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How to communicate with an anxious cat

Ginger cat looking anxious

6 tips to communicate with an anxious cat

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Does your cat seem anxious and worried? Have you noticed some unusual changes in their behaviour? Are you worried they might not be as happy as they should be?

By Karen Wild, CCAB Certificated Clinical Animal Behaviourist

Updated on the 08/02/2021, 13:32

Well, we're here to help. And while we can't teach you how to speak fluent cat, we can definitely give you a few pointers on how to understand what's really going on with your kitty.

See here are 6 tips for communicating with anxious cats:

Does your cat suffer with anxiety?

Tip #1: Know the signs

Cats display anxiety in different ways. Some of them are pretty obvious, while others are far more subtle, don’t seem to show signs, and may go unnoticed if you don't know what to look out for. The symptoms of a nervous cat include aggression, increased vocalisation, toilet accidents, excessive scratching, and weight loss.

Repeated bouts of illness or recurring urinary tract infections are another sign of cat anxiety. That's because stress affects the immune system, increasing the chances of illness or other health problems.

Tip #2: Assess the situation

Try and identify the root cause of the anxiety. For example, have you just moved house? Have there been any recent changes to their environment, such as a new arrival or another pet? You may even have simply moved furniture around! All of these can cause disruption to their territory, and can create stress for the cat.

If so, your cat may display some signs of anxiety until they come to terms with the new situation. Most kitties will be ok after a week or so, although adult cats and senior cats may take a little longer to adjust. The same goes for feral cats who are adapting to the life of your everyday domestic cat. These kitties may retain some of their wild behaviours for a few months, including marking their territory and refusing to use a litter box.

Some cats are always likely to be shy, so learn to respect their space and provide as much safety as you can.

How to communicate with cats through body language?

Tip #3: It's all in the way they move - how to speak cat

If you want to know how your cat feels, watch their body language. When a cat is happy, they tend to walk with a sense of confidence. In other words, they strut about with their head held high and shoulders square. Their tail is high, and tipped at the end in a slight curl. They may approach you, and chirrup or ‘bunt’ your cheek with their heads.

When cats feel anxious, you'll notice a big change in their body language. They tend to make themselves look much smaller, keeping the ears flat on the head, the whiskers pulled back, and the tail may look rigid or stiff. A cat that is feeling anxious will generally try to get away.

How do you calm an anxious cat?

Tip #4: When to take action

If the situation doesn't improve after a few weeks or if you can’t identify the source of the anxiety, it's time to take some action. Speaking to a vet or a clinical animal behaviour specialist is a good place to start. They can help identify the nature of the problem, advise you on what to do next, including making any adjustments to your home or routine. And if the anxiety is severe, a vet can prescribe anxiety medication to help in the short-term.

Tip #5: Dependence on us for everything

Being a pet parent can be hard work. As cat owners, we want our pets to know how much we love them, but they also need their independence to be truly happy.

Cats without a healthy amount of independence will soon develop a dependence which then can result in frustration when the cat doesn’t get everything they have learned to expect. It’s not confirmed that cats can officially develop ‘separation anxiety’, but they do bond with us and they will expect us to behave in certain ways. This means they can miss us when we are not there, or when their food hasn’t arrived at the right time. This can make any cat very unhappy.

How to help a stressed cat?

Tip #6: Signs Your Cat Has Anxiety & What You Can Do About It

Some extra toys, plenty of scratching posts of different kinds, a few climbing stations, and puzzle feeders are all great ways to keep your kitty physically and mentally stimulated. And the more they engage with the external environment, the less time they have to feel anxious or lonely.

You can also try some specific cat calming products. They release scents that mimic natural pheromones, which have a soothing effect on cats. They come in sprays, diffusers, or plug-ins. Cat calming products can work well, but they're definitely more of a short-term solution. So even if you notice a positive effect, you should still address the root cause of your cat's anxiety.

Why is my cat so scared of everything?

Your cat may be naturally shy, or simply wasn't exposed to plenty of interesting or new things when they were very tiny. This is especially likely with feral cats, or nervous cats that run at the slightest sound or movement. Give them space, and time to explore without anyone putting pressure on them to be around or sociable. Allowing any cat to choose what they do and where they go is a great way to help them build up trust and confidence. It takes time, many months sometimes, so be patient.

Feline mental health is something that every owner needs to take seriously. And because our cats can't tell us how they feel, it's up to us to keep a close eye on them and look out for any changes in their behaviour that may indicate anxiety. As you can see, there's plenty you can do to boost your pet's well-being. But if you're ever in doubt, or if your cat's condition shows no sign of improvement, don't hesitate to speak to a specialist.