Cat Anxiety

"Cat anxiety is primarily caused by stress in your cat's environment such as the introduction of a new pet, person or even a change in the way the furniture is arranged. Treatment could include removal of the route cause or medications."

Recognizing cat anxiety and treating it properly is very important as anxiety can not only interfere with a cat's emotional health but can also affect their physical health.

Most changes in feline behavior is due to stress. Many situations can cause a stress reaction in a cat including the introduction of a new cat or a new person in the household, moving to a new territory or change in your cats environment. Even small changes such as a shift in where your cat's litter box is located or new furniture can trigger a stress response.

When a cat perceives a threat, the hypothalamus, a section of the brain tissue, signals the production of certain chemicals to prepare the cat for fight or flight. This is good when there is an actual threat, but in cats with chronic anxiety, it causes problems such as depression. The chemicals begin to weaken the immune system and can lead to all sorts of physical health problems.

Cat Anxiety Symptoms

Cat anxiety symptoms may include vomiting, meowing, pacing, trembling, apathy (lack of interest in anything), excessive grooming, clawing furniture, anorexia (weight loss), shyness, loss of affection, and urinating or defecating in the house. During times of acute distress (such as thunderstorms or fireworks, for example), your pet may also hide under the couch or under the bed. Anxious pets may seek out extra attention or they may avoid contact with people. You will see behavioral changes in your cat if she is anxious.

Diagnosing Cat Anxiety

Since many of the symptoms of anxiety disorder are physical and can be linked to other illnesses, your veterinarian will first look for a physical cause for the problem. Your veterinarian will evaluate your cat's behavior and run tests to for other problems. Tests may include a urinalysis (if your cat is urinating in the house), testing a stool sample (if your cat is defecating in the house), and blood tests.

If the tests are normal and it appears your cat is indeed suffering from anxiety, your vet will give you some tips on how to treat it.

Treating Cat Anxiety

There are three main strategies for treating anxiety: environmental change, psychotropic drugs, and the application of feline facial synthetic pheromones.

Feline Stress and the Environment

The first step in dealing with an anxious cat to look at the environment. Cats do not deal well with change. In times of domestic stress (such as divorce, introducing a new family member, etc.), your cat may begin to show signs of anxiety. Introducing a new cat to the home also causes stress. Giving your cat extra attention during this time can help. Often your cat will adjust in a short period of time.

If your cat does not seem to adjust, or if your cat seems to be anxious for no reason, it's time to talk to your vet about anti-anxiety medication. Medication may be required for a short period.

Medications for Feline Anxiety

Some cats simply have a nervous disposition. Cats can have anxiety disorders just like people can. These cats may require long-term anxiety medication, although behavioral and environmental changes should be tried first.

An anti-anxiety drug is designed to be given once a day and to keep your cat calm over-all. It is not designed to be given at a particular time when your cat becomes overly anxious or excited. The best thing to do at such times is to speak calmly to your cat in a reassuring but firm voice. Keep your hand on your cat, providing your cat does not become aggressive. Some cats may become aggressive and try to bite or scratch. If possible, remove the cat from the anxiety-provoking situation. Above all, remain calm yourself, because your cat will take cues from your behavior.

Cats that compete at shows should have generally calm dispositions. However, the competitive environment can cause some stress for your cats. Use your calm voice and keep your hand on your cat. Cats with high levels of anxiety will not do well in a competitive environment.Anti Anxiety Drugs

Anxiety drugs are usually prescribed to provide fast improvement in behavior. One reason is that problems often develop over time with the owner only seeking treatment when the problem is more severe.

Two types of drugs are usually prescribed, psychotropic drugs and pheromones. Drugs tend to work by either changing the levels of serotonin or by affecting the levels of dopamine activity (dopamine controls the way neurons in the brain speak to each other). Feliway is a new product that mimics pheromones of cats. Cats produce pheromones from glands in their cheeks, and rub their cheeks against furniture and other things in their environment, marking them as their territory. Feliway works by signaling to cats that the environment is friendly territory. It helps with anxiety symptoms like clawing furniture and urinating in the house.

You can also try a natural remedy that is made to support the nervous system. One product worth researching that is made specifically for this purpose is PetAlive PetCalm Formula for anxious and stressed pets. Ingredients such as Scutellaria laterifolia (for soothing the nervous system), Passiflora incarnata (soothes the nerves; supported by clinical trials), Kalium phosphate (helps to maintain nervous system equilibrium) and Argentum nitricum (known for soothing the nerves and providing support for the nervous system) all have properties associated with calming the nervous system. As with all remedies, be sure to discuss this and other options with your veterinarian.


Diagnosis and Treatment of Anxiety Disorders
P. Pageat
Pherosynthese Research Centre

Behavioral Problems Related to Stress in Cats
X. Manteca, M. Amat, J. Fatj.
Unitat de Fisiologia Animal, Facultat de Veterinaria
Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona