Cat Stress And Anxiety
From Pet Health Learning Center
Cat Stress And Anxiety
Signs and Symptoms
As humans, we deal with stress and anxiety on a daily basis. When such conditions are not dealt with properly, they can have a debilitating impact on one's health and quality of life. The same is true for cats. Feline stress and anxiety can be triggered by a variety of factors, including environmental, emotional, and physical factors. These states can negatively affect a cat's health and can also lead to behavioral problems that disrupt the lives of both cats and pet owners. When left unchecked, manifestations of cat stress and anxiety will typically only become worse with time, seriously detracting from the peace of mind of both the cat and its owner. Therefore, it's a good idea to be familiar with some of the common signs and indicators of cat stress, so that you can identify such a problem in its early stages. Prompt recognition and treatment make recovery and adaptation easier and will help to quickly restore your pet's comfort and well-being.
While different cats deal with stress and anxiety in different ways, there are a number of warning signs and behaviors that can be indicative of such states. Behavioral and mood changes of a variety of forms are common indicators that a cat is reacting to some type of stress. One very common manifestation of feline stress is litterbox avoidance or inappropriate elimination. If your cat is trained to use a litterbox but begins to urinate or defecate around the house or in other inappropriate places, this could be a sign of stress and anxiety. Territorial marking, such as spraying, can also occur, even with cats that have been neutered. Some cats also exhibit aggressive behavior, often directed at other pets and humans in the household. Hyperactivity and restlessness are also common. On the other hand, some felines react to stress by withdrawing and becoming depressed. Cats that react in this second manner may sit immobilized for long periods of time or may hide under and behind furniture or in other places.
Other behaviors that are often exhibited by stressed or anxious cats include trembling, pacing, and a loss of appetite. Excessive grooming, pulling out hair, or not grooming at all can also be signs of stress. Some cats may even begin to harm themselves through self-mutilation. Chewing on inedible objects and increased vocalization are also common behaviors displayed by cats suffering from stress and anxiety. In the case of separation anxiety, cats may become destructive, deliberately knocking objects off tables and counters and tearing up furniture and other objects. If such behaviors and their underlying causes are not dealt with, the situation will most likely only get worse. If your pet is exhibiting any of the above symptoms or behaviors, he or she could be stressed or anxious. However, many of these symptoms can also be signs of other medical conditions or illnesses. Either way, it's important to have your cat examined by a veterinarian as soon as you observe any behavioral or mood changes so that whatever is troubling your pet can be identified and dealt with as soon as possible.
When it comes to diagnosing cat stress and anxiety, the first step is to rule out illness or other health problems that could be causing the unusual behaviors and mood changes that a feline patient has been exhibiting. This will be done through a physical examination, going over the animal's medical history, and by performing any tests that a veterinarian believes necessary in order to eliminate other possible causes. Once illness has been ruled out as the cause of your pet's problems, it's very likely that a cat's symptoms and behaviors will be attributed to stress and anxiety. In order to determine how to help your cat, your veterinarian will likely go over your cat's life and environment with you in order to identify the triggers and stressors that are affecting your pet. Once the specific cause or causes have been established, an appropriate course of treatment can be developed and implemented.
Just as with humans, both psychological and physical stress can elicit physiological responses in cats. These responses can be very beneficial with respect to survival, as they prepare an animal for a fight or flight response when faced with potential hazards or dangers. These physiological changes also help an animal to cope with stressors and new situations. While certain amounts of stress and anxiety are normal and can easily be dealt with, if the response continues long after the occurrence of the initial stressor or if the response is excessive, an anxiety problem may develop. Anxiety can have a sudden onset or can develop gradually, growing progressively worse with time. It can also appear during brief episodes or can be ongoing. Either way, feline stress and anxiety can cause severe disruption in the lives of cats and pet owners.
Two such physiological responses that occur during times of stress are increased secretion of cortisol by the adrenal cortex and stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system. As mentioned previously, these responses are generally beneficial, helping the body to deal with stressful situations. However, when stress is ongoing or anxiety levels are inappropriately high, these physiological responses can have a detrimental effect upon a cat's body. For example, it has been found to be very likely that high amounts of cortisol can hamper the effectiveness and activity of a mammal's immune system, reducing the body's ability to ward off infection and other illnesses. Furthermore, continued activation of the sympathetic nervous system can cause high blood pressure and can increase the possibility of certain diseases developing. This is due to the fact that stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system causes increased cardiac output and heart rate, as well as several other effects. As a result, when a cat is stressed or anxious, the physiological changes it experiences can cause behavioral alterations and can also have a detrimental effect upon the animal's health. This is why it's so important to deal with cat stress and anxiety as early on as possible.
Feline stress and anxiety can be caused by a myriad of different factors and events. However, causes of such states typically fall into one of three categories -- environmental causes, emotional causes, and physical causes. Numerous events and situations from each category can trigger an anxiety response in cats. For example, environmental causes can include moving to a new residence or the introduction of a new human or animal family member into the household. A pet owner's new job or another change to the daily routine can also cause disruption which can potentially trigger feline anxiety. Unnecessary confinement and a lack of fresh air can also act as environmental stressors, especially for cats that are used to spending time outdoors. Having too many animals in one household can also be an environmental source of stress for a cat.
With respect to emotional factors, there are also numerous potential triggers. Boredom or loneliness can give rise to feline anxiety, as can separation from the cat's pet owner. Death of a family member can also trigger an anxiety response, whether the family member was human or animal. Fear, rivalry, and jealousy are other emotional factors that are known to add stress to a cat's life. Physical contributing factors to feline stress and anxiety include obesity and illness. Physical trauma and surgical procedures can also be very stressful for cats. Finally, infestations of fleas, worms, and other parasites can make a cat anxious as well. Thus, there are many different events and situations that can increase a cat's stress level and cause an anxiety response. Reducing the occurrence of such events, or making them as non-disruptive as possible, can help to decrease the amount of stress and anxiety your cat will experience under typically unsettling circumstances.
If your cat is suffering from stress and anxiety, the type of treatment required will depend upon the stressors involved as well as the characteristics of your individual pet. More severe cases will need to be dealt with by a veterinarian or qualified animal behaviorist, but milder cases can often be successfully dealt with at home by the pet owner. Desensitization is often effective, especially when environmental factors are the root of your cat's anxiety. Planning ahead is particularly helpful when you know that a change in the daily routine is going to occur. For example, if you are moving to a new residence, the stress on your cat can be reduced by setting up a safe room at the new residence before hand. Familiar objects should be placed in this room, such as favorite toys and blankets, so that your cat will feel more comfortable upon arrival. Similarly, if a new job is on the horizon, changing your routine incrementally before the job starts can help ease your pet's adjustment. However, if your pet is already suffering from anxiety, such as separation anxiety, you can also use the method of desensitization by leaving your cat alone for very short periods of time and then slowly increasing the length of time that your cat is on its own. Removing unnecessary stressors from your cat's life and providing comforting attention, such as grooming and cuddling, can also help to alleviate your pet's anxiety.
In addition to such behavioral treatments, homeopathic remedies can also be very beneficial for stressed and anxious cats. Homeopathic products geared toward treating feline anxiety are made up of natural ingredients with a variety of calming and soothing properties. For example, chamomile, passion flower, and lemon balm provide sedative effects which help to relax your cat and reduce its anxiety. Ginseng and coneflower are other natural substances that can help to relieve feline stress. These ingredients promote relaxation and also stimulate the immune system, providing your pet with greater defense against illnesses and disease. As a result, homeopathic products can be very beneficial with respect to reducing your cat's anxiety while restoring peace and happiness to the household as well as to the feline-human relationship.