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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!

A cat peeks out from a hole ripped in couch upholstery.

Cats are very sensitive creatures, and they pick up on the stress their humans are feeling, Photo: Cat peeking out from couch, (CC-BY) by Kevin Dooley

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*