November 06, 2018
Story at-a-glance –
- Despite their calm appearance, cats can experience chronic anxiety due to their living situation
- Unlike dogs who depend on their humans for their happiness, cats need some control over their environment to feel relaxed and well-balanced
- There are five potentially anxiety-producing aspects to every indoor cat’s environment, including what she eats, sees, hears and smells
Cats evolved as skilled hunters and predators, but in the wild they are also prey, which means they’re hardwired not to show weakness no matter how they’re feeling. This is because in the wild, a sick, injured or otherwise vulnerable cat becomes an easy target for predators.
What this means for those of us who share our lives with kitties is that despite their calm exterior, it’s entirely possible something is bothering them. In addition, as semi-domesticated pets, cats don’t depend on their humans in the same way dogs do.
Your Cat’s Well-Being Is Dependent on Her Environment
To be physically and psychologically healthy, your kitty needs to feel she has some control over the environment you provide for her. That’s why any slight variation in her daily routine can make her anxious. Major changes like a move to a new home or the introduction of a new pet in the household can quickly send even the most unflappable cat over the edge.
It’s also important to understand the difference between anxiety and fear in kitties. Fear is typically fleeting and triggered by a specific event, while anxiety can be chronic and sustained.
Anxiety can take many behavior-related forms in cats, for example, some refuse to eat, others eliminate outside the litterbox and some stressed kitties spend much of their day hiding. In contrast, a cat who is relaxed in her environment will eat and snooze out in the open, play with toys, and interact with her humans.
How to Optimize Your Cat’s Environment for His Health and Happiness
The opposite of anxiety is relaxation. For humans, this usually involves engaging in a stress reduction activity such as meditation, yoga, deep breathing exercises, guided imagery or physical exercise. However, for cats it’s a bit different. They need an environment ideally adapted for a feline to keep anxiety at bay. What you want to do for your kitty is think about how he experiences his living situation through his five senses of sight, sound, smell, taste and touch.
1. Optimizing your cat’s diet — The appropriate food for cats, who are obligate carnivores, is a moisture-dense, unadulterated, nutritionally balanced fresh diet comprised primarily of human-grade (preferably organically raised) animal meat, high-quality animal fat and a small amount of vegetables and fruits.
The veggies and fruits provide antioxidants and fiber to animals that no longer hunt whole prey. In addition, natural sources of trace minerals, vitamins and fatty acids must be added, since the soils in which foods are grown are depleted of many of the nutrients pets need.
Feeding a diet specifically designed for your carnivorous cat is the best way to prevent nutritionally related stress. Older kitties often need even higher levels of protein than younger cats to prevent a decline in lean body mass as they age. Also provide fluoride- and chlorine-free, fresh, filtered water from glass or stainless steel bowls.
Keeping up with your cat’s dental health is also very important in preventing diet-related stress, as is hairball control. I also recommend consulting your integrative veterinarian about beneficial dietary supplements, like digestive enzymes.
2. Enriching his visual environment— Your kitty appreciates variety in the lighting in his environment. Sometimes he wants to sit in the sunshine (I recommend opening your drapes daily to allow in natural light). Other times he prefers a dark (WiFi-free) spot to nap or hide out in.
Giving cats a break from unnatural or fluorescent lighting is very important. Build variety into the lighting your cat is exposed to with items like boxes, play tunnels, perches in different spots, closet shelving — even an empty cabinet he can safely hang out in. Consider creating a quiet, ultra-low stress zone for your feline friend, such as a room with natural sunlight (no LED lighting), no electrical equipment or routers emitting EMFs, with an optional dark hiding spot to snooze in during the day.
Boredom also causes stress, so you might want to consider kitty videos or a window perch where your cat can keep an eye on neighborhood happenings or the bird feeder in your backyard. It’s also very important to engage in daily exercise/play sessions with your cat.
3. Improving kitty’s auditory environment — Studies show that music modulates both cardiac and neurologic function, reducing stress levels. Slow classical music seems to relax most animals. And although many people like to have the TV or radio on continuously, it’s important to give your cat the opportunity to experience quiet somewhere in the house.
Loud music, the noise of much of today’s TV programming and arguments between humans in the home elevate stress levels and promote a systemic inflammatory response.
4. Optimizing his olfactory experience — Some smells that can cause stress for cats include cigarette smoke, chemical cleaning products, cologne, air fresheners and scented candles. Off-gassing from new carpet, furniture and upholstery can also have a negative affect.
Air quality is extremely important for kitties, so change home air filters regularly. You cat is also sensitive to airborne pollutants, including mold spores, so keeping the air in your home purified will reduce respiratory stress. Kitties are known to respond well to certain aromas, including fresh air, catnip, silver vine, lavender, chamomile flowers, valerian root and facial pheromones.
Experiment with a variety of these scents and see which ones your cat seems to like. If you discover he has a particular favorite, consider safely adding the scent to an area of your home where he hangs out. Putting a small amount of cat-friendly dried herbs out to naturally diffuse their scent into a room is a safe choice.
Catnip can be purchased in a variety of forms — there are catnip toys, mists, flakes and pellets you can sprinkle around your home, and other catnip accessories. Look for organic options. Also provide a PBDE-free, organic cat bed to lounge on. Most pet beds are sprayed with flame retardants that have been linked to endocrine issues in cats.
If you’ve moved into a new home or applied fresh paint, installed new carpeting or added new furniture or upholstery, you can use a room air purifier to reduce airborne chemicals.
5. Enhancing your cat’s somatic well-being — Massage is a good way to reduce all kinds of stress-related symptoms like anxiety, pain and depression. Petting, cuddling and brushing your cat, as long as he seems to enjoy it, will not only reduce his anxiety level but will strengthen the bond you share with him. Acupuncture and chiropractic can also relieve stress and support healthy immune function.