Anxiety disorders in cats describe symptoms where cats experience a negative behavioral response to environmental stress which is disproportionate to the risk.
• Anxiety is poorly understood and not fully characterized in cats
• Examples of environmental stress triggers include new people, animals or items in the household, and changes in access to resources
• Anxiety disorders are distinct from normal fear responses to a perceived risk, such as running away from a cat fight
• Symptoms of maladaptive anxiety include inappropriate hiding or running away, soiling in the house, overgrooming or self-mutilation, and compulsive pacing
• Diagnosis of anxiety disorders involves a detailed clinical history, and laboratory tests help rule out underlying causes
• Treatment options include reducing exposure to triggers, supplements, calming pheromones, and medication
• Most cases of anxiety in cats improve with treatment but the predisposition to anxiety is life-long
Anxiety is not fatal and doesn’t typically present an emergency, but significantly impacts quality of life and warrants veterinary attention.
It may run in families or may be a learned response. Environmental triggers include lack of control over resources such as food and water, access to litter trays, and to places to perch, hide, and sleep.
Some cats react to environmental changes inside or outside the house such as a new cat in the neighborhood, new furniture, or a new person in the house.
Anxiety disorders are not fully understood or described and the incidence is not known in cats. Anxiety may play a role in recurrent cystitis in cats. Young female cats are particularly susceptible to stress-induced cystitis
The cause of anxiety disorders in cats are poorly understood and most cases are multifactorial.
Some anxiety in cats is normal and is known as adaptive anxiety (normal fear responses). Examples of adaptive anxiety include an appropriate reaction to aggression from other animals or people. Abnormal, or maladaptive, anxiety presents as a disproportionate response to the risk, and interferes with normal quality of life.
• Inappropriate toileting or marking in the house (house soiling)
• Aggression towards people or cats without being threatened
• Self mutilation, often targeting the tail • Hiding or withdrawing for long period of time
• Compulsive behaviors such as overgrooming or pacing
Veterinary investigation focuses on ruling out medical conditions which present with similar symptoms. Strategies include:
• Blood work • Urinanalysis • Diagnostic imaging including abdominal ultrasound
In the event of negative test results, a detailed history is often sufficient to diagnose anxiety.
Treatment options include resolution of anxiety triggers such as increasing the resources available in multicat households, ensuring access to a variety of beds, perches and places to hide, and preventing unfamiliar cats from entering the property.
Environmental enrichment (interactive toys, puzzles, scratching posts, etc.) allows for expression of normal behavior such as play and hunting which is expected to help improve a cat’s overall stress level and mental state.
Mild to moderate cases sometimes improve with supplements and pheromone containing sprays, collars, and diffusers. Severe cases of anxiety are treated with anti-anxiety medication.
Anxiety in cats is often a lifelong condition but the severity varies over time. Mild cases of anxiety are under-diagnosed and usually persist without resolution of the anxiety trigger. Most cases of anxiety improve with treatment.
Anxiety disorders in cats are not contagious but there may be an inherited component.
Anxiety disorders may be prevented by ensuring that the available resources are adequate for the number of cats in the household, and that these resources are secure from other neighborhood animals.
Environmental enrichment, particularly for indoor cats, reduces stress by allowing expression of normal behavior.
Mild to moderate anxiety is common in cats, particularly in busy or multi-cat households. Severe anxiety is rare.
• Behavioral modification • Oral supplements • Anti-anxiety medication
• Pheromone containing products such as collars, sprays or household diffusers
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