While anxiety might seem like a human-centric problem, it's possible for cats (and other animals) to struggle with anxiety as well. Does your cat spend their days hiding? Refuse to use the litter box? These can be signs your favorite feline is dealing with anxiety. Here are 6 signs of anxiety in cats, and a few ways you can help them cope.
1. Excessive Hiding
Most cats have an innate sense of "stranger danger" and dive under the bed for cover when friends come to visit. Hiding can be normal behavior for cats, being as they are ambush predators and appreciate a good hiding spot.
But if your cat is hiding constantly, even during the times they would usually socialize with you (like during feeding time), there may be something in their environment that is causing them anxiety.
If your cat begins acting more aggressive towards you other animals in the household by exhibiting uncharacteristic biting, scratching or hissing behaviors, there may be something in the house causing them distress. It's not that your cat suddenly hates you, but it's one of the few ways she has of telling you she's upset. If your cat is biting or clawing, here are some tips on how to safely and positively discourage your cat from biting.
3. Excessive Meowing
Did you know that generally speaking, cats only meow to communicate with their humans and not other cats? While this is completely adorable, if your cat is demanding your attention with excessive meowing, they might be letting you know that they're feeling anxious.
This excessive meowing may be during the day (outside of the normal "feeding time frenzy" meows) or late at night. This excessive vocalization may sound troubled or like a distress call.
Cats are fastidious groomers, licking themselves so much they get every cat owner's favorite thing: hairballs. But anxiety in felines can cause cats to take their normal grooming sesh a bit too far, to the point where they are losing patches of fur. Grooming is a form of self-soothing for cats when they're feeling anxious, and over-grooming is a big sign of anxious kitties.
5. Sudden Clinginess
Just like dogs, cats can develop separation anxiety. If your cat doesn't want to let you out of its sight, and begins to follow you everywhere, anxiety might be behind this behavior. "Some cats become more attached to their owners when they are anxious," Princeton Veterinary Hospital explained. "This can be endearing behavior, and often makes us feel loved by our cats, but it could be a sign that she is stressed or anxious."
Cats can sleep an average of 16-17 hours in a day. So a restless, pacing feline will seem out of the ordinary to any cat owner! Just like humans with anxiety are known to pace when feeling anxious, this same can be seen in cats.
How to Help
If your cat is exhibiting signs of anxiety, it's important to find out what the cause or trigger is for said anxiety. It could be because of a sudden change in their life, whether that is a big move, a new family member (human or animal) or even outside factors, like neighborhood cats/animals coming to the windows and bothering them.
Consider what changes have happened, even minor changes to your daily routine, or changing the furniture around in your cat's favorite room can cause kitty anxiety, as some cats do well with change and others don't.
If you can identify the source of anxiety, you can work to fix the situation based on the cause.
If it's difficult to pinpoint and your cat really seems to be suffering from anxiety, a visit to the vet is in order and they may prescribe anxiety meds for your kitty. Yes! There's such a thing.
If your cat is restless and pacing from anxiety, it may be a good idea to try to focus that nervous energy into healthy play.
Try taking 15 minutes to play with your cat. Try a few toys to see what type they like best. Do they prefer a wand or teaser toy? Or are they more of a laser pointer fanatic?
Ideally, you'll want to find a toy that is fun for both you and your cat. The Mouse Hunt Toy is an interactive toy you can control from your phone while your cat does all the work. It's a fun, enriching way to play with your cat after a long day at work.
You can also try natural herbs, like valerian, to help naturally soothe your cat's anxiety. Valerian actually mimics catnip with the initial burst of "crazies," but valerian also works to sooth, calm, and even makes kitties sleepy, happy, and calm.
If your cat is lethargic rather than restless from their anxiety, offering them some incentives to get up and moving may be the trick. Catnip is ideal for getting cats up and moving around, scratching on their favorite posts (which is a form of stress/anxiety relief, too!).
If your cat doesn't respond to catnip, you can try silver vine, which has two cat attractants (instead of catnip's singular attractant) with similar energizing/euphoric effect of catnip.
2. Proper Hiding Places
Cats that want to hide under things all day might actually benefit from some added height to their little domain. Perching helps cats stay safe from predators while they keep a close eye on their surroundings and potential prey. Being up high (while still being able to hide) may alleviate some of their anxiety, as it will give them a better view of their surroundings.
Even cats who don’t live with other animals (potential predators) or have regular access to live prey have an innate desire to perch high. Consider installing cat wall shelves or offering a sheltered cat tree from which to perch.
3. Scent Comfort
With a lot of folks going back to work in full-force as COVID-19 restrictions continue to lift, many cat parents are dealing with kitty separation anxiety for the first time, either because they adopted a cat during quarantine, or their cats became accustomed to them being home a lot more often!
If your cat has separation anxiety, try leaving them to snuggle with a blanket or t-shirt that you've used. They will find your scent comforting and if you add it to their favorite hiding spot, they'll associate your scent with safety and comfort. This can help ease their anxiety levels.
Or you can use something like a pouch sweatshirt to carry your kitty around in the pouch, keeping them close, and giving them the cuddle time they need!
Additionally, it's important to get to know your cat so you can try your best to give them what they want to the best of your ability. Cats make for some of the best companions, and just like people, it's important to take care of their mental health just like you would your own.