Anxious Cats: Causes and Solutions

Posted by Joey DiFrancesco on

cat poking head out of blanket

Have you seen the TikTok or YouTube videos where pet owners place a cucumber behind their cat without them knowing... only to see them turn around, jump into the air, and then scatter off as fast as they can?

While those videos are funny to some, inflicting that kind of fear is no laughing matter.

Truth is, anxiety in cats is a real issue. Scientists and veterinarians believe that it plays a huge role in some of the strange cat behavior problems pet owners see every day.

So, What is Anxiety in A Cat?

Similar to anxiety in humans, cat anxiety is debilitating fearful anticipation. Anxiety is nuanced, but it almost always involved a sense of fear or panic. By nature, cats are usually on high alert. They’re either on the hunt for their own prey or steering clear from being hunted themselves.

In your cat’s mind, potential danger lurks around every corner. Maybe it’s the vacuum cleaner, the strange noises from the ice maker, or that automatic garbage can.

In other words, cat anxiety encourages that fight or flight response. They’re either gearing up to attack or ready to run and take cover under your bed. Here’s the issue: cat anxiety not only increases their heartbeat, but it also leaves them feeling restless and tense.

It doesn’t always have to be a strange object or a weird noise that raises your cat's anxiety. A new home, a new location of their litter box, a change in your cat's routine, a strange odor, or a new family member can also throw your cat into an anxious state.

Here’s where things get tricky: there are different types of anxiety in cats.

Types of Anxiety in Cats

Cat anxiety is usually categorized as situational or generalized.

Situational anxiety in cats usually includes traveling in a car, visiting a vet, being left home alone, meeting a dog for the first time, etc. These are all situational events.

Generalized anxiety in cats can happen at any time, any place, and for no apparent reason—at least to you. Generalized cat anxiety can have many triggers. 

It could come from lighting a candle, blending a smoothie, packing your gym bag, or rearranging your furniture. There may not be any specific reason why your cat feels anxious; they just exhibit anxious behaviors regardless of where they are, what they see, or who they’re with. That said, there is one type of anxiety in cats that has become an epidemic...

Cats & Separation Anxiety 

This is the most common type of cat anxiety.

Scientists have shown that separation anxiety is a huge issue in dogs, but it seems our feline friends have secretly suffered from the same condition for years. The worst part? Separation anxiety in cats is getting worse.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, pet owners have seen a huge increase in separation anxiety in their beloved pets. Why? After being told to stay home for months on end, the world has slowly returned to a semi-normal state. Meanwhile, our feline friends have gotten so used to having us around that it’s become their new normal.

cat hiding in clothes

Now, they're learning to adjust again and it’s not as easy for them as it is for you.

As we mentioned above, separation anxiety falls within the situational anxiety category. When you leave your fluffy feline at home, you may think they’re going to relax in their cat tree until you return. While that may be the case for some cats, others remain in fight or flight mode.

Their human is now gone, maybe forever in their mind. Now, they're left in the house with potential dangers around every corner. They may be wondering: “What happened to my owner? Will they ever return?”

Of course, we don’t really know what’s going on in our cats’ heads. We do know that separation anxiety is the equivalent of a panic attack, though. Pretty scary, right?

There are other types of cat anxiety to look out for as well. 

Territorial Anxiety in Cats

Cats are territorial animals. It’s in their nature to defend their territory. This may explain why they become anxious when they think something or someone is invading their space.

For example, if they’re looking outside and they see a squirrel, a dog, or another cat, they may mark the window or exhibit other strange behaviors to ward off those potential intruders. A heightened response in these situations marks a measure of anxiety that might be unusual in your cat. 

Relational Anxiety 

Like dogs, cats also like having structure and a routine. Cats will even establish routines in the wild to maintain structure in their lives. So, when that structure or routine is shaken up with a new human or other pets, they may become anxious. This anxious behavior could be unusual, even distinct from the other anxious behaviors your cat displays.

Cat anxiety of any type will cause them to exhibit some strange behaviors you may have never seen before. Let’s look at some of those symptoms. 

Signs Your Cat is Suffering from Anxiety

Anxiety in cats can manifest in many different ways, ranging from mild to severe. The following symptoms of anxiety in cats come from PetMD.

Mild cat anxiety symptoms:

  • Tail flicking
  • Tail wrapped tightly to their body
  • Shifting their head or body away from their owner
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Partially-dilated pupils

Moderate cat anxiety symptoms:

  • Crouching and leaning away when their owner comes close
  • Lowering ears down to the side
  • Rapid breathing

Severe cat anxiety symptoms:

  • Running away
  • Frozen in place
  • Hair standing up
  • Crouching and staring
  • Paw swatting, nails out, hissing, growling, or other aggressive behavior

Other signs of cat anxiety may include:

  • Hiding
  • Excessive or misplaced grooming
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Excessive scratching on couches, beds, walls, etc.
  • Urinating or defecating throughout the house
  • Excessive meowing
  • Chewing on tail
  • Decreased food and water intake

Cat anxiety can be easy to spot in some cases, but it can also be very subtle. That’s why, as pet parents, we need to observe our cats to see if they’re exhibiting any anxious behaviors. The sooner you can identify that your cat is anxious, the faster you can learn what’s causing their anxiety and get the help they need.

Let’s explore what some of those causes could be. 

Anxious Cats: Potential Causes

There are many potential causes of cat anxiety. The following are only a few, but they tend to be the primary causes of anxiety in cats. These are good places to start when you’re brainstorming reasons for your cat’s unusual behavior. 

Physical Pain & Sickness

Underlying medical issues can be the root cause of your cat’s anxiety.

For example, studies show that feline interstitial cystitis is very painful and is the leading cause of urinating outside of the litter box. Joint pain, arthritis, and digestive issues can also exacerbate anxious behavior in cats.

cat lying in owner's arms

Trauma in Cats

Traumatic experiences, even seemingly small changes, can contribute to anxiety in cats.

It could be moving to a new home, changing the furniture, bringing home a new cat or dog, having a baby, getting a new job, moving the litter box, traveling to the vet, etc. Severe cases, like being attacked by another animal or person, being left outside, locked inside a room, or having a bad vet experience, can contribute to mental health conditions like depression, OCD, and PTSD.

Think through any experiences you know that your cat has had recently. These experiences might have seemed small, but look for a correlation between them and the new behaviors your cat is exhibiting. 

Symptoms of Aging & Anxiety

As your cat ages, they may develop nervous disorders due to joint pain. They may even lose their sight and hearing, which can also be scary for them to get used to. While dementia is not a normal part of aging, some cats do develop dementia and may exhibit anxious behaviors.

But here's the thing:

An anxious or stressed-out cat isn’t looking to behave badly on purpose; they’re simply showing you that something isn’t right. Their actions are saying, “Hey, I’m stressed, I’m anxious, I don’t feel good, please help!”

Now that you see that your cat is simply trying to communicate to you in the only way they know how, we can tackle the next step; finding relief. 

Calming an Anxious Cat: Home & Natural Remedies

Calming your anxious or stressed-out cat doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time and practice to solve the problem effectively. There are many ways to treat cat anxiety, some of which involve prescription anti-anxiety medication and even require surgeries in some instances.

But we all know that prescription drugs, while they have their place, can cause unwanted side effects and health conditions. This is why many cat owners have turned to natural remedies for cat anxiety. 

There are plenty of ways to effectively reduce anxiety without intervening with drugs and invasive operations. Treating cat anxiety often means making environmental changes, using the right blend of herbs, and developing a structural routine.

Here are 6 things you can try to alleviate your cat’s anxiety…

1. Exercise With Your Cat!

Yes, our cats need exercise too. Believe it or not, boredom can contribute to anxious behaviors. Simply playing with your cat and encouraging them to move can help ease some of their pent-up stress and anxiety.

Possible exercise solutions:

  • Scratching post
  • Tall cat trees 
  • Fun feline jungle gym
  • Toys that get them moving

These can help increase their cardio throughout the day. Those are just things they need while you’re away, however. You should do whatever you can to get your cat moving while you’re with them, at least once or twice per day. 

2. Mental Stimulation for Your Cat

Cats are hunters, and you can encourage them to utilize their hunting skills by hiding treats around the house. You can even get motorized toys that help them use their skills to get their mind off of potential stress triggers.

Different mind games are great for your cat’s mental health, and there are plenty of options on the market for you to choose from. We regularly feature cutting-edge toys for mental stimulation in our newsletter, Lolaweekly.

3. Cuddle your Cat

Believe it or not, cats need interaction with their owners. Some of them might seem like they don’t need this affection, but they’re only putting on a tough face. In fact, they’re just not expressing their affection in the ways that we humans are used to. 

Not only is it crucial for their wellbeing, but, mentally, it helps them feel safe, secure, and at ease.

4. Establish a Consistent Routine

Cats need routines. In fact, they thrive on them.

Feed at the same time, regularly clean their litter box, and provide safe spaces in the home for them to retreat to when unexpected guests come over (especially if that guest happens to be another animal).

5. Play Music for Your Cat

Amazingly, after conducting a study involving cats and calming music, scientists found that the music helped to calm down cats who were agitated. In fact, it calmed them down enough for veterinarians to handle them much more easily.

Cat music includes layers of purring, sucking sounds, and cat vocalization to a certain tempo. You can find cat-calming music on YouTube. Just be sure that it’s specific to cats.

6. Anti-Anxiety Herbs

It’s been said that certain herbs like catnip, chamomile, and valerian can help to calm down an anxious cat.

More studies are needed to prove that these herbs are effective, but many cat owners believe that they do the trick—especially if they’re given before a stressful event is about to take place. For example, these might help if they’re taken just before your cat goes to the vet.

cat smelling a hemp leaf

CBD for Cats With Anxiety

Although there aren’t many studies on cats and CBD oil yet, there are lots of studies exploring CBD’s effects on anxiety in humans, dogs, and rats. And let’s just say, the results of these studies are groundbreaking.

Many individual cat owners have seen positive changes in their cats after administering CBD.

For example, Casara Andre, the founder and director of Veterinary Cannabis Education and Consulting, noticed a huge change in her cat, Mattie. Mattie battled Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), arthritis, and kidney problems. She exhibited many of the odd behaviors listed earlier in this article.

“I really didn’t have any good options for her, so I tried a CBD-dominant tincture... I saw a difference, but it took about 6 weeks. I noticed small improvements in her appetite, willingness to interact, and small play attempts.”

As it turns out, Mattie’s health not only improved, but Casara was able to get 4 more years with her beloved Mattie. Now, more studies are needed to explore CBD’s therapeutic effects on anxious cats, but this testimonial is thought-provoking, to say the least.

Because all mammals, feline friends included, have Endocannabinoid Systems, it’s thought that CBD may help reintroduce balance where there is an endocannabinoid deficiency.

CBD is not a “cure-all”. It should never be used to treat, diagnose, or cure cat diseases and disorders. However, some cat owners have seen positive results from pet CBD, so we encourage pet owners to explore their options when it comes to cat anxiety. We also encourage pet owners to always consult their veterinarian regarding odd cat behavior problems.

CBD Made Just for Cats

If you decide to give CBD to your cat, it’s imperative that you only purchase high-quality CBD oil from reputable hemp brands.

Look for real reviews, third-party test results, clean extraction methods, organic practices, label accuracy, and thorough customer support. The more transparent the brand, the better quality their CBD products will likely be.

Final Thoughts on Cat Anxiety

In the end, cat anxiety is a manifestation of stress, pain, or fear. While positive and negative experiences shape who your cat is, their physical, mental, and emotional well-being is just as fragile as yours.

It’s helpful to put yourself in their boots. Understand that their actions are the only way they can communicate with you. The more you observe your cat and strengthen your bond with them, the easier it should be to spot when something is wrong.

If you have questions or comments, feel free to reach out to our Lolahemp team. We’d love to hear from you.

 

References:

https://medlineplus.gov/anxiety.html

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4921663/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7159185/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4157662/

https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/1098612X19828131

https://www.petmd.com/cat/wellness/5-herbs-reduce-stress-your-cat

https://todaysveterinarynurse.com/articles/cbd-for-dogs-and-cats-whats-new/

https://lolahemp.com/blogs/learn-about-cbd/cbd-oil-for-cats-everything-you-need-to-know?_pos=4&_sid=a8cd1c4f1&_ss=r

https://lolahemp.com/collections/cat

https://lolahemp.com/blogs/learn-about-cbd/cbd-oil-for-cats-everything-you-need-to-know?_pos=4&_sid=a8cd1c4f1&_ss=r

https://lolahemp.com/pages/contact-us

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Joey is the founder of Lolahemp. In 2015 he and his mother launched Lolawawa's Pet Boutique, an e-commerce store for pets and pet lovers that donates a portion of profits to animal rescue efforts. In 2018 the son and mother duo launched Lolahemp after the success their own rescue chihuahua, Lola, had with hemp products. Joey & Susan are the visionaries behind the brand, oversee day-to-day operations & marketing, and run all of the company's philanthropic efforts.