You may tease someone for being a “scaredy-cat” or even get a chuckle when something startles your kitty and makes her jump. But a fearful, anxious cat is no joke. Cat anxiety can be a serious problem, especially if left untreated. If you think you might be dealing with a stressed cat, keep reading in order to understand what’s going on with your kitty and how you can help her.

How to Recognize Feline Anxiety

An anxious cat appears chronically stressed and afraid for no obvious reason. However, this doesn’t mean that there isn’t a reason. It simply means that it may take some time and investigation to determine the cause. Potential causes that may result in a stressed cat are wide and varied.

A psychological trigger may be to blame, like a traumatic experience, lack of proper socialization, or a history of abuse or neglect. An aging brain can also cause anxiety, especially in senior cats experiencing memory problems or dementia. Joint pain in older cats can also be a source of anxious behaviors, such as hiding or failing to use the litter box.

One of the most common forms of cat anxiety is separation anxiety, in which your cat becomes anxious and stressed when you leave her sight, or she’s left home alone. This is especially prevalent among cats with a history of abandonment or who have been re-homed or passed from owner to owner.

What Causes OCD in Cats?

Causes of OCD in cats aren’t really known, and as such it’s generally characterized as a mental disorder, although it can be initiated by stress, says PetMD. Pet parents may unwittingly reinforce OCD behaviors by trying to soothe their cats or giving them attention while they’re doing the unwanted behavior.

Siamese and other Asian breeds are particularly known for these types of behaviors. So how can you tell if you have an anxious cat? An anxious kitty isn’t too difficult to spot.

Some Signs and Symptoms of Kitty Anxiety

The following are signs and symptoms of general cat anxiety:

  • Trembling Withdrawal and hiding
  • Becoming less active
  • Trying to escape
  • Destructive or aggressive behavior
  • Diarrhea
  • Failure to use the litter box
  • Sores and lesions resulting from over-grooming

Other symptoms include a loss or reduction of appetite, weight loss, excessive vocalization, lethargy, and restlessness.

In a case of separation anxiety, your cat will likely be fine as long as you’re around but may begin acting anxious when she can sense that you’re about to leave. The first thing you need to know in order to help your anxious cat is that you should never punish or scold her for her anxious behavior.

How to Help Your Cat Be Less Anxious

The goal should be to help her feel safe and relaxed in her surroundings. Once you’ve identified anxious behaviors in your cat, the first step is to make an appointment with your veterinarian to either diagnose or rule out any underlying health issues or toxins that might be causing your kitty stress.

If it turns out that your cat is suffering from pain or a medical issue, treating the issue may be all that’s required to eliminate the anxious behavior and help your kitty get back to her normal self. On the other hand, if your vet rules out a physical problem as the cause, this may mean that the issue is psychological.

How The Vet Can Help Your Anxious Cat

In addition to prescribing anti-anxiety medication to help keep your kitty calm, your vet may recommend a trainer or animal behaviorist who can help both you and your cat through behavioral conditioning and counter-conditioning. Behavioral conditioning involves identifying fear triggers in your kitty’s life and either desensitizing her to these triggers through repeated, safe exposure, or removing them from her environment.

For example, if your cat is anxious when she can sense you’re about to leave, train her to go lie down and reward her when she does with a treat or a favorite toy. In time, she’ll associate your leaving with this positive reward and learn to be okay with it.

Untreated anxiety won’t get better on its own, and will likely become worse over time, with undesirable behaviors becoming more pronounced. Just as with humans, chronic stress can have a physiological effect on your kitty’s health. If it persists, it could compromise her immune system and make her more vulnerable to illness, which will, in turn, compound her stress.

The Key is to Understand Your Animal and Pay Attention to Changes in Behavior

It’s not only in your cat’s best interest but also in the interest of having a peaceful home, to intervene with your cat’s anxiety as quickly as possible. If you think your cat is suffering from anxiety, take heart. With love, patience, and willingness to do your part to help, your cat has an excellent chance of making a full recovery and returning to her healthier, happier self.

Just like people, cats can get stressed out by things beyond their control. We call them “life stressors.” They may include divorce, longer work hours, someone moving away to college, and more. Research done at Ohio State Vet College indicates, “…that some cats are unusually sensitive to their surroundings. These cats may respond to life stressors by becoming uncomfortable, nervous, or fearful.”

These life stressors may cause your cat to develop Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or other compulsive behaviors.

Have you noticed signs of anxiety in your cat? Feel free to make an appointment and bring them in, so we can take a look.