‘Anxiety’ is a term we commonly encounter when referring to human mental health, but have you considered that your cat could be experiencing anxiety as well? Cats that suffering anxiety can show it in all sorts of ways – most of them very different to their human counterparts!
Some common signs of feline anxiety:
Over-grooming. Thinning hair or bald patches can be caused by overgrooming due to anxiety but many cats will do this grooming in secret so you might not actually witness it.
Inappropriate toileting. Has your cat started urinating or defecating inside, or in odd places?
Changes in indoor-outdoor behaviour. Is your cat reluctant or ‘too lazy’ to go outside? Has your cat started avoiding certain parts of the house or hiding?
The challenge for owners and vets alike is that these behaviours can also be caused by medical problems. For example, inappropriate urination could be caused by a urinary tract infection. For this reason, it is very important to get a clean bill of (physical) health before we diagnose/treat anxiety.
Common causes of feline anxiety:
- Moving property
- A new pet or human (e.g. newborn baby, new partner etc) enters their home
- Other cats or in the area are encroaching on their space (e.g. feral cats or too many cats for one household)
- Changes in the social ‘pet hierarchy’ of the household (e.g. your kitten from 9 months ago has now grown into an adult that has started bullying them)
- Changes to their environment or routine
Things that can help with anxiety in cats:
- Provide plenty of safe places – cats like to view their environment from up high and feel safest when they are looking down on things. Creating ‘safe spots’ (e.g. place a cat bed on top of some cupboards), especially in places that are out of reach of small children and dogs, will help many cats relax as they have an escape spot (or two).
- Litter trays and food bowls – if you have more than one cat, there needs to be a litter tray and food/water bowls for each cat, plus one or two extras. Having to share resources can be very stressful for cats – either due to bullying from the other cat or due to an intolerance for using the same as the other cat. Food/water and litter trays should be in different locations in the house (not placed next to each other).
- “Feliway” products – we use these at the clinic all the time – every cat that is settled in for the day has their cage sprayed with Feliway! It really makes a difference – please ask at your local Anexa clinic for more information.
- Cat door protection – cats like to assess their environment before entering it. If your cat door is hard to see through or the exterior side is quite exposed to the outside world, then cats can be reluctant to use it – it’s not laziness when they ask you to open the door! If it’s not located in an actual door itself, then try placing a bench seat and pot plants or similar on the exterior side – they provide your cat with a bit of cover and a feeling of safety before they truly venture out. You can also pin the cat door open for a few days/weeks while you start this, so they get used to using it.
- Consider rehoming some of your cats if you have too many
- Anti-anxiety therapeutics/medications can also be appropriate, but it is very important to address the social and environmental causes of anxiety before/as well as going down this path.
If you are worried that your cat is displaying some signs of anxiety, please do not hesitate to book in with one of our vets. When I started working as a vet nearly six years ago, I certainly did not expect it to be such a common issue! Often, by making some relatively simple adjustments, such as placing an extra litter tray, we can help you improve your cat’s quality of life and clear up the ‘problem’ behaviours. After all, everybody wants a happy, healthy feline!