Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
I suffer from panic disorder (anxiety/panic attacks) and depression. I know kitties can be very sensitive to this in their humans. Other than doing my best to take care of myself by minimizing panic attacks and depressive episodes, is there anything I can do to help my kitty not feel bad when I do?
~ Caroline’s Mama
Siouxsie: The fact that you’re even asking this question shows how much you love and care for your cat. Believe it or not, many people don’t understand that cats feel stress and anxiety when their humans are feeling unwell.
Thomas: We do have a few ideas for you, and we think that some of these things might even help you feel better during those depressive and panic episodes.
Bella: First of all, play!
Siouxsie: That’s right, Bella. We know it can be hard for a depressed or panicked human to find the energy to play with their cat, but if you can spend some time playing with Caroline using a teaser toy, it’ll help her.
Thomas: Exercise does a lot to relieve stress because the “happy hormones” come out when a kitty is running around chasing a toy. Also, when your cat uses up her extra energy, her fatigue will allow her to feel calmer.
Bella: And, of course, there’s nothing like watching kitty antics to make you laugh. Mama always giggles when I zoom around the room. Tee hee hee!
Siouxsie: Even if you only have enough energy to sit on the couch and wield the toy, playing can help both of you.
Thomas: Another benefit of playing is that it requires you to be more “present” in the moment. Mama says her own experiences of anxiety and panic came from catastrophic fears about the future or bad memories from the past, and it really helped her to calm down if she did something that required her to focus on the moment.
Bella: You can also invoke pre-emptive purr therapy.
Siouxsie: You’re pretty smart for a kitten, Bella. I think I could get used to you.
Thomas: We imagine that you’re aware enough of your panic disorder to feel when the panic is creeping up on you. You might be able to keep yourself from a full-fledged panic attack by sitting down with your kitty and petting her. The purr is incredibly healing, both for the purrer and the witness to the purr.
Bella: Of course, being petted always makes kitties feel loved and happy.
Siouxsie: Mama says your counselor probably taught you some ways to “talk yourself down” when you’re getting wound up into a panic. Maybe you could say those same things to your cat while you’re petting her. They can reassure her at the same time they’re reassuring you.
Thomas: When you’re depressed, you can talk to your cat about it, too. If you can, tell her things like “I’m feeling very bad now, but it’s not your fault and you don’t have to take it on. I’ve been through this before and I know these feelings go away. Thank you for loving me and caring about me.”
Bella: Of course, you can say this in any way that feels natural to you.
Siouxsie: In order to reduce your cat’s overall stress level, you could get some Feliway Comfort Zone diffusers and put them in rooms where your cat likes to hang out. If you have a small apartment, one ought to do the trick, but if you live in a bigger place, you might want to get two or even three.
Thomas: Feliway is a synthetic “happy cat” pheromone. You can get it at most pet stores, vets’ offices or online stores. A lot of vets put Feliway diffusers in their exam rooms, and Mama says some shelters use them, too. And Mama’s used them for us when we move to a new house.
Bella: I don’t need any Feliway. I feel great! I’m the happiest kitten in the world!
Siouxsie: Let’s put the question out to our other readers, too.
Thomas: What have you done to ease your cat’s stress and anxiety — whether it arose from your own health or emotional issues or the shocking changes that arise from moving house or the death of a friend?
Bella: Please let us know by commenting on this post. We love to hear from our readers! *purrrrrrrr*
I haven’t had this problem, the stress my babies tend to get the most is when I have to take them somewhere.. the vet or to visit my mom. I play soothing music and give them things that smell of home.. I think it’s wonderful that Caroline’s mama is looking for help for Caroline and I think the advice you give will help them all to deal with the situation.
Welcome, Bella and as always wonderful job, Siouxsie and Thomas.
I think everything you suggested was great. I was going to suggest also the feliway spray. It works quicker than the diffuser. I used it when I moved into my new apartment. I had one kitty that refused to come out from under the bed. I had plugged in a diffuser but it was taking a while to disperse throuhhout the house. The spray worked miracles. He was out rubbing on areas I had sprayed within minutes. I think soft classical music helps too. It would help calm a person as well as a kitty. ( we use it in the kotty room at my vet and it makes a huge difference )
Great post. Mom says that when she has had something very sad happen, she turns to us for comfort. From sitting with Mo on her lap and petting him, to getting the foster kittens to play, it releaves her stress level. And maybe your mom can consider doing something to help her thing about something else. Some people ask mom why she spends so much time volunteering at the shelter and mom says because it makes her think about others and keeps her busy.
I think all your suggestions are great but don’t forget the treats! Some cats don’t care about food but for those that do, a little treat (just a little, it doesn’t have to be a whole extra meal) can make one feel so much better and well looked-after. And then there’s catnip. Having fun makes you feel better. Purrrrrrrrrrrrrrs.
Getting a cat literally saved my life. Five years ago I was very depressed and contemplated suicide. A friend gave me a seven week old kitten. Taking care of the kitten and playing with it forced me out of my head and made me put my priorities on the well being of the cat and took my mind off of the depression. I still suffer from depression but not to the extent it used to be. Playing with a cat is the best medicine.
Thanks for sharing. We like your blog a lot.
This is made in all seriousness. It’s a great stress reliever and it helps to make you feel better. Dance naked in front of your cat! I know; I know. It seems frivolous, but it really works. I have panic/anxiety disorder, bipolar, etc. When I couldn’t get out of the house, while I was dressing, I would dance naked in front of the cats. The cats think that you’re strange, but it relieves the stress and the cats get a weird show. It, also, helps with your self image. After you dance in front of your cat, no other opinions really matter. I can’t do it right now that I have roommates, but sometimes I sneak it in *shhhh*. I know that it sounds like I’m making fun, but I’m really not. This is a serious suggestion; hope it helps to bring a smile to you and a weird look from your cat. Who knows, your cat might join you?
I also suffer from clinical Depression and have anxiety/panic attacks, but mine are human related. They started 4 years ago and I am on medication for both the depression and the panic attacks. When first diagnosed, I didnt have any cats, because my last beautiful baby had needed to be put down, 5 years earlier at the great ole age of 21. There was no way, I was getting another cat, after having had my Kezia for so long. However, the week I was diagnosed and put off work and sent to psychiatrist, I was passing a pet store and there in the window, were two of the most beautiful alert kittens…I had to have them, so I did. I found the distraction of buying them, getting them vacinated and then neutered and spayed helped me a lot. I now have these gorgeous cats at home, waiting for me everynight when I get home from work. There may be times I can not go into Malls because of the No. of people , but I can always come home to my babies, who need me for cuddles, food and just for me…
I have found that when I feel bad, or even sick with say a cold, they are there – I just have to lie down on the bed and they are there clucking over me. I do think cats do feel when you are sad, down or sick, but they will react no in a negative way, but a positive way… to love you, help you and even understand you.
So many cat owners discount the effects of stress on their cats. Stress can cause illness in pets just as it can in people. It’s good to see someone addressing this problem. All of your answers were great and should help reduce stress for Caroline’s kitty. Thanks for a great post and some terrific suggestions.
Thank you, Lorie. We’ve seen it firsthand, and we’re glad to help other cat caretakers understand the role of stress in illness. *purrr*