Cat anxiety: causes, symptoms, and solutions

With catnip and cuddles at their beck and call, it’s fair to say our feline friends have us well under their thumbs — that’s right, some polydactyl pussies have furry thumbs. So, with a world of pet lovers at their paws, what cause could there ever be for a stressed cat?

Descended from wild cats, pet cats have adapted well to domesticated life. However, just like people, there can be parts of human life that lead them to feel stressed. This is a natural response to uncertainty or fear, but if these moments of anxiety become chronic, it can lead to some unpleasant symptoms.

Common symptoms of cat anxiety:

  • Fur loss or skin irritation from over-grooming
  • Causing self-trauma
  • A solitude or withdrawn demeanour
  • Urinary tract diseases, such as infections or urethral obstruction (which is a blocked bladder)
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Weight loss
  • Vocalisation
  • Loss of appetite
  • Aggression
  • Urine spraying around the house and garden
  • Soiling indoors

So, why is your cat stressed?

Cat anxiety can be caused by many things, but it’s fundamentally a reaction to something a cat dislikes or that makes them feel out of control of their own nine lives.

In many cases, simply understanding the cause of your cat’s anxiety can help you determine how to relieve them. So, here are some causes to consider:

Being kept indoors: While some pampered pussies prefer to stay in the comfort of their own home, most cats like to roam. By insisting they stay indoors, you’re stopping them from carrying out their natural instincts, like scent marking, hunting, chasing, and exploring.

Being kept outdoors: Forcing your feline to go outside exposes them to bad weather and seasonal events that can be unnerving — this includes fireworks on New Year’s Eve and strange costumes on Halloween.

Multiple pets in one household: While some cats love the company of other pets, housing multiple animals can often result in jealousy, fighting, and feelings of frustration.

Their resource: Cats are particular about their possessions, including their food, water, toys, beds, and even their human’s time and attention. To avoid causing cat anxiety, you need to make sure each of these items are never out of place or in short supply.

A chilled kitty has access to fresh water at all times, plenty of human affection — if you have a cuddly cat, that is — and their water, food, bed, and litter tray are never kept in the same area.

Your lifestyle: Similar to living with a sensitive housemate, your lifestyle choices can negatively affect your cat. Making too much noise, using overpowering air fresheners to scent your home, or even decorating with minimalist furniture can all lead to a stressed cat.

Unwanted interaction: Many pet lovers dream of a cuddly lap cat and are disappointed to discover their moggie is more a hunter than a lover. However, if your cat likes to be left alone, it’s important to accept this; forcing them to be handled can cause resentment and damage any bond you’ve both built.

Of course, as with all animals, forcing your cat to interact with children can cause distress for all parties and even lead to an injury. If you’re wondering how to successfully introduce your kids to kitties, take a look at our guide to keeping cats and children safe.

Poor health: Just like humans, when cats are unwell their tolerance levels may lower; even normal interactions or daily routines can cause them to feel uncomfortable or frustrated.

Potential predators: For some cats, the thought of an external threat entering their territory is a grave concern. So, while a neighbourhood cat in your garden may seem harmless to you, if your cat catches sight of the uninvited visitor, it can cause them to feel extremely unsafe.

Separation from their owner: They may be famed for their independence but if felines become overly reliant on human companionship they can suffer from separation anxiety. To avoid this, try to discourage your cat when they demand attention, and introduce toys and puzzles for independent play.

If it’s too late and your cat is displaying signs of separation anxiety, such as excessive meowing on your departure and return, here’s what you need to know...

Tips for dealing with cat separation anxiety:

Tip one: Similar to dealing with dogs with separation anxiety, cat owners should make as little fuss as possible whenever they leave or return from home. This will avoid creating unnecessary apprehension or overexcitement.

Tip two: Does your cat’s anxiety kick in when you pick up your keys or put on your coat? Untrain your clever kitty from recognising the cues of you getting ready to leave by regularly practicing your routine — packing your bag, putting on your shoes, and locking the door — and then don’t leave the home. They’ll soon disassociate the cues and stop stressing at the sight of your backpack or raincoat.

Tip three: From telling them where we’re going to greeting them when we return, we pet lovers can often be caught talking to our cats. However, cats communicate using varying pitches and volumes, so we need to be mindful of how we talk to them; avoid any tones or expressions that may sound like a growl, hiss, or a spit, which will signal danger to your cat. Instead, try to stick to tones that sound like positive communications in the cat world, such as low purrs, trills, and chirrups.

Of course, if your cat’s separation anxiety persists or is particularly severe, be sure to seek help from a specialist.

How to destress your cat

Seeing your cat suffer with anxiety can be heartbreaking, but you’re not powerless — there are things you can do to calm a stressed cat:

Synthetic pheromones: Owners can purchase a synthetic version of the pheromones cats use to communicate. Available as both a plug-in diffuser and a spray, the pheromones work to tell the cat that they are in a safe and happy environment, where they can relax without a worry.

Herbal calmers: Along with the synthetic pheromones, owners can also try to introduce cat-calming ingredients into their kitty’s diets, such as casein or L-tryptophan. If you choose to use supplements, be sure to ensure they are they are specifically designed for your particular pussycat.

Make them feel safe: Establish your home as a safe and secure space by using synthetic cat pheromones and by providing places your cat can go to when they need to hide away from the world. In certain rooms, you may even want to play calming music that has been composed specifically for stressed kitties.

Once your anxious cat has accepted home as their happy place, you can let them stay there even when you’re away by finding a caring in-house cat sitter. This will avoid unnecessarily reigniting your cat’s anxiety, and allow you to travel with true peace of mind.

Keep calm: Accidents indoors, aggression, excessive meowing — the symptoms of your cat’s stress can be, well, stressful. However, it’s important to remain calm, understanding, and patient.

Never punish a cat for undesirable behaviour, as this will only increase your poor cat’s stress and potentially aggravate the situation. You’ll also risk damaging the precious bond you've built with your pawed pal.

Medical treatment for cat anxiety

The natural remedies above tend to be the first treatment a veterinary expert will suggest. However, in more serious or persistent cases of cat anxiety, your kitty may be referred to a behavioural specialist or prescribed specific anti-anxiety medication.

If you are concerned about your cat’s anxiety, be sure to take them to see their vet. There, your cat can receive a full health check to rule out any anxiety-inducing illnesses, and receive treatment for the physical or behavioral issues caused by stress.

Are you a TrustedHousesitters member with more questions about cat anxiety? No worries, just call the Vet Advice Line number on your member dashboard to talk to a veterinary expert, day or night.

Watch our short video explaining how to find a pet sitter with the wonderful world of TrustedHousesitters — the kind and caring alternative to catteries and kennels.