Managing Cat Anxiety and Building Positive Routines for Your Cat

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14 Minute Read
Updated September 13, 2021

Cats can be hard to read sometimes. They are a much more independent animal than dogs, so subtle differences in their behaviour may not seem so obvious unless you know what you are looking for. 

Too often, unsuspecting pet parents chalk their kitty's odd or poor behaviour up to cats just being jerks, but these small attitude changes and habits could be a symptom of a much larger problem - cat anxiety. 

Can Cats Get Anxiety?

We often don’t think about mental health when it comes to our pets, but the fact is, cats (and dogs) can have trouble dealing with stress just like we do.

The independent manner of cats can make it tough to identify sometimes, but odd behaviours and changes to your cat’s normal habits are often a sign that they are unhappy with something going on in their environment or routine. 

Cats hate change, so once they are accustomed to a certain routine, even small changes can make your cat feel out of sorts. 

Cat Separation Anxiety

A common type of anxiety is called separation anxiety. This kind of anxiety is triggered by being left alone. Cats with separation anxiety hate being left home alone, so many of their destructive behaviours happen when you aren’t there to supervise them. 

This type of anxiety can be the most dangerous for your cat because they could easily injure themselves, get stuck, or even escape your house and get lost. 

Symptoms of Cat Anxiety

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Cats often have very distinct personalities, and while there are some more obvious signs of a stressed-out cat, some symptoms may be unique to your cat’s normal behaviour and routine. You’ll need to look for things that are out of the ordinary when it comes to your cat’s habits and attitude. 

Being able to identify signs of cat anxiety is the first step towards finding safe and appropriate solutions, and of course, helping calm down your cat. Take a look at some of the most common behaviours of cat anxiety:

Litter Box Issues

What may seem like a pretty common whoops may actually be a sign of your cat’s stress. Anxiety can lead to your cat acting out by peeing outside of the litter box, especially on your belongings, like beds and laundry. 

Cats who usually hide or cower may also get into the habit of going to the bathroom wherever they feel safe and hidden. This means that the accidents may go unnoticed until the problem becomes a recurring issue. 

Scratching or Chewing

You may have noticed your cat occasionally scratching the corner of your couch or chewing on your curtains, but the more destructive that scratching and chewing, the more likely it is that your cat is feeling stressed and is finding ways to self-soothe or get attention. 

Often this indicates a lack of stimulating options like cat trees or scratching in your cat’s environment. These can be a healthy stress-relieving outlet for cats, especially when they are spending time alone. 

Aggressive or Defensive Behaviour

Sudden changes in your cat's behaviour are a good indicator that your cat is, at least, feeling out of sorts. If your cat is acting aggressively or defensively then they are telling you that their anxiety is getting the best of them. 

The aggressive behaviour could be out of a fearful response cause by their anxiety, so they may swat at you when you reach out to pet them or bite aggressively when you get too close to their belongings. 

Yowling or Crying

Quiet cats who suddenly get loud might be trying to tell you something. This is often interpreted to mean that your cat wants attention. They may walk around your feet meowing constantly, or pace at night yowling loudly. 

Though this behaviour can be pretty annoying, it’s one of the most obvious signs of feline anxiety. Take note of when and how often your cat is being abnormally vocal and this may help you determine the triggers of your cat’s stress. 

Over-Grooming

The most commonly missed sign of an anxious cat is overgrooming. Cat’s are normally adept groomers, so seeing them groom themselves regularly is not a cause for concern normally, but when grooming leads to hair loss, damage to the skin, or excessive hairballs, this is an issue. 

Super stressed cats sometimes even pluck their hair out obsessively, so unchecked this destructive behaviour can escalate to a serious problem. 

Poor Eating Behaviours

Cats are notoriously picky eaters, but changes to your cat’s regular eating habits are a red flag. They may eat less volume, less frequently, or at odd hours. Their pickiness may also increase. 

A consistent eating routine is important to your ca’s overall health, so changes to her food habits can lead to weight issues, muscle loss, and digestive issues. Monitor changes to eating habits during times of stress to help identify possible triggers. 

Hiding or Cowering

Other changes like disinterest in playtime, neediness, aloofness or any other out-of-the-ordinary changes in your cat’s behaviour can be a sign that your cat is feeling stressed. One-off quirks aren’t usually a cause for concern, but it’s a good idea to take note of subtle changes just in case they persist or worsen.

How to Help a Cat with Anxiety

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Once you’ve identified your cat’s anxiety, it’s time to figure out how to help them calm down. Your cat’s anxiety may be triggered by several factors and oftentimes, a bad habit is built as a coping mechanism of the stressor. 

You may have to retrain your cat to ditch the destructive behaviours or try natural calming solutions to help them relax. Figuring out what is causing your cat’s stress will help you choose an appropriate course of action. 

Causes of Cat Anxiety

So why is your cat so stressed? Cats may seem stoic and disinterested at times, but they are very sensitive to even minor changes. If you suspect your cat is stressed out, then you need to try to determine what is causing your cat to feel so anxious. 

Here are some things that might be contributing to your cat’s behavioural issues:

Schedule Changes

Changes to your schedule, like work or school, can have a big impact on your cat's normal routine. They get accustomed to the times you are home, so when that changes, your cat may start to act out. 

Moving

Moving homes are one of the hardest situations for a cat to handle. Indoor cats especially no nothing outside of their home, so a big move can lead to your cat feeling confused and vulnerable. 

New Family Member

A new addition to your home, like a baby or another pet, can be particularly unsettling for your cat. They may feel neglected or territorial by the new family member, leading to aggression or defensive behaviours. 

Losing a Family Member

Regardless of who your cat picks as their person, your cat will form a bond with everyone in your house to some degree. When someone they are accustomed to suddenly leaves, this can be very confusing for your cat. A death in the family or even a family member moving out can cause your cat to lash out. 

Illness or Injury

Cats are good at hiding pain and discomfort. It’s a natural defence mechanism for a wild cat to hide weakness from possible predators, and it’s something that your domesticated cat still does. Instead of whining or crying, your cat may show some non-verbal cues of stress. 

Second-Hand Stress

Cats may not seem like the most loyal pets compared to dogs, but they can tell when tensions rise around them. This means that your stress could be the cause of your kitty's stress. 

Retraining Good Cat Behaviours

The longer your cat is stressed, the more likely they are to build unhealthy and destructive habits. Even without the continued presence of a trigger or stressor, your cat may have gotten used to her new coping behaviours and will continue them. 

It’s important to start replacing negative habits with positive ones as soon as you notice them. Re-training good behaviours in cats isn’t always easy, so make sure you are very consistent in your responses, and never try to discipline your cat by yelling or striking them. 

If they are fearful of you, then you will only exacerbate her stress and anxiety. Instead, build a routine for your cat that will help to incorporate appropriate behaviours and keep your cat both mentally and physically stimulated. 

Tips for How to Calm Down a Cat

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Calming down your cat isn’t going to happen overnight. Because your cat's environment often plays a significant role in anxiety, you need to take steps to help your cat adapt to a new routine. Some things are unavoidable, like a new baby, or moving homes, so the best way to help calm your cat is to embrace the changes. 

Build a new routine around your new circumstances, as best you can. Life will always throw you curveballs every now and then, so lean into the things that stayed the same and help your cat adjust by being consistent, and most of all patient. 

Natural Cat Calming Solutions

To ease the process, natural cat calming solutions can be a lifesaver for cats that are feeling extra stressed and are struggling to handle change. These safe and non-invasive options can help your cat to naturally destress and get past her destructive habits. Here are our favourite calming solutions for cats:

Calming Cat Treats

Under the Weather Calming Soft Chews for Cats uses the calming power of l-theanine and tryptophan. These tasty fishy chews are a delicious snack that can help your cat relax at the same time. They are vet-formulated to naturally reduce anxiety in cats and are perfect for cats that have known anxiety triggers, like fireworks, thunderstorms, and travelling. 

Calming Diffusers

Nothing is more natural than the pheromones of a mother cat, so Feliway Classic Diffuser Starter Kit uses a synthetic pheromone that mimics the same signals that mother cats use to calm their kittens. The handy diffuser gives all day and night relief from anxiety. 

Other Natural Calming Solutions

One of the more unconventional treatments for cat anxiety is the Thundershirt for Cats. You may not have considered clothing would be an effective way to calm your cat down, but the Thundershirt is an effective anxiety-reducing tool. Similar to swaddling a baby, the Thundershirt applies gentle pressure which can naturally make your cat feel safer and relaxed. 

For cats that don't react well to clothing, then Omega Alpha E-Z Rest is going to be a less invasive solution for your cat's stress. This formula uses a blend of three nervines helps to balance the central nervous system to keep your kitty calm. By promoting restfulness in your cat, you can safely quell stress and help your cat stay calm in the presence of anxiety triggers. 

Shop All Calming Aids for Cats

Other Tips for Calming Down a Cat

Sometimes anxiety only shows its ugly head in specific situations. Though general anxiety treatments can still be effective, you may want to look into routines and tricks for managing anxiety under certain circumstances. 

This can help to reduce the symptoms and prevent your cat’s anxiety from getting worse, making it easier to identify triggers and build a routine that helps your cat build confidence and break the bad habits that come along with feline anxiety. 

How to Calm Down a Hyper Cat

Some cats are just too high energy, so when they are understimulated both physically and mentally, which can lead to anxiety and some very destructive behaviours. We aren’t just talking about the occasional case of the zoomies, but full over-the-top hyperactivity. 

Hyperness can be a symptom of anxiety or it could just be your cat’s age or breed. Either way, if your cat is insanely high energy and is causing trouble or acting destructively, then you need to increase both his daily mental and physical activity. 

Here are a few activities that can help:

      • Teaching your cat to play fetch is a great high-impact workout. You can use treats to reinforce the game. Try using the stairs or long hallways to really get your cat running. 
      • Have you ever taken your cat for a walk? Walking your cat is a low-impact workout, but it’s a great way to exercise your cat’s mind. Learn more about walking your hyper kitty in How to Leash Training Your Cat.
      • Try a cat puzzle toy to give your cat an opportunity to problem-solve. The more mentally exhausted your cat is, the less destructive she will be. 
      • Cat wheels are a great tool for cats that need frequent exercise because they can be used any time for as long as your hyper cat wants. They are expensive but cheaper than a new couch. 
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How to Calm Down a Cat at Night

Sometimes your cat’s anxiety kicks in at the least opportune time, like at 3 am when you are trying to sleep. It’s not uncommon for cats to follow a more nocturnal cycle, but when your cat starts acting out at night it’s important to find ways to help them self-soothe. 

Cats look for natural ways to self-soothe, but not all methods are positive. For example, self nursing and overgrooming are coping methods for anxiety that often lead to injury and skin and coat issues. 

Replace these bad habits with some of these positive ones:

      •  Try a self-grooming tool, like this Catit Senses 2.0 self Groomer. This can help your cat satisfy their need to groom without harming themselves or damaging their beautiful coats. 
      • Leave a dim light on. If your cat is a little more active at night, then it’s a good idea to leave them a nightlight so that they can move about the house safely. Cat’s can’t see in the dark, contrary to popular belief. Instead, they can see much better than us in very low light. 
      • Give them their own space to sleep. A cat tree with an enclosed platform or a comfortable cat bed in a private place where they can sleep without distraction from people, other pets, or outside noises. 

How to Calm Down a Cat in the Car

Cat’s are not notoriously good travellers, but sometimes, it’s necessary. Trips to the vet may be relatively short, but your cat may still go into full panic mode as soon as the car starts moving. 

Car anxiety in cats is often more vocal than anything, especially if your cat is travelling in a secure carrier. They may yowl, cry, or even hiss for the whole trip, or worse frantically try to escape. 

Try these tips to keep your cat calm in the car:

      • Position is everything. You may think having them in the front seat with you will be calming, but it’s often not. Place her in the back seat for both her safety and mental state. 
      • Keep her secure in the car by always travelling with your cat in a sturdy carrier. Carriers, like the Baxter & Bella Soft Carrier, are usually fabric or plastic and don’t have bars or wires that she can reach her paws through, and possibly get injured in the process. This will also limit her sight and encourage her to sit or lay down. 
      • Thundershirts for cats can be an effective tool for calming a stressed-out cat in the car. If you’ve ever put clothes on a cat, they tend to go limp or stay still. Wearing the pressure vest in the car will encourage her to lay down, and the gentle pressure provides a feeling of safety and security. 

How to Calm Down a Cat in Heat

Unspayed cats go through a recurring heat cycle, and it often comes along with some odd behaviours, like extra clinginess, increased vocal activity, and some extra energy. Though it’s part of a natural cycle, you may need to look for ways to help your hormonal kitty chill out. 

Here are a few ways to calm down cats in heat:

      • Cats in heat will seek out warm comfortable places, so try the K&H Bed Warmer to make her favourite place to nap and nice and toasty one. 
      • Cats in heat tend to be a bit needier, so you may need to schedule some extra play and cuddle time with your aroused little furball. 
      • Pheromone diffusers, like Feliway Calming Spray, could be very effective during your cat’s heat cycle. Her hormones are going to be going a little crazy, and a pheromone-based spray or diffuser will speak to your cat’s brain in a very primal way. 

How to Calm Down a Cat After Moving

No matter how gracefully you handle the moving process, your cat is still going to need some time to get used to her new surroundings. The sounds, smells, and even sights are going to be unfamiliar all of a sudden, so you need to find ways to help your cat adjust to such drastic changes. 

Here are a few post-move tips for calming down your cat:

      • Keep something that smells like you close to your cat during and after the move. Grab a worn t-shirt or blanket that, while seemingly unimportant to your cat, may carry a sense of familiarity that she needs to feel normal. 
      • Make a special area that is just for her containing her belongings, like a bed and toys. As soon as you get her to her new home, you want her to have a safe space that she can go to relax while she acclimates to her new home. 
      • Stick to her old routine as best you can. There will be inevitable changes, but keep mealtimes and playtime as consistent as you can. This limits the number of changes your cat has to handle all at once. 

Every Cat Is Different

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No matter how common the symptoms, each cat experiences anxiety differently, and that means that no one solution will help in every situation. Dealing with cat anxiety requires a bit of trial and error and a lot of patience. 

Most cats need a variety of solutions to help them handle their stress, while others may just get over their anxiety naturally, depending on how their stress was triggered. It's important that you take your time and be as consistent as possible to help your cat adjust. 

Don't get discouraged if your cat doesn't respond to your calming solutions right away. Cats can be very stubborn, but with time and practice, you can help your cat destress and find the right routines to keep her calm happy. 

Is your cat suffering from anxiety? Let us know how you manage symptoms and reduce triggers in the comments below!

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Written by

Krystn Janisse

Krystn is a passionate pet nutrition enthusiast. She has worked in the pet industry for over a decade and loves to share her passion for animal welfare with others. She loves all animals but is currently channeling some crazy cat lady vibes with her four lovable, but rebellious cats.

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