- And of course, your vet may feel it necessary to prescribe an anxiety medication.
No matter what, you should follow the axiom of never intentionally punishing or frightening your cat in response to unwanted behavior. This is especially true of behavior that might be induced by trauma or stress: you could further complicate the situation and worsen your cat’s condition.