How to help your cat with stress and anxiety
If there is one thing i‘ve learned as a vet nurse and full-time hostage of cats is that they can be sensitive little floofy flowers.
They appear to be mighty hunters, independent, aloof and solitary creatures, which for the most part, they are.
But at certain times, they can become stressed and anxious for several different reasons.
There are plenty of signs of a stressed cat, but the important thing is getting to the root of the cause.
As natural predators, cats are very good at hiding pain and what's bothering them to avoid appearing weak.
But if you observe your furry buddy closely on a daily basis, you will see some body language signals that let you know how your feline is feeling.
Read on to discover what to look out for and learn the specific signs that are a dead giveaway for stress!
Signs of anxiety in cats
- Slight/major crouching when approached or touched
- Dilated eyes - those very-large pupils like a deer in headlights
- Ears turned back and furrowed brow
- Staring intently and focused on one object
- Laying on side with tail flicking
- Hair raised, staring, and ears turned back
- Walking with flat back, tail down, head down
- Suddenly grooming or excessive grooming
Some of these signs can be very subtle and you don't need to worry about acting on them every time.
Sometimes our cats are just showing us how they feel in certain situations through these little signals.
For instance, my rescue cat Duncan will lie on his side, flicking his tail occasionally when the dogs are playing near him.
Is he just letting them know to leave him in peace? I reckon so!
Same way he commands those same dogs to clean his ears!
Like most cats, Duncan isn't shy about letting everybody know when he's had enough or if he wants something!
That's why it's up to you to observe your cat and use your best judgement to decide if they're seriously distressed or just reacting to a passing moment.
A little mental stimulation and various activities work wonders to relieve your cat of stress.
And best of all, you can help your feline from the comfort of your home without spending a fortune!
Cat enrichment can prevent boredom, burn energy, and help reduce stress or anxiety!
All you have to do is designate some time for play and create a fun and safe place full of stimulation!
Playtime - Pick your cat's favourite toy and dedicate some time to play with them. A feather stick or ball in a tunnel always goes down a treat. Try a few and see which your cat responds to and enjoys the most.
Encourage their natural predatory skills with stalking, pouncing and ambushing games. You can even invest in a laser pen and watch as they zoom and chase!
Install a high vantage point such as a catio, cat tree, cat shelves, or window perch to help improve their mental health.
Install a scratch post. Scratching can relieve boredom, allow them to get a good stretch and relieve stress.
Love and affection time. From a simple scratch behind the ear or under the chin to full-on kitty cuddles. Whichever your cat prefers. A simple snuggle releases endorphins and does a world of good for both of you! A stress buster for all!
Create lots of safe and comfy spaces. Cat beds, boxes under beds, hidey holes in shelving units or the classic cardboard box! Make your cat happy by giving them plenty of places to retreat and be alone.
There are a handful of common signs of stress and anxiety that I see daily in consultations with cat parents.
And because I have personal experience dealing with this one as well, I am well-equipped to help others!
My blind cat, Prince is mothered a little bit more than the others because of his disability.
We can't keep him inside as he is an escape artist and enjoys his routine garden outings before he comes and chills back inside with us.
But then came the issue of urinating indoors! He started to do this on his bed, on blankets and occasionally on our spare bed.
As well as being upsetting for our cats, these situations naturally cause stress in us pet owners too.
However, after using a mix of calming supplements and plug-in pheromones, this Prince pee problem has now completely disappeared!
All animals are individuals, and there isn't one solution that works for all. But there are always plenty of things you can try!
If your cat is prone to peeing all over your house, you can get free support from vet nurses like myself here.
However, there are a few things to look out for that may help you identify the cause beforehand:
Inappropriate urination in cats
- Spraying can occur in neutered and unneutered males and females. Usually, when this occurs inside it's a sign something is wrong, and we need to look into the reason why. This can be threats, stress or changes in the house.
- Multi-cat households can contribute to inappropriate urination.
- Stress and anxiety can lead to inappropriate urination.
- If you have no litter tray in the house, add one in! Even if you only have outdoor cats. If something has changed in the neighbourhood they may feel more relaxed doing their business at home. Provide one litter tray per cat if you have a multi-cat household. Remember to use different depths of litter and even different brands and types of litter. Keep the litter tray clean always. A complete clean at least once a day and scoop out poop or pee after each use if possible.
- Don’t punish your cat for urinating in the house. This can make the problem and anxiety worse.
- Look into pheromone plug-ins/sprays and calming supplements designed to reduce stress and anxiety.
We would always recommend a vet check-up if your cat suddenly starts urinating around the house, as this can also be a sign of certain illnesses.
Something else I have seen a lot over the years is cat over-grooming.
Overgrooming in cats
Overgrooming is when a cat excessively cleans and preens itself. This results in hair loss or skin lesions.
Overgrooming can be caused by fleas and mites or skin irritation. The other reason can be behavioural like anxiety or stress.
If you've made any changes, like welcoming a new addition to your household (pet or human), this can be the cause.
Even something as small as decorating the home or building work in the neighbourhood can trigger stress.
It’s always a good idea to get a vet check-up if your cat is overgrooming as there can be a few additional reasons.
If a professional does diagnose your feline friend with stress, there are some things you can do to support them.
Pheromones and calming supplements, alongside adjustments at home, can provide relief.
The liquid is salmon flavour, so ideal for even the fussiest felines!
There is a super mix of ingredients in these supplements that are scientifically proven to help relieve stress:
- L-Tryptophan and Green Tea Extract (L-Theanine) - Required for the production of serotonin, which promotes a sense of calm and feelings of well-being.
- Valerian Root Extract ??" Is known for its sedative effects. It helps soothe and ease anxiety. It is said to have a similar effect as valium and Xanax (it feels like a giant calming cuddle)
- Magnesium Citrate and Calcium ??" Supports the nervous system (blocks activity of the more stimulating neurotransmitters resulting in a more peaceful, restful state) and muscle function (relaxes the muscles)
- Vitamin B1, Vitamin B3, Vitamin B6, Vitamin B9, Vitamin B12 ??" Important to regulate mood functions
Our calming supplements have all these active ingredients that work hand in hand together to reduce stress in cats.
Pheromones for cats (Feliway)
I have to admit I really wasn't convinced about using pheromones for cats at first.
Even though I've done all the training with the brands that offer them, I didn’t believe they could fully work.
Of course, I thought they were a great idea, but I never personally used them.
However, the beauty of being a vet nurse is I can catch up with pet owners to see if my recommendations have made any difference.
Having three cats myself, two of them generally had squabbles. Even though it was never anything huge, it was still concerning and disrupting the peace.
But this quite literally changed overnight when I plugged in the Feliway!
Now all three of the cats get on great and there are no behaviour issues anymore.
We’ve even had to close the bathroom window at night to stop random strays creeping in overnight for scraps whilst we sleep!
I often joke that they are drawn to the Feliway and can somehow sense it.
I now have a Feliway plugged in at all times, and I always notice the little changes in the dynamics of my fur family again if it runs out!
There may not always be specific triggers that set off a cat's stress.
We also need to be more holistic and look at the whole of our cat’s well-being.
There are some general things you can do which can improve your cat's wellness and reduce anxiety.
Five simple ways to improve your cat's well-being:
Take them for regular trips to the vet. Regular checks can help spot illnesses or issues early on and help to get quicker treatment resulting in a better outcome. Cats are good at hiding pain and when something is wrong!
Use responsible parasite treatments designed for your cat. Our Buddy nurses can create a personalised care plan tailored to your cat's lifestyle and budget.
Maintain good dental health. Brush your cat's teeth daily or give our enzymatic toothpaste a go, which works without brushing. Purrfect for wriggly cats that resist teeth cleaning.
Grooming your cat can be a great way of physical interaction with your cat. If this is done just before a meal, your cat will associate the grooming time with a delicious treat!
Brushing our cat's hair will remove any loose and dead hair resulting in less hair ingested when the cat is grooming themselves and fewer hairballs.
During this time, you can also feel over the skin for any unusual lumps and bumps or abnormalities and get them checked at your vet if you find anything of concern. Grooming your cat has a similar effect to stroking for you. Releases endorphins and helps relieve any stress for you.
A high quality complete and balanced diet is good for cognitive function to support feline mental health. Buddy nurses are happy to discuss your cat's current diet to make sure they are receiving all the right nutrients.
When our cats suffer from stress and anxiety, it can be upsetting for us cat parents as well! But with Buddycare you never need to cope alone.
You can connect with me for free via the live chat on Whatsapp, or book a video consultation for specific support.