Much like humans, cats, too, have phobias and experience anxiety. These emotions are tools designed to help all living creatures survive. When something bad or traumatic happens, we associate elements of that experience with fear or anxiety. This helps us avoid those things in the future but is undoubtedly a difficult feeling to live with. Fear and anxiety, at a primal level, may have helped us survive as a species, but it can make daily life difficult for those suffering under it. Cats experience these things as well.
For the purpose of this article, we should define a couple of items.
- Fear – An emotional response created by the perception of danger or a threat.
- Phobia – An irrational form of fear whereby the individual experiences excessive or persistent fear of certain situations or objects.
- Anxiety – A feeling of fear in anticipation of future dangers from unknown or imagined elements.
Some cats aren’t obvious in their reaction to fear, so there are some clues that owners can look for to determine what’s going on. Some common signs of fear in cats include withdrawal, hiding, trembling, rolling into a ball, flattened ears, reduced activity, dilated pupils, arched back, hissing and aggression.
Our feline friends, as covered in a previous blog, are incredibly perceptive. They see, hear, smell, and remember lots of things that happen around the house. They might enjoy a certain smell, laying down in a certain way while you are napping, and other things that make them happy. They also remember the scarier moments.
Some cats develop phobias early in life from scary experiences. Perhaps a loud vacuum cleaner or a big dog sniffing and barking at them. Other cats develop phobias later in life from things such as neglect or other trauma. Regardless of where it came from, cats with phobias are still cats who need love and protection. Animal behaviourists, and the vet, can help play a role in rehabilitating cats with phobias to some degree, but the solution is not instant. It’s about trust, love, and showing your cat they are safe. Rehabilitation may be a process, but it is worth it!
Cats are curious animals and a healthy fear of the unknown helps them navigate situations and new experiences. Have you ever noticed your cat jump two feet high when you make a loud noise or as they are investigating something new in the house? This is their body telling them to take a step back and assess. Their instincts are on high alert for predators as their size doesn’t exactly make them the top of the food chain. Some domesticated cats may show less fear and anxiousness than others, but by no means are they immune.
A common form of anxiety in cats is separation anxiety. This usually manifests in behaviours like hiding, going to the bathroom outside of the litter box, and other things that seem out of the ordinary. Your cat loves and trusts you to keep them safe, therefore when you leave the house, they may experience this anxiety. Having multiple cats may also be a contributor as one of them may only feel safe when you are home. Once you leave, they feel as if they are at the mercy of the other cat.
Cats also feel anxiety from things like new living arrangements, removal of furniture they loved, the addition of a new family member or a new pet, and more. This anxiety may manifest itself in a number of ways, but one of the more common is excessive licking to the point of raw skin and patches where no fur is left. If this is happening, talking to your vet is important. They can recommend different ways to help your cat.
A cat experiencing regular fear symptoms needs help. It needs love, understanding, and time. It also may need a trip to the vet to ensure their health is in order and they aren’t showing symptoms of something painful. Your vet will know best how to approach the issue. In addition to the professionals, you can play a major role in making your cat feel safe and appreciated at home. Find out what comforts them and be sure to interact with them 1-on-1 each day!