How to calm cat anxiety and stress: symptoms and relief

Cats are usually independent creatures, so their day-to-day life should not change overly even if your routine changes – for example, because you stop or start working from home. However, some cats might feel stressed by changes in routine, so it’s important to know the signs of a distressed cat and how you can help them.


When circumstances in your home change, it is important to stick to normal routines with your cat as much as possible and be aware that a change in your behaviour can have an impact on them.

Animal behaviourist Inga MacKellar shares her advice:

  • If we are at home more than we used to be, we might spend a lot more time cuddling our pets. While some cats will enjoy this additional interaction, others may become anxious if they are over handled.
  • If your cat is showing signs of being over attached to you, then resist the temptation to cuddle and pet them even more while you are at home. Giving your cat too much attention may increase their attachment to you, which may make it more difficult for your cat to cope when you leave the house.
  • If you see that your cat is getting stressed, then make sure they have a quiet, safe place to go indoors or in the garden.
  • Spend some time playing with your cat, especially if outdoor access is restricted. Food activity toys are a great way for them to get mental and physical stimulation. Your cat may even enjoy listening to some specially composed cat music.
  • If you have an indoor cat, keep the litter tray clean and fresh to avoid house-soiling incidents.

Inga also tells us the signs to look out for if your cat is feeling anxious, and how you can help them. Here are some tips on using your body language and surroundings to ease your pet's distress.

Recognise the signs of stress in cats

1. An unhappy cat will often twitch the end of their tail as a warning sign, just before stress sets in. Their claws may also come out in self-defence.

 

2. If your cat feels unsafe or threatened, they are likely to hide and crouch down to make themselves seem as small as possible. That way they will feel less visible to any potential dangers.

 

3. A stressed cat may mark their territory by spraying (squirting urine horizontally) while standing with their tail quivering in the air.

How to calm a cat

1. To feel safe, your cat needs to have their own space and an easy way to escape if it all gets too much. Don't crowd them or make a fuss; instead, give them room to move away and do their own thing, then wait for them to come back on their own terms when they’re ready.

2. Your instinct might be to comfort your cat by stretching out your arm to stroke them, but they could see this as a threat and lash out with claws or teeth. Instead, give them some space and keep a watchful eye over them from somewhere close by, then save cuddles for a more relaxed moment.

3. Once your cat seems less stressed and more like their usual self, try to engage them in play from a distance. Use a fishing-rod toy or roll a ball for them and they will join in if they no longer feel like there's danger looming.

Set up your surroundings

1. Create safe hiding spaces for your cat by using their basket or a couple of boxes that they can retreat to when stressed. Your cat is likely to prefer somewhere higher up – the darker and cosier the spot, the safer they will feel.

2. Let them interact with you on their own terms. Cats need to feel in control of their surroundings, so take your cues from your pet and avoid stroking or playing with them if you notice any of the body language signals mentioned above.

3. Installing a cat flap can also be a great way to ensure your cat feels more in control, as they will be able to come and go as they need to. You could opt for a high-tech version that recognises your pet's microchip (to prevent neighbourhood cats from coming for a visit, too!) or a lockable one if you'd prefer to keep your pet indoors at night.

Inga says: ‘Remember, each pet is different and many factors can come into play when handling a stressed cat. It's most important that you try to keep calm, and then approach your pet according to their needs and level of stress.

‘If your cat's anxious behaviour persists even when they are away from stressful situations, consider asking your vet to refer you to a qualified animal behaviourist who will be able to help you come up with long-lasting solutions.’

Do you have any practical tips for helping cats with anxiety issues? Tell us on social media using the tag #PethoodStories.


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