Have you seen behavior change in your cat due to anxiety? Undoubtedly, when a cat anticipates danger or a threat it can become anxious. Mostly, we see cats try to get defensive or run away when frightened.
Notably, most cats show signs of anxiety during the first few years of their lives. For instance, from 5 months to 1 year but may get worse until 3 years if not curbed. Treatment is recommended at this stage to prevent the anxiety from getting worse as the cat ages.
Signs of Cat Anxiety
Particularly, when a cat is suffering from anxiety due to a perceived threat it may exhibit several signs as noted below:
- Makes strange meows sounds to scare away the threat
- Increased heart rate
- Shifting body or head away
- Tail held tightly against its body
- Hair standing up
- Crouching and leaning away
- Try to fight back
Causes of Cat Anxiety
Physical pain can make a cat anxious. The pain may be brought about by injury, illness, or allergic reactions. Cats love defending themselves when attacked outdoor which may lead to injury and bad scratches. To avoid attacks from hawks or other big animals built cat enclosures or covered run paths outside.
It is good to train your cat when still a kitten in matters to do with socialization. New environments and new people may lead to fear and socialization issues for your cat.
As early as 7-12 weeks it is good to expose your cat to the environment and other people in her social space to reduce the fears, anxieties, and phobias.
If your cat is not used to loud noise or colorful events you may see her/him hiding or running away when in an area with such events, for example, fireworks.
Any pet, be it a cat or dog that is not well trained may suffer from separation anxiety when left alone for many hours. The cat may tend to be destructive due to anxiety and tear down curtains, scratch the furniture and the carpet when lonely.
Get a scratching post for training so that you can prevent the cat from scratching your furniture and carpet. You can also trim her claws to prevent scratching you or tearing the curtains.
Separation anxiety can occur mostly in cats that are used to having people in the home always and are separated. Alongside this, even cats that have been rehomed can suffer from separation anxiety due to a lack of companionship.
Treatment of Cat Anxiety
It may be difficult to establish the cause of your cat’s anxiety or what is triggering it. Your vet may need to do some tests before ruling out any illnesses to be sure it is not a health disorder.
Particularly, the test may include a blood test, urine test, and physical examination. Also, the vet will get to check your cat’s medical history. As the cat owner observe it when around to see what could be the triggers of anxiety in your cats’ environment.
The outcome of the tests may determine if your vet need to carry further test on the cat.
It may be early to give medication and supplements with the results of the first tests.
A lot may need to be adhered to especially behavior modification. Unquestionably, if your cat has any underlying medical conditions the vet may need to treat that too. Medical conditions when severe can lead to pain which is a contributing factor to cat anxiety.
The treatment may last up to 6 months but if severe can be prolonged for years. Subsequently, if the anxiety is ignored it may get worse making the treatment intense too. Your vet may recommend you start treatment as soon as you notice the symptoms.
How to Manage Cat anxiety
Cat anxiety can be caused by various triggers in the environment which need to be looked at.
Apart from what the vet will do for your cat one can try to manage the cat anxiety by doing the following.
When the situation is severe the cat may need to be hospitalized until the medication has become effective. This can be for several days to weeks.
If your cat is not well socialized and gets anxiety due to exposure to new people, try to keep him away from stressors and into a protected space until he is well socialized.
One can give antidepressants as recommended by the vet. Although the effects may be seen after several weeks as it is not instant. During the medication, you can also try behavior modification techniques to fasten the treatment process.
The level of intensity of the anxiety will determine how long your cat will take the medication. Some cats may be well after a few weeks, others may need medication and supplements for years to reduce their level of anxiety.
Moreover, when giving medication you want your cat to remain happy and calm and not dependent on the medication. If you notice any negative behavior change during medication talk to your vet for further advice.
Fireworks and loud noises are a big trigger to some cats’ anxiety. When having an occasion that will feature fireworks, like New Year, you can give short-term medicine for anxiety that can last for 3 hours.
It is good to start the training when your cat is very young so that as they age they will have a coping mechanism. Coping skills help your cat know how to handle different stimuli like loud noise, fireworks, and thunder instead of hiding or avoiding the stimulus.
Teaching and training will help your cat a great deal with behavior modification through counterconditioning and desensitization.
Your cat’s behavior change can be observed during tail wagging. Different tail positioning will indicate different messages that you need to understand and decode.
What is Counterconditioning?
Counterconditioning tries to alter the emotional response of your cat from the stimulus from a negative response to a positive one.
For example, a cat can be given her favorite toy when she sees a dog that frightens her. Over time the cat will associate the favorite toy with a happy feeling when she sees the dog and not get frightened.
What is Desensitization?
Desensitization is the repeated exposure to a stimulus that causes fear. Start by exposing your cat to the stimulus at a low volume and check on your cat’s behavior or fear. Do this 2-3 times at low volume and if your cat doesn’t show any sign of fear repeat the process severally and each time increasing the volume. Remember if you notice any fears in your cat do not increase the volume as this will make the anxiety worse.
Let the training be short, fun, and consistent until you get the desired results as any wrong move may make the cat more fearful and worse.
Early socialization helps a lot when a cat is growing as they are able to interact freely with children, family, strangers, dogs, and other pets that would cause anxiety and fear.
Lastly, exposure your cat to different social and environmental factors to make them have a positive outlook on things and reduce their fears, anxiety, and phobias.