12 Tips to Reduce Your Cat’s Anxiety and Stress (Vet Answer)
October 28, 2022
By Dr. Paola Cuevas (Vet), Pet Keen
Anxiety and stress can harm your cat’s mental and physical health. Anxiety is a feeling of restlessness and fear due to the anticipation of danger, and stress is a quick response to threats the cat may anticipate. A cat that is anxious or stressed can be very damaging to its well-being.
In this article, you will learn about some signs of anxiety and stress in a cat and some of the causes or triggers. You will also learn how to effectively reduce your cat’s anxiety and stress to help them live a happier and healthier life.
Signs of Anxiety and Stress in a Cat
Physical manifestations of anxiety and stress in cats include:
- Rapid heart rate
- Increased respiratory rate
- Eye contact avoidance
- Dilated pupils
- Increased grooming
- Ears back
- Improper toilet etiquette (refusing to use the litter box or spraying)
- Freezing or trying to escape
- Piloerection or hair standing up
- Destructive behavior
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Causes and Consequences of Anxiety and Stress in a Cat
Usually, anxiety develops through the association of past traumatic experiences or by changes in a cat’s well-established routines. Because cats are creatures of habit, sometimes the smallest changes in their environment or routines can lead to anxiety and stress. New noises, a new pet, a change of home, a change in the litter or food, a trip to the vet are all well-recognized causes of anxiety and stress in the cat.
An anxious and stressed cat will develop aberrant behaviors, have difficulty socializing and be prone to disease, remaining in a constant unwell state. As cat owners, our cat’s happiness and well-being should always be the goal. If you have noticed your cat is anxious and stressed, it is better to start dealing with this issue before it escalates and becomes harder to revert or causes any physical problems to your cat. Anxiety tends to be progressive, so it is strongly recommended to deal with the issue sooner rather than later.
Management of Anxiety and Stress in a Cat
The management of a cat’s anxiety and stress is usually done by a combination of behavioral modification techniques, changes in the cat’s environment, and, in some cases, the use of natural remedies and medications.
The first step is to identify what is causing the anxiety in the cat and plan to implement the necessary changes. This is different in each case, and there is not a one size fits all solution; however, there are some tips to help reduce your cat’s anxiety and stress that might be very helpful and worth trying.
The 12 Tips to Reduce Your Cat’s Anxiety and Stress
1. Rule out any medical condition
Pain and discomfort will cause a cat to suffer from stress and anxiety. So, the first step will be to make sure your cat is not in pain or sick. A complete physical evaluation to check the body and maybe some blood work and diagnostic imaging will be needed to rule out that an underlying medical issue is causing your cat’s anxiety. A visit to the veterinary clinic is a must if your cat presents sudden changes in behavior.
2. Make Sure All Your Cat’s Needs Are Met
This sounds obvious, but you would be surprised at how cat owners can be unaware of cat’s needs not being met. Basic cat needs include the following:
- A nutritious, sufficient, and cat-appropriate diet that is adequate to your cat’s life stage and activity levels.
- Unlimited access to clean and fresh water.
- One or two litter boxes that are big enough, in a safe and calm place, and always clean. Your cat should like the litter, and it should not have any unpleasant scents or textures.
- A comfortable and safe space to sleep. Cats like places that provide shelter and comfort while having a good view of the environment. Check out the Hepper’s Pod Bed that ticks all these boxes.
- A scratching place to help keep the claws in a perfect state.
- Physical and mental stimulation, easily provided by a variety of toys. Regularly rotating the cat’s toys help to keep them interesting and engaging.
- Love and affection. While cats might seem cold and distant, it needs your love and affection just like any other living being. But be aware of your cat’s limits and don’t overwhelm it. If your cat comes by looking for attention and a snuggle, make your best effort to provide it.
- Most cats are solitary creatures that need to have their personal space. Kids all over them or having to share space with other pets can be very stressful to cats. Ensure the cat always has access to some personal time and space when it needs it.
3. Study the Environment
Try to identify if any recognizable changes in the cat’s environment could be causing its anxiety. New pets, kids, changes of food, noises? Any change of routine or environment should be planned and gradually introduced with cats. Cats are very sensitive to changes but are even more sensitive if it suffers from anxiety. By recognizing the specific scenario causing anxiety, you can manage it before a crisis starts.
4. The Social Environment
For multiple cat households, you need to ensure there is no displacement or aggressive behavior between cats. Each cat should feel safe and meet its basic needs, including food and water access and a safe space. Hormonal changes can cause variations in the cat’s social interactions, and, as a responsible multi-cat owner, you should always be observant of the cat’s interaction to make sure every cat can feel safe. If you notice displacement and aggressions, separating the cats and starting with some positive socialization training will be necessary.
5. Recognize Separation Anxiety
Separation anxiety is a fairly common problem in pets. If you must be away working most of the day, try leaving entertainment and interactive toys to keep your cat engaged. Do not make a big deal when leaving or when arriving back in the house. If these methods don’t work, consider getting a pet sitter or a second cat to keep your lonely cat company while you are away.
6. Use Pheromone Diffusers
Synthetic pheromone diffusers work by sending a feel-good signal to cats helping them calm down and feel safe and at home. Different formulations are available, depending on if you have a multiple cat household or a single cat. Pheromone diffusers might take some time to work, but they are a very effective option to help your cat feel calm, safe, and at home in a different environment.
7. Try a Cat Calming Spray
There are several options in the market for cat calming sprays. Some have relaxing herb blends, and others work similarly to pheromone diffusers. If you are already using the pheromone diffusers at home, the same brand spray might be very useful for on-the-go and travel situations. It can be sprayed over the blankets in the transport box, car, or hotel room and will help your cat feel calm and at home anywhere.
8. Try Some Calming Music
Yes, calming music works wonders for some cats suffering from anxiety. It is worth giving it a shot to provide a more cat-friendly environment to your cat prone to anxiety.
9. Plan and Use Training and Desensitization Methods
Traveling can be a bit stressful for cats. Training your cat to voluntarily go into the travel box and having a positive association with it will go a long way in building its confidence and comfort in it. As a rule, the cat should get a reward for going into the travel box multiple times. Those rewards will help the cat feel more confident.
10. Use Calming Supplements
L-tryptophan, α-casozepine, L-theanine, and choline are some examples of supplements that can help your cat deal with anxiety.
L-tryptophan and α-casozepine have proven effective in reducing the cat’s anxiety. α-casozepine is a bioactive peptide from the cow’s milk protein casein that has an anxiolytic effect like that of benzodiazepines. L-tryptophan is an amino acid that is important in the production of serotonin (the feel-good neurotransmitter) of the brain.
L-theanine is an amino acid found in tea leaves that has proven anti-anxiety effects in humans and animals. Choline is a precursor to the neurochemical dopamine, linked to feelings of pleasure and well-being.
11. Try Calming Herbal Blends
Valerian root, catnip, cat thyme, and licorice root are some herbal blends that have calming and feel-good effects on cats. As a sniffing toy or as a tea, this herbal compound might the just what your cat needs to calm down and deal with anxiety. We recommend using these herbs in advance if you plan to use them for a specific event, such as traveling, as you can study the effects and duration of them. Some cats do not react at all to some herbs.
12. Speak To the Vet About the Possibility of Anti-anxiety Medications
If none of the above is enough to help your cat deal with anxiety and stress, speak to the veterinarian about the possibility of long-term or short-term anxiety medications. Depending on your cat’s specific needs, the veterinarian will be able to prescribe something that helps your kitty stay calm.
We recommend using this as a last resource, as most cases can be solved naturally without using these medicines. The medicines could have secondary effects and tend to be addictive. They are an effective last resource, but make sure you have exhausted all other options first.
If your cat suffers from anxiety and stress, it is better to act early to avoid unnecessary suffering and complication of cases. After making sure there are no underlying medical issues behind your cat’s stress, there are several behavioral and natural methods to try before looking into the possibility of anti-anxiety prescription medications.
About the author:
PetKeen In-House Veterinarian
Dr. Paola Cuevas has over 18 years of experience as a veterinarian and animal behaviorist. She focuses on preventive medicine and animal welfare for a variety of species. Paola has a large range of skills in from diagnostic imaging to nutrition and clinical pathology. She enjoys sharing her extensive knowledge of positive reinforcement animal training and is happy to answer Pet Keen reader questions as their in-house veterinarian.
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