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Anxiety in cats: Causes, symptoms, and treatment

Anxiety in cats can result from many different things. It's important to identify the problem and work with your cat on it, to effectively treat her problems.
Anxiety in cats can result from many different things. It's important to identify the problem and work with your cat on it, to effectively treat her problems.
Courtesy of Patrick Mitchell

It's hard to believe that your well-loved and pampered feline friend might suffer from long-term anxiety, but it does happen. It's important to recognize the signs of anxiety in cats, as well as the possible triggers, so that you can help her deal with it and relax again.

Many things can trigger long-term anxiety in cats. These include:

  • Moving to a new house
  • An unusually long trip
  • A new family member
  • A new pet or pets not getting along
  • Strange animals outside your house

According to Vet Depot, cats that suffer from anxiety might hide more than usual, but they might also greet you unusually enthusiastically, and then follow you from room to room when you get home in the evenings. They might start urinating outside the litter box, or even spraying, depending on what's happening, and sometimes they'll vomit more than usual.

It's best to take your cat to the vet if you notice any of these symptoms, even if you know about something that might have triggered an anxiety problem. The reason for this is that these symptoms can also be symptoms of illness, some of which are serious and require treatment as soon as possible. So if you're seeing behavioral changes in your cat, get her in as quickly as you can, so your vet can diagnose, or rule out, any illness.

Once your vet has ruled out illness, and you've determined that your cat's behavior is due to anxiety, you have a few options for how to deal with it. The best way is to identify the causes of your cat's anxiety and deal with that, as well as working on behavior modification for her. These can take awhile though, so while you're doing these things, you might want to consider using things like Feliway, or even medication, to help calm her down while you're working with her.

Feliway is a synthetic pheromone based on the friendly pheromones your cat spreads when she rubs her cheeks on things. It comes in a spray, a wipe, or a diffuser. Ceva, Feliway's manufacturer, recommends using the diffusers in combination with the sprays. You put the diffusers in the rooms where your cat spends the most time, and you spray the areas she's been urinating, after thoroughly cleaning them. Ideally, the scent of friendly pheromones will help her to feel calmer and stop her anxious behaviors. This method might be best when you've moved to a new place, especially if you also introduce her to the new place with her favorite blankets, beds and toys readily available.

There are also other types of sprays and diffusers that might help your cat if Feliway doesn't. But when you've tried all of this, then it's time to look for other ways to handle the problem.

According to the ASPCA, medication can help reduce the stress your cat is feeling while you're working on modifying her behavior. Medication alone won't resolve the problems; you still need to identify the sources of her anxiety and change how she handles them, or eliminate them if possible. For instance, if feral cats, spraying your house and yard, are the source of her anxiety, planting flowers, shrubs and herbs that cats don't like can keep them away. After you clean up the urine marks (or weather wears them away), you've effectively eliminated the source of her problems.

But you still have to handle her anxiety, because it won't go away immediately. Finding acceptable outlets for her nervous energy, along with medication, can help her out. In time, as she realizes she's no longer smelling strange cats, she'll relax on her own and you can start to wean her off the medication.

However, many sources of anxiety in cats aren't this simple to figure out. Even if you do, you might not know what to do about it. Also, if you have a multi-cat household, you might have considerable trouble helping your cats to handle their anxiety. In these cases, consulting an animal behaviorist might be helpful. Behaviorists can work out training programs with both you and your cat, that teach her new behaviors, and teach you how to continue her training after your sessions with the behaviorist are over.

Again, you do need to talk to your own vet about the problems your cat is having, and be as detailed as possible. In addition to ruling out illness, your vet can help you decide whether medication is best for your cat's situation. He might also be able to recommend behaviorists in your area that can help you with behavior modification.

Treating anxiety in cats can be a challenge. However, when handled correctly, the results are healthier, happier cats, and less stress for everyone in your household.

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