It can sometimes feel like cats should come with an instruction manual! Figuring them out can be a full-time job. Us owners of more than one cat will be more than familiar with the fact that each cat comes with their own very unique personality.
Reading the signs of cat anxiety
It can be distressing when a cat starts to show signs of anxiety. It is not always easy to figure out what is going on. Some signs are more obvious than others but, more often than not, owners are left in the dark and many are unaware that their cat is distressed at all. An anxious cat is often misunderstood for one that is naughty, timid or aggressive. Being able to read the signs of anxiety is an essential tool for any cat owner. These may include:
- Acting aloof. Though some cats are natural lone rangers, if you notice your cat is spending even less time around the family than usual, this could be cause for concern. This may mean a cat who rarely comes inside or one who spends all of their time in their bed or in a room away from others.
- Some cats become overly dependent on their owners and will want to follow them absolutely everywhere. This can pose a real challenge when owners need to get out of the house and the cat starts to display signs of separation anxiety.
- Unpredictable behaviour. Also known as ‘moodiness’, some anxious cats may lash out and might even start to bite or scratch when approached.
- Urinating and defecating outside of their litter tray. Many owners are personally affronted by this one and see it as some kind of ‘dirty protest’. It is important to understand that cats do not do this to be vindictive. They should never be punished (especially as punishing behaviour like this can lead to worsening of their anxiety in the long run).
- Excessive grooming. Some cats may groom themselves so much that they develop bald patches and start to bring up copious amounts of fur balls. Of course, other things such as allergies and external parasites can also cause this kind of behaviour. Therefore, it is important to have these conditions ruled out by a vet before assuming anxiety is to blame.
- Reduced appetite. A very nervous cat may go off their food. This is especially the case if they are in unfamiliar territory, such as in the veterinary clinic or cattery.
- Panting, this is a lot less common than with dogs. There can be a number of reasons for a cat to pant e.g. overheated, after strenuous exercise, stressed and anxiety. This sort of panting should resolve once the cat has had an opportunity to calm down, cool down or rest.
Causes of stress in cats
Cats can be delicate souls that find a range of things intimidating. They typically like routine and can find it hard to cope with change in their environment. Something that is seemingly innocuous to us such as a diet change, new cat moving in next door or a quick trip to the vet for a claw clip, may be something a cat finds very difficult to cope with. As with dogs, some are naturally fearful of loud noises such as construction work, babies crying or fireworks.
Another common cause of stress for our cats is a lack of resources. Without clean litter trays, large enough beds and the proper mental stimulation from games and toys, cats can find life challenging. Remember, in multi-cat households, cats need extra resources. For example, as a rule of thumb, there should be 1.5 litter trays per cat. Some cats just don’t cope well in a multi-cat household. This can be for a multitude of reasons but can be a big cause for stress. They may feel they can move up the hierarchy and they will challenge others cats in attempt to become top cat. It could be a territorial issue over space or even food related.
By determining a cat has an issue with anxiety and figuring out what is causing it, we can be best placed to help them long term.