Have you seen those videos on TikTok or YouTube where pet owners place a cucumber or water bottle 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.
The 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 everyday.
So, what exactly is cat anxiety?
Similar to anxiety in humans, cat anxiety is a debilitating fearful or dreadful anticipation.
Cats by nature are usually on high alert. They’re either on the hunt for their own prey, or steering clear from being hunted themselves.
To your cat, a potential danger lurks around every corner. Maybe it’s the vacuum cleaner, the strange noises from the ice maker, or that automatic garbage can that has them on alert.
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. And here’s the issue: cat anxiety not only increases their heartbeat, but it leaves them feeling restless and unusually tense.
But it doesn’t always have to be a strange object or a weird noise that raises your cat's anxiety. A new home, a change in your cat's routine, a new location of their litter box, a strange odor, or a new family member can also throw your cat into an anxious state.
And 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.
But generalized cat anxiety can have many triggers. It can be 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...
Separation anxiety in cats
This is the most common type of cat anxiety.
And the worst part? Separation anxiety in cats is getting worse.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, pet owners have seen a huge increase of 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. But meanwhile, our feline friends have gotten so used to having us around 24/7, that it’s become their new normal.
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. And 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 cat's head. But we do know that separation anxiety is the equivalent of a panic attack. Pretty scary, right?
But there are other types of anxiety in cats...
Territorial cat anxiety
Cats are territorial animals. It’s in their nature to defend their territory. Which may explain why they become anxious when they think something or someone is invading their territory.
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.
Relational cat anxiety
Like dogs, cats also like having structure and a routine. Even in the wild, cats will develop their own routine 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.
That said, cat anxiety of any type will cause them to exhibit some strange behaviors you may have never seen before.
So what does cat anxiety look like?
Cat anxiety symptoms
Anxiety in cats can manifest in many different ways, and can range from mild to severe.
According to PetMD, mild cat anxiety symptoms include:
- Tail flicking
- Tail wrapped tightly to their body
- Shifting their head or body away from their owner
- Avoiding eye contact, or partially dilated pupils
- Crouching and leaning away when their owner comes close
- Lowering ears down to the side
- Rapid breathing
Severe signs of cat anxiety include:
- 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:
- Excessive or misplaced grooming
- 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 whether your cat is anxious and what might be causing their anxiety, the faster your cat can get the help they need.
Which brings us to...
Causes of cat anxiety
There are many potential causes of cat anxiety:
Physical pain or sickness
Underlying health 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.
Traumatic experiences, or even seemingly small changes, can contribute to anxiety in cats.
It can be moving to a new house, 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.
Aging and cat 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.
And 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 the only way they know how, we can now tackle…
How to calm an anxious cat
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 drugs and even surgeries.
But we all know that prescription drugs, while they have their place, can often cause unwanted side effects and even unwanted health conditions.
This is why many cat owners have turned to natural remedies for cat anxiety…
Remedies for anxiety in cats
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. Cat exercise
Yes, our cats need exercise too. And 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 built-up anxiety and stress.
You can add a scratching post, tall cat trees, a fun feline jungle gym, or toys that get them moving. These can help increase their cardio throughout the day.
2. Cat stimulation
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.
3. Cat cuddle
Believe it or not, cats need interaction with their owners. Not only is it crucial for their wellbeing, but mentally it helps them feel safe, secure, and at ease.
4. Cat routine
Cats need a routine. In fact, they thrive on it.
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. Cat music
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. Cat 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, like visiting the vet.
But there is one other herb, or should we say oil or treat, that pet owners have been seeing positive results from…
CBD for cat anxiety
Although there aren’t many studies with 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 cat 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 with 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, which include our feline friends, have an Endocannabinoid System, it’s thought that CBD may help reintroduce balance where there is an endocannabinoid deficiency.
That said, CBD is not “cure all”. It should never be used to treat, diagnose, or cure cat diseases or 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 with their veterinarian regarding odd cat behavior problems.
CBD 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.
Cat anxiety: Final thoughts
In the end, cat anxiety is a manifestation of stress, feeling ill/injured, or fear. While both 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 paws. 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 will likely be to spot when something is wrong.
For questions or comments, feel free to reach out to our Lolahemp team. We’d love to hear from you.