Just like humans, cats can experience stress and anxiety, but it may not be easy to identify the signs of stress as cats typically hide physical and mental discomfort. Understanding cat anxiety symptoms and learning how to help manage it is an important part of keeping your cat happy and healthy.
Cat Anxiety Symptoms
Each cat has their own unique personality and quirks. Noticing anxiety symptoms in your cat starts with knowing what’s normal for them. Take note of any changes in your cat’s behavior and keep an eye out for these common signs of cat anxiety:
- New destructive behaviors (ex. scratching furniture)
- Loss of interest in favorite activities
- Excessive grooming
- Significant change in appetite (eating much less or more than usual)
- Litter box aversion
- Increased vocalization
- Restlessness or pacing
- Vomiting or diarrhea
Learning to read your cat’s body language is a great way to become more aware of anxiety symptoms, which can include things like defensive crouching, flattened ears and a rigid tail.
Causes of Cat Anxiety
If your cat has been part of your family for a while now, you probably have a good idea of their preferences and things that make them uncomfortable. It’s also helpful to be aware of the most anxiety triggers for cats, which can include:
- Family changes (ex. divorce, new baby)
- New pets
- Change in routine
- Presence of outdoor cats
- Competition with other indoor cats
- Illness or injury
- Traumatic experiences
- Lack of socialization as a kitten
- Separation anxiety
Cats that did not receive enough socialization as a kitten (weeks 2-7 are generally considered the prime “socialization window”) may have more of a tendency to be fearful and anxious. Senior cats can be more prone to anxiety due to illness like feline senile dementia, arthritis, or other painful health conditions.
How to Manage Cat Anxiety & Symptoms
Always consult with your veterinarian first to rule out any underlying medical conditions that could be causing your cat’s change in behavior or habits. If your cat gets a clean bill of health from the vet, work to identify the potential causes of stress or anxiety and think back to when your cat started experiencing symptoms:
- Has your work schedule or personal routine changed lately where you’re away from home more or at different times than usual?
- Have you brought home a new baby or pet?
- Have there been new visitors in your home?
- Do you live in an area with a large population of roaming outdoor cats?
Understanding the source of your cat’s anxiety will help you determine the best way to help your cat feel less anxious.
Keep to a Consistent & Reliable Routine
Keeping things consistent for your cat is key in making them feel more comfortable. Try feeding them at the same time each day, cleaning the litter box at least once a day, and scheduling play time at a certain time. Don’t move their favorite toys or change their favorite blankets. Sticking to a routine can make your cat feel more confident and calm.
Offer Mental Stimulation
Cats are naturally curious and need an outlet for mental energy. Provide mental stimulation for your cat to keep them occupied. This could be an interactive toy for when you’re gone, play time when you’re home, or simply setting up an accessible window seat for them to look out.
If You Have More Than One Cat
Anxiety can result when cats have conflicts over resources. If you have more than one cat in your home, make sure they each have their own things. For example, if you have 2 cats, have at least 2 litter boxes, multiple beds, multiple water bowls, and multiple scratching posts or perches. By providing more than 1 option, your cats won’t feel like they have to fight or compete for these resources which could cause stress.
Provide a Designated Hiding Spot
Be sure to offer a designated hiding spot or place of comfort for your cat and don’t disturb them. Cats spend a majority of their lives sleeping, and having a safe resting place they can go to can help reduce stress and anxiety. Cat trees or other perches are a great option for cats who prefer to go vertical, while beds or boxes in an out of the way spot in bedrooms or closets can be helpful for cats who aren’t so keen on jumping or climbing.
Remove Potential Triggers That Can Cause Upset
If you frequently see outdoor cats roaming around your yard or neighborhood, this could be a stress trigger for your cat if they see or sense them. Don’t place food or shelter too close to your house and close the curtains during the day so your cat can’t see out.
Using desensitization you can eventually teach your cat to become more tolerant (and experience less anxiety) around specific triggers. For example, if your cat has a stress response to a new pet, you can introduce your cat to the new pet’s presence in a controlled way, gradually increasing exposure over time. In desensitization training, you want to start with small steps and end the session as soon as your cat shows signs of stress.
Counterconditioning is often used in conjunction with desensitization training. With counterconditioning, you offer a positive experience along with the stress trigger. Using the new pet example, if you have your cat in the same room as the new pet and they’re far enough away that they’re still calm, reward them with a special treat or toy. Ideally the reward is something only used for counterconditioning. You repeat the process, rewarding your cat for remaining calm in the presence of the new pet, until the cat develops a positive association with being in the new pet’s presence.
Cat Anxiety Medication
Your cat’s veterinarian can determine whether anxiety medication is an appropriate treatment for your cat. There are anti-anxiety medicines for occasional use (for example if your cat is upset by fireworks, car rides, or houseguests). There are also longer-term anxiety medications for cats with chronic stress. If you and your vet determine that medication is the best way to manage your cat’s anxiety, it may involve follow-up visits with bloodwork.
Cat Calming Products
Cat calming products are an option but should be used in tandem with other efforts. If your cat enjoys catnip, it can be an effective way to help calm them down. There are also supplements, sprays, diffusers, and plug-ins as options to help manage your cat’s anxiety. Before giving your cat any supplements, talk to your vet about what’s best and safest for your cat.
Manage Your Own Anxiety
A study from 2020 showed that cats can perceive and identify their human’s moods. Be aware of your own mood, body language, and tone of voice when you’re around your cat. You might be stressed out about something that happened four hours ago at work, but your cat doesn’t know that. All they know is you’re acting tense and angry right now. By proactively managing your own stress and anxiety, it can help your cat relax as well.
Learn More From Stella & Chewy’s
At Stella & Chewy’s, we always want pets and pet parents to live happy and healthy lives! To learn more, read our guide to promoting cat wellness so you can help your cat live their best life.