Feelings like anxiety or worry protect cats from threats and dangers.  For a large part, anxiety acts like a first-aid kit for the kitty.  A threat is seen, triggering the brain to release chemicals through the limbic system that effect the whole body.

However, if triggered too easily or lasting too long, emotional disorders can occur.

Stress can be good or bad

Short bouts of stress are perfectly normal and healthy for a cat.  When a source of stress happens too often or for too long, chronic stress and a constant release of damaging stress chemicals takes place.

Much like you or me, having one too many bad days begins to wear down on us, making us extremely tired, agitated, and weak.  In most cases, a single infrequent source of stress isn’t anything to worry about.

The signs

A phobia is an irrational fear, such as the fear of water or a fear of planes.  Cats will develop rational fears – of veterinary clinics for example.  However they do gain some irrational fears of nonthreatening sights, sounds or situations – like a vacuum cleaner or a hair dryer.

Anxiety, which is part of the natural fight-or-flight response, is normal in many cases but can become irrational.  For example, when a possessive cat is anxious if its owner leaves the room.

Constant restriction or frequent boredom can lead to compulsive behavior.  A cat might ritually perform a certain activity, like pacing back and forth or grooming obsessively.

My mother-in-law’s dog exhibits something like this as well.  He insists on cleaning his paws (wrists?) to the point they begin to bleed a little; the vet ruled it as an obsessive compulsive disorder and prescribed medication.  In extreme cases of feline anxiety, they can become unable to relax or sleep.

It is hard to diagnose depression in a cat.  One indicator is a change in eating habits (mostly a decrease in food consumption).  Others include clinging or remote behavior, irritability, or lethargy.  Grieving, a combination of depression and sadness, often occurs in cats when an important member of their family dies or leaves.


For anxious cats, it is common to use sedatives.  In the past diazepam was used, but it has been shown to increase liver problems.  A more modern method of treatment for emotional disorders are treated with a combination of environmental enrichment, training, and newer mood-altering drugs.

Common drugs such as buspirone and amitriptyline for treating anxiety, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorders in humans are prescribed for cat use in lower dosages.

These drugs cause an increase in serotonin levels, often having a profound effect on a cat’s behavior.  It should be noted that drugs alone don’t cure emotional problems.  Behavioral therapy and environmental enrichment are vital.

Age related issues

For a large part, cats show the same signs of aging as humans do.  Standing at the wrong place when they want to go in or out, forgetting where they are, and sometimes meowing for no reason.  When going senile they will often lose their litter training.

Routine, daily mental activity helps greatly in the aging process.  Play with your kitty with brand new toys.  Hand feed your elderly cat.  Pet the cat if it wants to be pet.

Some aspects of aging can’t be helped, but others can be delayed or even reversed through your intervention.  if your cat is having senior moments, be sure to check with your vet about its behavior to rule out other potential problems.

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