Image via Carlos G. Lopez/Shutterstock
By Kate Hughes
Humans are not the only ones that deal with anxiety issues; cats can suffer from anxiety, too. As a pet owner, keeping your cat’s anxiety under control is important for establishing and maintaining a positive pet and human relationship.
There are many reasons a cat may experience anxiety, but there are also many calming products that pet owners can try to help manage their cat’s anxiety.
What Causes Cat Anxiety?
According to The Cat Coach, Marilyn Krieger, a certified cat behavior consultant based in Northern California, cat anxiety can stem from many causes. “A change in routine can be very jarring for a cat,” says Krieger. “New situations, an unfamiliar environment or a previously unknown animal can all cause stress. Even a home remodel or a raised voice can cause anxiety, depending on the cat.”
Mikel Delgado, a certified cat behavior consultant and cofounder of Feline Minds, a San Francisco Bay area company that offers cat behavior services, adds that anxiety is different from fear in that it’s a sustained condition. “There's a difference between cats that get scared during fireworks on the 4th of July and cats that spend a lot of their time stressed out or afraid of what may seem like nothing,” she says.
If your cat does have anxiety, this can take many forms, from hiding and refusing to eat to urinating and defecating outside of their litter box. “On the other hand, cats that are comfortable in their environment will eat, drink and sleep in the open, they'll interact with their people, they'll play with toys, and they’ll generally be out and about—not just hiding and slinking around all the time,” Delgado explains.
Keeping Cat Anxiety at Bay
If you determine that your cat is suffering from anxiety, there are several options available. However, finding the right one for your cat might take some trial and error. Both Delgado and Krieger stress that every cat is different, and a solution that works for one kitty might not work for another.
Delgado adds that because many cat calming products are available without prescription from a veterinarian, owners can’t expect them to work miracles. “Most products that are available over the counter don’t offer extreme results, but some may have a calming effect,” she says.
Thundershirts for Cats
The Thundershirt for cats is a kitty-sized compression vest that applies a gentle, constant pressure, much like swaddling a baby.
Reportedly, this pressure can calm anxious and stressed-out animals. Delgado says that while there hasn’t been a lot of official research into the effect that Thundershirts have on anxious cats, they have been proven to have a calming effect on dogs.
“Anecdotally, I can say that Thundershirts seem to make cats less fidgety. I’ve heard many times that they’ll lay down and stop moving around if wearing a Thundershirt,” she says.
Delgado notes that while Thundershirts for cats may indeed have a calming effect, getting them on your cat can be an issue. “It's important to be aware of exactly how much your cat can be handled and how amenable she may be to wearing any type of garment. Also, you should definitely consider whether or not she might injure you in the process.”
Cat Calming Collars
Some of the most popular products for cat anxiety are cat calming collars infused with pheromones, such as the Sentry HC cat calming collar. The pheromones in cat calming collars mimic those that mother cats produce to calm and soothe kittens, and they can also help to calm adult kitties.
Delgado says that cat calming collars work for some cats, but have absolutely no effect on others. She adds that like Thundershirts, there is a chance that owners may have difficulty putting a collar on their cat. “If you’re looking to try out a collar, I recommend introducing the cat to it before trying to put the collar on your cat. Let him sniff it, and then offer him a treat. Don’t go and just put it around your cat’s neck, because that can cause stress and negate any positive affect the collar may have,” she says.
Cat Calming Pheromone Diffusers
If you like the idea of treating your cat’s anxiety with pheromones, but you know that wearing anything would stress your cat out, try pheromone diffusers for cats. Cat calming diffusers like the Feliway plug-in diffuser can help with general anxiety in cats by emitting a synthetic version of the feline facial pheromones.
Cat calming diffusers like the Feliway MultiCat diffuser plug-ins are specifically made to help calm multi-cat households and promote harmony amongst cats. These diffusers use a synthetic version of the pheromone given off by mother cats while nursing kittens.
Krieger says that she strongly prefers diffusers to collars. “If a cat doesn’t like a collar, she can’t get away from it. If she doesn’t like the pheromones from a diffuser, she can walk into another room. So, if they’re helpful, you get the benefits without causing any undue stress, and if they’re not, you don’t cause any harm.” she explains.
Calming Cat Food and Cat Treats
Other options for managing stress include anti-anxiety diets, like the Royal Canin Veterinary Diet Calm formula dry cat food, and cat calming treats, like the Vetriscience Composure cat chews.
Anti-anxiety cat food often contains components such as tryptophan—a compound found in turkey that is associated with sleepiness. These diets are also meant to soothe upset tummies, which could be a source of cat anxiety.
Treats work a little differently. According to Delgado, anti-anxiety cat products typically include alpha-casozepine, an ingredient said to help manage stress in both cats and dogs. “There’s some evidence that they do increase relaxation in cats and dogs under specific circumstances,” she says. “And it’s been tested in vet visits for cats. The tests showed that there was at least a mild calming effect.”
Training and Playtime
Beyond cat calming products, playing with your cats or training them to perform tasks can do wonders for their anxiety. “Positive interaction makes cats feel secure,” says Krieger. “Some cats love treats, others love play, and in some cases, clicker training can work really well.” While it is usually associated with dogs, using clicker training for your cat can be a great way to build a stronger bond and reduce cat anxiety.
Delgado adds that cat playtime can be integral in reducing anxiety. “Different cats respond to different toys—some like puzzles, others like feather dancers—you have to try out a few to figure out what your cat will like,” she says.
When Should You Call Your Vet?
For some anxiety-ridden cats, over-the-counter options just won’t do the trick. Delgado says that if you see your cat over-grooming, chewing on her nails, or otherwise injuring herself, it’s time to go to the vet. Delgado explains that veterinarians can prescribe cat anxiety medication to help reduce your cat’s anxiety and minimize these behaviors.