March is Pet Anxiety Awareness Month. Mental health issues are an increasing problem in our pet cats, just as in the human population.
While short-term fear can be a protective response, if the thing causing fear is ongoing, or becomes associated with other things, chronic anxiety can develop. Anxiety can lead to other health and behavioural problems, such as overgrooming, cystitis (bladder inflammation), urinating or defaecating in appropriate places and aggression towards people or other pets.
Things which can cause chronic anxiety in cats include:
- conflict with other cats (either within the same household or outside)
- insufficient opportunities for natural behaviour (e.g. scratching, playing)
- changes in routine
- conflict with human members of the household
The good news is that there is plenty we can do to help to reduce our cat’s stress levels. Trying to have a fairly consistent routine will help your cat to feel in control of their life, knowing what is going to happen when.
Provide plenty of opportunity for normal behaviour, and allow your cat to control aspects of their life by giving them choices of places to sleep or eat. Make sure your cat has a safe place they can go to hide where they won’t be disturbed by children, dogs or visitors. Use Feliway diffusers in the house during times of change or when loud noises are likely (e.g. new family member, building work taking place, firework season).
If you have a multi-cat household, reducing conflict between cats can involve making quite a few adjustments. Conflict may not always be outwardly aggressive, one cat can bully another simply by standing or sitting and staring. If cats do not lie down touching each other, or groom each other, they are likely to consider themselves as separate social groups and conflict is likely.
Ideally each cat, or at least each social group, within a household should have:
- at least 1 litter tray
- at least 1 place to drink
- at least 1 place to eat
- areas where they can move around without meeting other cats (e.g. options for moving along at height or along the ground)
A Feliway Friends diffuser can help to ease tensions between cats.
If your cat is still showing signs of anxiety, referral to a clinical animal behaviourist is advisable. Your vet may be able to prescribe some anti-anxiety medication to help in the short-term. To find a qualified behaviourist, visit the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors (APBC) website.