Anxiety in dogs is well-known to most pet parents, but what about the anxiety of our feline friends? Like dogs, cats can have separation anxiety, generalized anxiety, or anxiety triggered by specific events such as thunderstorms, new additions to the family, or moving to a new home.
Anxiety in cats takes many forms, including urine marking, recurrent urinary tract disorders (FLUTD), overgrooming, or other compulsive behaviors.
If the behavior change is sudden and without a known cause, visit your veterinarian to rule out underlying health conditions. Otherwise, read on to learn five vet-approved ways to calm your cat.
- Anxiety in cats can take many forms, including urine marking, overgrooming, and other compulsive behaviors.
- Creating a relaxing environment for your cat, with access to toys, scratching posts, and a safe space away from potential threats, can help reduce anxiety.
- Playing with your cat and providing them with interactive toys, such as wand toys and puzzle toys, can also reduce anxiety.
- Over-the-counter calming products, such as pheromones and supplements, may help reduce anxiety but should be discussed with a veterinarian first.
1. Create a Relaxing Environment
If your cat is stressed by specific events, such as fireworks or family gatherings, you can preemptively create a relaxing environment for your cat. Think of it as your cat’s personal oasis!
Indoor cats keep the natural behaviors of outdoor cats, including scratching, chewing, hunting, playing, and climbing. A relaxing environment for cats encourages these natural behaviors and is safe from potential threats, including dogs or the grabbing hands of children. Consider using a gate to keep dogs and kids out of your cat’s safe space.
Cats also prefer to sleep in warm spaces. Providing self-warming beds and beds in sunny spaces can help your cat feel comfortable. When using heated beds, however, ensure you’ve considered the dangers of electrical cords, particularly if your cat has a penchant for chewing.
Include scratching posts so your kitty can sharpen their claws. Scratching behaviors are important for claw health and allow cats to mark their space. Most often, cats will scratch in prominent vertical spaces near their resting areas. You can offer both vertical and horizontal scratching opportunities, but you might consider a tall scratching post near their bed.
If your cat is having daily anxiety, is regularly triggered by the same stimulus, or has more than one episode of anxiety per month, schedule an appointment with your vet.
The safe space should also include engaging toys to promote natural hunting and playing behaviors. You can buy crinkle balls that make nice crunchy noises or automated toys that mimic prey, or even give them cardboard boxes with the cores of toilet paper rolls to bat around. Some cats tend to have “favorite” toys, so once you identify what your cat loves, this is a great way to create a pleasant space for your cat to relax.
Always consider your cat’s sense of smell. Stimulating smells, such as catnip, reduce a cat’s anxiety. You can use catnip toys or sprinkle catnip in your cat’s relaxing area. Hiding treats is another great way to incorporate your cat’s sense of smell.
If you only put your cat in this space when they’re stressed, they may associate the area with their triggers. Your cat should have access to this space even in non-stressful situations. Ensure you’ve considered their basic needs by including access to water, food (unless on timed feedings), and a litter box.
2. Put On Soft Music or White Noise
When we think of relaxing music, we often think of classical music. A cat’s anxiety levels are better reduced by cat music. Cat music is within their frequency range and with similar tempos to those in natural cat communication. If you intend to use music to help with your cat’s anxiety, consider using a speaker that specifically plays cat music.
In some cases, you may be turning on music or a white noise machine to drown out loud noises that cause anxiety for your cat. Keep in mind: While this may drown out the noise for you, your cat likely still hears the offending sound. If a white noise machine is too loud or makes noises that are unpleasant to the cat, the noise can add to their anxiety.
3. Make Time for Play and Interaction
Engaging in play with your cat helps them express natural behaviors, which is good for your cat’s mental health.
Toys that encourage cats to practice hunting and play behaviors include:
Cardboard boxes including cores of toilet paper rolls
If your cat doesn’t care for playtime but still enjoys human interaction, consider grooming sessions as an alternative.
Make sure your only playing time with your cat is right before their trigger occurs. Cats are smart creatures, and if playtime is always followed by something unpleasant, it will lose all appeal.
4. Use Over-The-Counter (OTC) Calming Products
OTC products are also a great option to help with your cat’s anxiety and don’t require a prescription from the vet. But it’s important to discuss any supplements with your veterinarian before adding them to your cat’s diet. Your vet can also help you find the best option based on your cat’s health.
Some OTC products contain pheromones, which are species-specific chemical signals that can create a sense of safety. Examples include:
Feliway diffusers including:
Additionally, nutraceuticals or supplements help reduce a cat’s anxious behaviors. Nutraceuticals are food-derived substances that may influence health but are not regulated by the FDA.
Common supplements that may help with cat anxiety include:
5. Discuss Anxiety Medications With Your Veterinarian
If your cat is having daily anxiety, is regularly triggered by the same stimulus, or has more than one episode of anxiety per month, or if their anxiety is affecting your family life, schedule an appointment with your vet. In some cases, they may recommend using anti-anxiety medications.
Anti-anxiety medications can be sorted into two categories: long-term medications used for daily anxiety and short-term medications used for triggering events or phobias.
Medications often prescribed for daily or generalized anxiety include:
Medications often prescribed for short-term uses or triggering events include:
Be sure to work with your veterinarian regarding dosing and the proper schedule for administering any prescription medication. Medications should never be stopped suddenly; work with your veterinarian if you need to stop a medication for any reason.
Keep in mind that this medication list is not all-inclusive, so don’t be afraid to try another option if it is suggested by your veterinarian. It may take some experimentation with your veterinarian to find what works best for your individual cat’s anxiety.
Get to the Root of the Issue
If your cat’s anxiety is affecting their well-being or your ability to make plans, work with your veterinarian to get to the bottom of the issue. While OTC products, creating enjoyable environments, background noise, and play time certainly all have their place in your cat’s mental health, some cats simply need medication to cope with their anxiety, just like their human family members.
Managing your cat’s anxiety will take time and patience. You may need to reevaluate your initial attempts multiple times. In some cases, your cat’s anxiety will best be managed by a veterinary behaviorist, a veterinarian who specializes in the diagnosis and management of animal behavior.
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