Cat anxiety is a serious condition. If your kitten runs away from strangers or your rescue cat prefers to stay under the couch, there are deeper issues at work. The first step to helping our cats overcome anxiety is to understand it. So, what are cats afraid of, what should we look out for, and what can we do to help?
How Can I Know If My Cat Has Anxiety?
There are a few common behavioral traits that cats with anxiety will exhibit. Interestingly, they focus around three primal instincts: fight, flight, and freeze. One that you are probably familiar with is running away and hiding – the flight mechanism. Whenever they are faced with something stressful they flee to a safe space.
Others may freeze in place or show aggression. Aggression signs include an arched back, puffed fur, hissing, spitting, and scratching. You should also watch out for issues of urinary control or refusal to use the litter box.
What Might Have Triggered Your Cat’s Anxiety?
The direct cause of your cat’s anxiety can depend on their experiences in life. Rescue cats may have experienced trauma via a previous owner. Street cats will have had to fight for their survival in ways that we can’t appreciate. Underlying fears over their next meal, their shelter, and other threatening animals can stay with them.
When you bring them into their new home and provide them with love, shelter, toys, and all the food they could want, they may struggle to understand that this is a permanent change. Therefore, it might take some time to get them settled and comfortable.
Additionally, you need to be aware that cats that overcome this initial fear of their new situation can relapse into anxious behavior. This can happen when there is a change in their environment or lifestyle.
For example, cats are often scared of new people. They have no reason to trust the stranger and my hide from them to stay safe. Moving to a new house is also a big stress factor for cats as they have to readjust to a new place and new smells.
Finally, cat anxiety can be triggered by anything that startles them. This plays into the idea of familiarity and consistency. Sneaking up on cats to play is a bad idea, especially if they are eating. Don’t turn on the vacuum or other loud appliances without warning.
How Long Will Cat Anxiety Last?
The unfortunate truth is that this anxiety will last as long as it lasts. You can’t force any recovery and you have to be patient. Individual episodes brought on by triggers should be brief.
You can potentially reduce that time frame with calming products for cats. As for the deeper anxiety disorder, this will depend on their ongoing experiences and any setbacks along the way.
What Can You Do to Help Them Get Over Their Anxiety Issues?
Patience is vital here. Give them time to get used to new situations. Take them out of the room before vacuuming. Let them realize that they are safe in their own time. Give them somewhere to hide for as long as they need to.
One of the worst approaches is to use a form of exposure therapy. Don’t force your cat to be with new people or force them to get used to an unpleasant experience. That just takes all the control away from them.
What Calming Products Can I Use to Calm My Cat Down?
While this all sounds pretty alarming right now, there are some tools that you can use to help. One option is to find out if your cat is one of those genetically disposed to catnip sensitivity. A few occasional treats sprayed with catnip solution can help to calm anxious animals. There are similar products with alternative scents and pheromones that come in sprays or within collars.
Also, you can help your cat by providing the tools with which to get comfortable and friendly with humans, just without forcing them or implementing major changes. For example, a soft cat bed can provide security when it is in a place of safety. But a whole new cat den full of new items could be over-stimulating.
Be patient and understanding for the best approach to dealing with cat anxiety.
This isn’t a problem that you can fix overnight. It will take time for cats with anxiety issues to overcome their fears. Give them their space, give them time, and give them the love and treats they deserve along the way.