Like people, cats have different personality traits. One of those happens to be jealousy—or, at least, what looks like jealousy. In fact, hissing, swatting, scratching, or spraying can all be ways that cats will attempt to control their environment. These behaviors are often symptoms of anxiety, not jealousy.
Anxious cats often crave attention and are clingier than standoffish cats, and sometimes they can act out. While it can be frustrating, there are steps you can take to address this behavior. The key is trying to discover why your cat is feeling this way.
Why Do Cats Get Anxious?
Just like some people, cats can become anxious when they feel they're being excluded or their environment has changed drastically or suddenly. The anxiety may be triggered by any number of events:
- Cats may show signs of anxiety when your routine changes. It may be the arrival of a new family member, such as a newborn baby or pet. Increased time on your computer or phone may also trigger clingy behavior. A sudden change in daily routine, including your cat's feeding schedule, can cause anxiety.
- Poor socialization as a kitten may lead a cat to become codependent on you and display signs of anxiety at times. Separation anxiety does occur in cats, so if your cat is always used to you being there and suddenly you are traveling more for work, this can cause anxiety.
- An increase in noise, movement of furniture, new visitors, or changes in litter box placement can all cause anxiety in cats.
- A lack of personal space, beds, or other belongings can increase anxiety, especially if a cat feels threatened by another pet.
Signs of Anxiety in Cats
Like it or not, your cat considers you as a resource. You are their source of comfort, food and all sorts of things. If they think that there is something impeding their access to this resource, they will act. When cats are anxious and feel like their territory or access to a resource is being threatened, they can act out in some aggressive ways. Behaviors such as hissing, growling and swatting at the object, animal or person that the cat is trying to move outside their territory or away from something they think is theirs are some examples of aggression based in anxiety.
Cats may also intrude on your personal space while you are holding a new baby or video game controller. They may attempt to sit on your lap while you cuddle with your significant other instead of them. These are all attempts to control their environment.
An anxious cat can be more aggressive and start scratching or biting. It may also lead to destructive behavior, including chewing or shredding furniture, curtains, and other items. Objects sitting on a countertop or table, such as a drinking glass or decoration, may be knocked over or broken as well.
In some cases, cats may begin urinating outside of the litter box. Cats use urine to mark territory and prevent other animals from infringing on their space. This is a cat's attempt to communicate with other beings in their environment that they need space. Urine marking is one of the most problematic and frustrating behaviors for cat owners. Not only is it a sign that something is wrong with your cat, but it is difficult to clean and eliminate the odor, which can lead to continued marking.
Some cats will spray onto walls and other vertical surfaces. Spraying is another tool cats will use in an attempt to communicate. It is not uncommon for cats to spray areas that they are attempting to claim as their own. Your bed? The new dog's bed? A spot in your closet? Typically, the more important the space is to the cat the more likely they will urinate on it in an attempt to claim it.
How to Address Anxious Behavior
It can be difficult to manage an anxious cat, but there are things you can do to eliminate or lessen the unwanted behaviors.
Determine the Trigger
The first thing you need to do is determine what exactly is provoking these behaviors. Once you figure out the cause of the anxiety, you can address the problem. Ask yourself what has changed in your home:
- Did someone new move in?
- Did you recently bring home a new baby or pet?
- Are you spending more time doing something you didn't do before?
- Has your cat's favorite spots in the house been disturbed?
Spend More Time With Your Cat
The easiest way to decrease anxious behavior in your cat is to simply spend more time with them. The extra attention can usually curb bad behavior and there are many ways you can do this:
- Get a few interactive toys, such as feather wands and laser pointers, that allow you to play with your feline friend.
- Make it a point to seek out and pet your cat when you come home or anytime you have a free moment.
- Cuddle with your cat on the sofa or bed and give it your undivided attention for a few minutes.
- Offer your cat treats when it shows good behavior.
Give Your Cat Personal Space
Many cats really like their own personal space. If you have introduced a new family member—whether a person or animal—you may have inadvertently taken away from your cat's established area.
To correct this, give your cat a place to call its own again. This may mean moving the new pet's feeding station to another room or giving your cat a new perch where it can observe the family undisturbed. Make sure your cat's favorite toys are not available to the newcomer as well.
When it's a new person in the home, try to keep their personal belongings out of places your cat previously claimed. It can also be helpful to have that person interact with the cat in or near that location.
Help Your Cat Cope and Learn
If you cannot completely avoid the person, pet, or item that is the subject of your cat's anxiety, work on helping your cat adjust to the change. You can reward your cat with treats, praise, attention, and petting when it is near the object or person, for example.
For example, toss your cat treats while holding your baby. Consider white noise machines and other sound barriers if construction or work is being done in or around the home. Allow a visitor or significant other to feed and toss treats to your cat.
If you notice your cat is not improving, please contact your veterinarian to discuss anti-anxiety supplements, pheromones or medications that can help them adjust faster and help avoid escalating signs of anxiety. The sooner the issue is addressed the more quickly your cat can return to a feeling of comfort in their own space.