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Social anxiety in cats: behavioral disorders

Our pets never cease to amaze us. Cats are well known for their weird and bizarre behaviors and we love them for that too.

But we masters are able to distinguish these attitudes from behavioral disorders, such as social anxiety in cats? Here’s what it is and how to calm the cat down.

Social anxiety in cats

Social anxiety in cats is a behavior that can originate from different situations and causes.

And trauma past towards the human being, being raised in the wild, a stressful or stimulus-free home environment, the sudden arrival of a new animal: these are all plausible hypotheses capable of causing stress and social anxiety in our feline.

It is important to prevent and even more to deal with these pathological conditions as soon as possible, since:

  • In young cats, as well as in dogs, correcting wrong behavior is much easier: this ability gradually decreases as the age of our animal increases.
  • A stressful condition that is repeated over a long period of time will lead the animal to one chronic stress (also known as distress), which can have dangerous repercussions on the health of the cat.

What to do to reduce anxiety in cats?

In general the behavioral pathologies of the cat are up anxious basisor lead to the development of anxiety in the subject.

Therefore, modern therapeutic views implemented through behavior modification, as well as modern educational techniques, tend to to exclude punitive behaviors, which generally have the result of increasing the state of anxiety, generating a perverse circuit that can also exacerbate the pathological behavior or determine the onset of new behavioral pathologies (and not only).

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One aspect that is very often overlooked is related to anxiety state of the ownerwhich can be somatized by our animal to the point of influencing its own mood and tranquillity.

Treatment of behavioral disorders in cats

The treatment of cat behavioral disorders and pathologies must be focused on:

  • removal of the causes that led to the establishment of the problem,
  • treatment aimed at behavior modification, acting through the animal’s learning capacities.

In many cases, behavioral treatment can and must be accompanied, especially in the initial stages, by a Pharmacological treatment that makes the animal receptive and available to behavioral modification.

Psychotropic drugs or tranquilizers

However, it should be considered that psychotropic or sedative drugs can have adverse effects and should only be used ed exclusively on the prescription of the veterinary surgeonsince they are not free from problems of various kinds, such as:

  • misadministration (incorrect dosage)
  • habituation and addiction
  • cost of the treatment, which can be onerous for the owner in the long run
  • contraindications

The most common behavioral treatments for cats (and dogs)

In case of cat social anxiety, le ethological techniques most used to correct incorrect cat behavior are:

habituation

Nonassociative learning, which refers to the cessation or reduction of a response by the cat through repeated exposures to an escalating stimulus.

Example: if your Kitty suffers from separation anxiety, a habituation exercise consists in repeating the gestures that the cat associates with you being away from home (such as opening the door or putting on a coat). We try to repeat these gestures about 20 times during the day, without ever actually going out. This is an example of a habituation technique.

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Desensitization

Reduction of the response that results from the gradual exposure of the cat to the stimulus capable of triggering it. It therefore consists in gradually introducing the element of fear/stress. This technique applies when Puss tries one unjustified fear (that does not result from a traumatic interaction) towards someone or something.

Example: when we gradually introduce a new pet to our cat, he may be frightened by the novelty and its presence, but with the right techniques, time and patience (and the use of positive reinforcement) he will learn to accept it.

Counterconditioning

Replacement of a response already acquired by the animal to a certain stimulus with a different response which is incompatible with the first one. Unlike desensitization, the cat will try one justified fear from a trauma or a negative event connected to someonesomething. In this case it is necessary to recreate a situation of relaxation, for example with tidbits, tactically administered when the “insult” appears

Example: we bring a friend home that Micio doesn’t know, and as soon as he enters he stamps his tail hard (obviously by mistake). In this case the cat could associate that person with a negative experience, running away from her.

Different types of social anxiety in cats

Now let’s look at the most common types of social anxiety in cats and how to deal with them using the techniques described above.

Aggression towards people related to fear

In these cases, the cat’s social anxiety is due to its fear of humans, who are perceived as a threat. The manifestations are typically:

  • you vocalize;
  • back arch;
  • matted coat;
  • estrangement.
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In these cases, the effective techniques are counterconditioning and desensitization, together with the possibility of using tranquilizing drugs (always strictly under veterinary consultation).

Pheromones may also be helpful in attenuating fear-aggressive behavior.

Aggression towards cats of the same household

If social anxiety concerns anxiety towards other animals, such as another cat for example, most of the time the cause is fear, but there are also other possible reasons why the cat suffers from coexistence, such as competition for resources and territory, predatory behaviour, but also play.

In these cases we suggest castration (if male), environmental enrichment and the division of spaces: during the adaptation period, cats must be able to maintain a certain distance from each other, even visually.

Separation anxiety

Separation anxiety is a behavioral disorder typical of dogs, but in recent years there has been speculation that felines can also show it.

The main feature is that the behavior occurs only in the absence of the master (or when he is perceived to be away). The causes can be many and varied:

  • long periods of separation from the owner
  • house change
  • traumatic experiences in the cattery
  • trauma in the first weeks of life

In these cases it is important to re-establish a correct routineusing the three behavioral techniques described, sometimes combined with drugs.

Very useful for diagnosis correct are the video recordings of what the animal does in the absence of the owner (e.g. vocalizations, destructive attitude, needs outside the litter box)

We must not forget that each cat has its own unique experience and its own personality, without forgetting that we often unknowingly encourage the wrong attitudes ourselves. Contact a veterinarian expert in cat behavior disorders to have you prescribed the most appropriate therapy for your case!