The issues with having a ‘Scaredy-Cat’

This month’s focus is all about mental health – yes, our pets can experience mental health issues too; the main one being anxiety. It’s a huge problem in humans, but can also rock our pets’ world, and can sadly have a negative effect on their health and well-being.

If cats and dogs were to rock-paper-scissors over which species would tend to be the most likely to be stressed, cats would win 2 out of 3 times! Our feline companions can be quite sensitive, and the slightest of changes can really upset them. Sometimes it’s a personality trait, but cats usually will develop anxiety due to circumstances including:
• Illness or physical pain
• Trauma
• Improper socialisation when they were younger
• Separation anxiety
• Household changes, such as buying new furniture or moving things around
• A lack of the things your cat needs around the home (such as litter trays not cleaned out)
• Environment changes, such as introducing a new pet

It can literally be as simple or small as moving your furniture around in your lounge room. Cats generally don’t like change very much. Luckily there are things you can do to help your cat feel less anxious, but we’ll get to that shortly. We’ll firstly look at what happens when our kitties are stressed and go untreated.

Some of the outcomes from untreated anxiety includes:
• Feline idiopathic cystitis – painful urinary tract inflammation without infection
• Recurrent “cat flu” signs
• Gastrointestinal upset symptoms, such as vomiting or diarrhoea, obesity and increased risk of diabetes
• An unhappy cat who isn’t living their best life!

So what signs do you need to look out for?
Great question, as we all know cats can be very good at hiding their issues at the best of times! Sometimes they will display obvious behaviours or signs, yet they have great poker faces as well! Some of these symptoms:
• Hiding away (when they wouldn’t do it normally)
• Less active
• Eating and/or drinking less
• Over-grooming
• Becoming less tolerable of people
• Becoming aggressive towards people or other pets in the house
• Inappropriate toileting
• Becoming reactive to incidents that normally wouldn’t

Now that you know the signs, we’re guessing you want to know what happens next when you’re thinking your feline companion has got some serious stress issues happening. Fortunately, our vets can help! They will first rule out any medical reasoning behind the change in their behaviour, as some of the above symptoms can be happening due to other reasons. Once they’ve ruled this out, they will then determine what the probable causes of the anxiety are, and will treat accordingly.

Sometimes it will be a matter of adjusting their home environment, or minimizing their area to reduce change and chance of stress. For indoor cats, having multiple litter trays or beds in different places can help reduce stress too. Investing in the calming pheromone product called Feliway, a synthetic version of the pheromone that mother cats release to help keep their kittens feeling calm, is also an excellent and proven product to help keep stress levels down in your house. This comes in a spray or diffuser option, which you can chat to us about over the phone or in clinic. Anxiety medication is also an option, or for severe cases we will be able to refer you on to a behaviour specialist in Adelaide.

The take-away message from this blog is to make sure you keep an eye on your feline-friends. Make sure to act promptly when you first start noticing the slightest of differences with their behaviour. The quicker you are able to reduce their stress, the happier you cat will be.