By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.
If there’s one thing any cat owner wants to avoid, it’s a stressed out cat.
Whether it’s a trip to the vet, moving to a new home, or too much noise, stress can result in a number of unsettling (and unwanted) feline behaviors. Hiding, excessive grooming, not eating, and aggressive actions such as hissing, growling, and even biting are just some of the classic symptoms of cat anxiety.
And then there’s the number one behavioral issue that veterinarians see in stressed cats – peeing outside the litterbox.
But the stress doesn’t stop there. These behaviors also tend to cause anxiety for cat parents, who just want to know how they can help their pets relax, without resorting to Kitty Prozac.
If the situation is litterbox related, and you’re a multiple cat household, the solution may be as easy as getting more litterboxes. Other behaviors may pose more of a challenge. Getting a cat to calm down is often easier said than done—but with a little trial and error, and a healthy dose of patience, it can be done. Here are a few natural approaches to cat anxiety relief that I recommend trying:
Calming Pet Treats
One of the most popular choices for reducing cat anxiety and nervous behavior is through calming pet treats with targeted nutrients that support healthy brain and nervous system function.
Used daily or in times of stress—they’re safe either way—calming pet treats are considered one of the best natural cat anxiety remedies on the market today, for a variety of reasons.
For starters, they come in flavors cats like, including chicken and turkey. They’re also easy for cats to digest, and they’re made with ingredients that have been shown to help reduce feline stress.
One of those ingredients is L-theanine, a supplement used to reduce anxious feelings in both humans and animals. Another is the Colostrum Calming Complex Biopeptide Blend, or C3 Blend. It’s a specially filtered mixture of proteins and fatty acids from bovine colostrum that helps promote calm and lower the amount of anxious and excessive brain activity in your cat. You’ll find it in all chews that actually work. If using calming pet chews as treats, be sure to stay in line with recommended dosages on the product label.
These products are created in a lab to mimic the pheromones naturally produced by cats, which trigger the cat’s body to relax.
You can use them in diffusers that you plug into a standard wall outlet, or you can spray them directly onto a cat’s bed or other object they come into contact with. Some pheromone products claim success rates of over 90 percent, but it’s difficult to verify those numbers because the studies are often conducted by the manufacturers themselves. Still, many cat owners use pheromone sprays regularly and say they do lessen anxiety-related behavior.
This may come as a bit of a surprise, since most of us tend to think of catnip as a stimulant, not a relaxant.
While it’s true that many cats respond to catnip by getting high and going crazy, that effect is usually short-lived. What we don’t notice is how quickly most cats settle down for a recovery nap when the high wears off.
You can use that natural exhaustion to your advantage if you know you have to do something with your cat that it finds stressful—like getting into its carrier for a trip or visiting the vet. Just give your cat a dose of catnip about 15 to 30 minutes before you need kitty to calm down. They’ll end up naturally running off a lot of the energy they would use to fight against the stressful experience.
Even if you’re not planning to go anywhere with your cat, a little catnip can help take the edge off of stressful events like parties, home repairs, or anything that temporarily upsets their environment or involves having extra people in their territory.
Pretty much any dried form of catnip will do – as always, I advise opting for organic varieties when you can find them. However, if your anxious cat is also prone to having a nervous or sensitive tummy, you’ll probably want to keep the nip in a small pouch or toy, to avoid any nausea or vomiting that may come from eating the herb.
Another calming option for your cat is earthing (also called “grounding”). I’m a huge believer in earthing as a way to reduce the effects of stress in people, and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t also work for kitty.
Earthing is the simple process of reconnecting the body with the natural energy in the ground beneath our feet. Even though we don’t feel it, the Earth emits an electrical charge that, when transferred through the skin, helps balance the autonomic nervous system (our “stress center”). All you have to do is be in direct contact with a naturally conductive surface—soil, water, sand, or stone—for at least 20–30 minutes. (Barefoot is best.)
If your cat spends time outside, earthing is a natural part of its day. If your feline is indoors only, Earthing is still possible—if you can get them to sit or sleep on a grounding pad or sheet.
Grounding pads and sheets bring the Earth’s energy indoors through the ground port of any three-pronged power outlet. The trick will be getting your cat onto it, since anxious cats are often wary of new things.
The first thing I would try is using the pad or sheet yourself, so it absorbs your scent. This should make it more attractive and less threatening to your cat. Who knows—maybe your cat will join you for some cuddle time!
A couple other tricks include sprinkling some catnip on the pad or sheet or placing your cat’s food bowl in the center, so your cat is grounded while it eats. If you’ve got any more tips on this, be sure to post in the comments section below!
Few things are more stressful to your cat than feeling like they can’t get away from a threat—whether it’s the dog, the vacuum, or other people in your home. Energetic toddlers, in particular, tend to scare cats into hiding.
You can reduce your cat’s anxiety by making sure that it has places to go that are out of the path of activity, and where your cat can keep track of what’s going on but still feel protected. This is why a lot of cats like to sleep on chairs that are tucked under tables and—if they can reach it—the top of the refrigerator.
At the same time, you don’t want your cat to spend its life under your bed, either. Investing in a cat tree (the higher, the better) can help. I’ll admit they take up a good amount of space, but that’s exactly what you’re creating for your stressed-out kitty, right?
Place the cat tree in an out-of-the-way corner or near a window, whichever your cat prefers. Just make sure that when your cat is on the tree, you leave them alone so they come to associate that spot with calm and safety. Alternately, your cat might also appreciate a simple cardboard box to climb into, somewhere away from all the hubbub.
Sometimes the answer to your cat’s anxiety is the same thing that calms you down—the reassuring touch of a loved one.
If your cat is showing signs of anxiety, make time to be with, play with, and pet him or her. Cats may be solitary animals, but they still need interaction with the people they’re attached to. Being ignored or pushed away can exacerbate their feelings of stress.
I’ve always believed in the healing power of love and the “laying on of hands”—not as a substitute for scientific medicine, but as a fortifier of medicine. When I was still in active practice, my patients who had supportive and loving connections always had better outcomes than the ones who didn’t. I believe the flow of loving energy between pet and pet parent through touch can be just as potent—for both parties!
Follow your cat’s lead when it comes to interaction and touch. Some are real cuddlebugs, and others are satisfied with a quick daily ear scratch. You don’t want to overdo it because too much contact can also be stressful. This is about finding the right balance.
So, the next time your cat walks into a room where you are, say hello and ask it what it wants. Then listen intuitively for the answer.
Bach Flower Remedies
A form of vibrational medicine developed by Edward Bach in the early twentieth century, Bach Flower Remedies are flower essence tinctures that you spray or drop under your tongue.
Bach has a Rescue Remedy product specifically designed for dealing with stress which contains 5 different flower essences. I’ve personally used and recommended it for humans, and believe it helps people manage stress. Bach now has a pet Rescue Remedy product available, which can be mixed into your cat’s food or water, or squirted into his or her mouth or lip fold. If getting your cat to consume flower essences proves difficult, you can also rub the essences into your clean hands then stroke your cat’s body and ears, adding a dose of TLC.
Specific, individual flower essences may also be useful for dealing with a newly adopted cat with anxiety. For a cat that has been abused or neglected, for example, some vets recommend a combination of Aspen, Larch, and Star of Bethlehem. Along with gentle but firm training, Chestnut bud and Walnut essences can be useful with animals that bite or nip.
Valerian, Chamomile, and Other Calming Herbs
Many herbs that are popular stress relievers for pet parents are gaining popularity for pets themselves. Before you make that leap, though, talk to your veterinarian about whether the product you’re considering is safe.
In some cases, the oil form of herbs can be toxic—which means essential oils and raw plants are definitely out. Teas and tinctures can also be problematic because the active compounds can be too concentrated. What seems just right for you may be way too much for your feline’s liver to handle. It’s just better to be safe than sorry.
Most of all, be patient with your cat as you try these different options. The last thing you want to do is cause your feline friend even more stress by getting angry and frustrated. Stay open and positive, and you’ll find the anxiety solution that works for your cat.
This “7 Natural Ways to Ease Cat Anxiety” article has been reviewed and approved by Veterinarian Emily Wilkinson, DVM, and was co-written with Emily Parker, who runs the all-things-cats website, Catological.com. Parker’s mission is to help cat parents love their kitties better. She’s had lots of practice walking the talk, as she spends a lot of her time loving and caring for her rescue kitties, Gus and Louis (Gus only has one eye, but he’s very handsome!). She likes to explore her city to find new coffee shops and always hopes to run into an outdoor kitty or two.
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