How to Reduce Stress and Anxiety in Cats

Last updated 28 MAY 2020

This article is written by Pet Circle Veterinarian, Dr Carla Paszkowski BVSc.

Could your kitty be suffering from anxiety? Cats are very prone to anxiety and it can present in a number of different ways. Cats are masters of masking their anxiety, so the signs aren't always obvious. Symptoms can also be incredibly varied - in fact, almost any problem behaviour may be caused by or exacerbated by stress.

1. The Signs of Stress

2. The Causes of Stress

3. How to Reduce Stress

4. The Best Anxiety Products for Cats

The Signs of Stress

Common signs of stress observed in cats include urinary issues such as cystitis or urine spraying, aggression, excessive vocalising, hiding, destructive behaviours, over-grooming and hair loss, humping, and reduced appetite.

Stress is often the underlying root cause of issues such as skin infections, urinary disease, and gastrointestinal illnesses.

What Causes Stress in Cats?

Sometimes it's hard to know what could be causing stress in your feline friend. Cats are complex creatures and find certain situations a lot more stressful than other animals do. For example, while dogs may be easily adaptable to change, cats often find changes to the home territory incredibly jarring. Or, while dogs enjoy meeting new dog friends, cats may find wandering neighborhood cats incredibly frightening.

It's important to know that every cat has a different stress threshold. What stresses one cat out might not phase another cat. One cats may suffer from a full blown bout of cystitis after a vet visit, while another might be completely unphased and even enjoy an outing.

There are a number of common 'red flag' situations that frequently lead to anxiety in cats:

  • - Moving House
  • - A new pet or family member
  • - Visitors to the house
  • - Changes to the home territory, such as building works or renovations
  • - Outings and car trips, such as to the groomer or vet

How to Treat Anxiety in Cats

There are many natural, non-medicated approaches to helping your cat deal with anxiety. Depending on the severity of your cat's anxiety, you may be able to come to a complete resolution without having to resort to medicating. However, if your cat fails to improve or is causing themselves or others harm, we recommend chatting to your vet about options.

1. Provide hiding spots and high escapes

Make sure your cat never feels trapped, and that they have plenty of hiding places. This is particularly important if the cause of your cat's anxiety is children or other pets.

Try to provide different levels. Sometimes cats feel safest when they are up high and can survey their surroundings. Cat Furniture is an easy way to achieve this. Cat trees often provide a variety levels as well as bonus scratching surfaces.

Hideaways are a great way to help your cat establish a safe space. Igloo or pod type beds are a great way to give your feline friend a snuggly little hidey-hole.

2. Feliway

Feliway is a synthetic analogue of the feline 'calm' pheromone. Cats release this pheromone when they rub their cheeks against objects as a way of marking their territory. Feliway is available as a spray, a diffuser, and a surface spot-on. The plug-in diffuser is ideal for home situations, as it works like an air freshener by dispensing appeasing pheromone into the atmosphere. The spray is good for travelling purposes and can be spritzed onto your cat's carrier or in the car.

Feliway comes highly recommended by both vets and pet owners. Most people find that Feliway works incredibly well to reduce stress and put their cats at ease. Vet clinics all over the world use Feliway in-house to help calm feline patients.

Feliway can help with almost any behaviour issue, and it has no side effects - so we always recommend giving it a go!

Feliway: How Does It Work? View more helpful videos on Pet Circle's Youtube Channel.

3. Make Sure their Litter is 'Up To Scratch'

Always ensure you have enough litter trays, and that they are kept clean. Cats need to feel they have a clean toilet space all to themselves. They can become very stressed if they have to share with a dominant cat, or if their litter tray is soiled.

How many litter trays is 'enough'? A good rule of thumb is to provide one litter tray per cat, and then one extra. So, for a 1-cat household, provide 2 litter trays. For a 3-cat household, provide 4 litter trays (and so on).

4. L-Tryptophan Supplementation

L-tryptophan is the precursor to serotonin, a neurotransmitter that affects mood and decreases anxiety. Serotonin is known as 'the happy hormone'. There are a number of products for cats that contain L-tryptophan:

a) Hills Prescription Diet cd Multicare Stress: This therapeutic veterinary diet contains hydrolysed casein, a bioactive peptide that has been shown to decrease anxiety related behaviours in cats, as well as L-tryptophan, an essential amino acid precursor for serotonin. It also has the added benefit of supporting urinary tract health and preventing urinary crystals, and one formula is also available for weight management. These varieties are available as both wet and dry kibble, but as they are a veterinary diet we recommend checking with your vet before ordering.

b) Vetalogica Tranquil Treats: these tasty treats are infused with l-tryptophan and B group vitamins can help maintain an ideal emotional balance. These treats are delicious tasting, with real Australian chicken and duck meat, and contain no corn, wheat, rice or artificial colours and flavours.

5. An anxiety wrap

The Thundershirt for cats applies constant, gentle pressure to the torso which may help reduce anxiety and promote feelings of relaxation. It is best for short-lived sources of anxiety such as when you have visitors over or during thunderstorms. Results tend to vary with anxiety wraps in cats; some cats find the sensation a little overwhelming and 'immobilise'. However, as it is a non-medicated method, and has success in some cats, it may be worth trying.

6. Medication

If you've had no success with Feliway, a diet change, and home modifications, it may be time to talk to your vet about medications. Your vet may discuss treatment with clomipramine for chronic anxiety, which is very effective and has few side effects.

Top Cat Anxiety Products

Product Name How to Use Best For Approximate Cost

Feliway Diffuser

Odourless, synthetic analogue of 'feline calming pheromone'. Diffuser plugs into wall and disperses a constant supply into the environment. 1 bottle lasts 4 weeks. Chronic anxiety relating to any behavioural issue, caused by anything such as a new pet or child, changes to the home, mating season, roaming cats $75

Feliway Spray

Odourless, synthetic analogue of 'feline calming pheromone'. Spray bottle can be aimed at objects in desired location. Temporary anxiety, particularly travel. Perfect for spraying on a carrier or in the car. Useful for 'stressful surfaces' such as a table used for giving medication or cleaning teeth. $42.61

Feliway Feliscratch Solution

Odourless, synthetic analogue of 'feline calming pheromone'. Dropper designed to be applied to scratching surfaces. Designed to encourage your cat to scratch a designated surface, saving your furniture. $35

Hills Metabolic + Urinary Stress

Contains hydrolysed casein, a bioactive peptide shown to decrease anxiety, as well as L-tryptophan, an essential amino acid precursor for serotonin. It also has the added benefit of supporting urinary health and a healthy weight. Chronic anxiety, particularly those cats who suffer from stress cystitis and urinary issues or obesity. From $66

Vetalogica Tranquil Treats for Cats

Tasty treat which delivers natural ingredients plus Tryptophan and B group vitamins, which may help to maintain an ideal emotional balance. Chronic anxiety relating to any behavioural issue, caused by anything such as a new pet or child, changes to the home, mating season, roaming cats $17.99

The Thundershirt

Applies gentle pressure to the sides of the torso, which can help promote comforting feelings of calm in some cats. Temporary anxiety, such as travel or when you have visitors over. Not intended for long-term wearing. $45.99