A closer look: Anxiety Disorders in Cats
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.
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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.
Testing and diagnosis
Veterinary investigation focuses on ruling out medical conditions which present with similar symptoms. Strategies include:
- Blood work
- Diagnostic imaging including abdominal ultrasound
In the event of negative test results, a detailed history is often sufficient to diagnose anxiety.
Steps to Recovery
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.
Are Anxiety Disorders in Cats common?
Mild to moderate anxiety is common in cats, particularly in busy or multi-cat households. Severe anxiety is rare.
- Behavioral modification
- Oral supplements
- Pheromone containing products such as collars, sprays or household diffusers
- Anti-anxiety medication