Life isn’t always a bed of roses or pretty rainbows. In reality, life can be harsh at times and even heart-wrenching for those unfortunate enough to have gone through very difficult moments.
Some emotional trauma and scars run deep enough to cause Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD.
But did you know that even our cats can suffer from PTSD as well?
Cats are sensitive creatures and can suffer from PTSD after going through a single or many traumatic events in their lives. A cat’s post traumatic stress disorder can be caused by neglect, abuse, an accident, or being attacked by another animal or other cats.
In this article, we will be discussing the symptoms a cat suffering from PTSD can exhibit. It is also important for cat owners to know what we can do to help our cats.
What Is PTSD In Cats?
A post traumatic stress disorder usually occurs after a cat has experienced a terrifying event whereby its life was at risk or the poor cat was physically harmed.
The physical injuries might have long healed but the mental and emotional trauma remains.
PTSD is not a disease or infection that your cat has gotten or can get. But it is a rather drastic behavioral change that the cat can exhibit when triggered.
The good thing is if properly diagnosed, your cat can be treated and corrected.
The challenging aspect of diagnosis is that traumatized cats can’t give verbal feedback to describe what is bothering them. However, the symptoms shown are similar to that experienced by humans too.
Do Cat’s Remember Traumatic Events?
Cats do not have long-term memory capabilities like humans do but they tend to remember sights, sounds and smells associated with the traumatic experience.
They can get triggered and start behaving defensively when something familiar reminds them of the event.
What Are The Common PTSD Symptoms In Cats?
If your has recently gone through a traumatic incident, it would be best to look out for signs that your cat is having PTSD symptoms. Sudden changes in behavior are also a good indicator.
This is also useful for cat owners who have recently adopted or fostered a rescue cat without knowing any historical background about it.
We all love a cat that is clingy and affectionate but if your cat is showing signs of being extremely clingy all of a sudden, the traumatic incident might have affected your cat’s mental health.
The excessive clinginess shown by our cat is a shout-out for more assurance. Your cat is feeling scared and wants to feel safe.
And as its main care provider, your cat will automatically want to seek assurance and comfort in you.
You might find your cat following you wherever your go, always wanting to be sitting on your lap and meowing non-stop when you leave the house.
As adorable as it might seem, such clingy behaviour isn’t healthy as being away from you causes anxiety disorder in your cat.
Behaving Aggressively Towards Humans And Animals
Cats with PTSD tend to be more aggressive towards others and this usually points to being abused in the past.
If your cat is mostly showing aggressive behavior towards humans, it might have experienced abuse by its previous owners or strangers.
If the aggression is towards other pets like your dog or another cat, this cat might have been attacked by one of such animals before.
The traumatized cat is exhibiting aggressive behavior because it was a necessary thing to do in order to protect itself in the past.
Even though the cat is now in a safe space, it is unable to hold back or recalibrate its aggression level.
Here are some common aggressive body language in cats:
- Showing teeth and claws
- Puffed up fur on body and tail
- Body turned sideways
If you see your cat acting this way, it would be best to leave it alone until it calms down to avoid being attacked.
No one is happy all the time and we all have days when we woke up on the wrong side of the bed. However, traumatized cats tend to have violent mood swings going from a happy cat to an aggressive tiger and anywhere in-between in an instant.
Such abrupt and sudden mood swings is an indicator that your cat is suffering from PTSD.
A cat behaving in such a manner can be very stressful for the owner as well. It can be impossible to tell when your peaceful loving cat is going to start scratching and chasing you around the house.
A cat with PTSD tends to be easily startled. Almost anything and everything can turn them into a quivering scaredy-cat.
If your cat has gotten in a lawn mover accident before, the sound of it can send your cat hiding. Cats that have been involved in car accidents tend to be very nervous when they hear a car engine.
It doesn’t always have to be a sound from the related traumatic incident. These cats are also easily startled by loud and sudden sounds like fireworks and thunder.
Excessive Grooming And Shedding
A traumatized cat with PTSD will engage in excessive grooming. They do this to relieve stress which can be bad for their skin and fur.
These cats can lick themselves bald on some parts of their body which is known as Psychogenic Alopecia and they also tend to shed a lot of fur too.
My cat sheds enough to make a blanket when he is at the vet. This usually happens when cats are feeling stressed.
Excessive grooming is bad for cats as it can lead to hairball issues and it can cause their skin to become raw and infected.
Loss Of Appetite
The number one barometer of my cat’s well-being is how strong is his appetite. As long as he is eating, I know he will be alright.
It is when his appetite starts to dwindle that gets me worried.
If your cat’s appetite has been deteriorating recently, it could be a sign of PTSD. A cat that is still traumatized by recent events will be too hormonally messed up to focus on eating.
A loss of appetite is a very common symptom of illness too. So it can be tricky to diagnose PTSD without proper veterinary advice.
Withdrawn And Unaffectionate
A cat suffering from PTSD can behave like the direct opposite of an excessively clingy cat. The cat will try to minimize contact with its family members and other pets at home as much as possible.
You might only be able to catch a glimpse of your cat when it feels like eating and drinking. Otherwise, it will be hiding in a dark and quiet area of the house.
Your cat might also decide to stop sleeping with you at night.
Your cat is hiding to feel safe as it is still feeling traumatized. Its PTSD can be triggered by loud noises or by a new family member.
Cats that suffer from more severe PTSD can be in perpetual hiding, slowly starving themselves.
Improper Use Of The Litter Box
PTSD can cause to cat to no longer use its litter tray like before. A cat that is overly stressed, anxious and nervous would rather not use the litter box to pee and poo.
You might find your cat peeing and pooing in the strangest of places like on your shoe, laundry basket or bathtub.
It could be that it wants to be close to your scent when using the toilet out of fear and wants assurance.
A cat exhibiting destructive behavior is different from one that is behaving aggressively. Destructive behavior means that your cat is using its claws and teeth to make a mess at home.
This could be tearing up your carpet, sofa, scratching at your walls or just knocking stuff over. It isn’t uncommon to come back from work with your house looking like it has been hit by a tornado.
Cats engage in destructive behavior out of separation anxiety disorder or trying to get your attention.
Abnormal Sleep Behavior
A cat that has been traumatized cats will have trouble sleeping. Just like us humans who have sleepless nights from worry and anxiety, the same can happen to cats who suffer from PTSD.
Cats are crepuscular in nature which means that they sleep most of the day and are active during the mornings and evenings.
But a PTSD cat might have a messed up sleep schedule or have problems sleeping. They can be awake the whole night meowing and being destructive while you sleep.
How Can We Help Cats With PTSD?
If you notice that your cat has been exhibiting any of the above symptoms, there’s a possibility that it is going through emotional trauma.
Diagnosing and treating emotional trauma in cats can be difficult as these symptoms overlap with many other behavioral issues and illnesses.
But if your cat has been through some difficult times, there’s a high probability that its PTSD.
Here are some ways that you help treat and help a cat that is going through anxiety and depression.
Cats have the mental capacity of a 2-year-old kid and there’s nothing that boosts a kid’s confidence like positive reinforcement.
You should be applying the same practice to your PTSD cat.
Whatever it does well like eating more, hiding less, being less destructive, make sure to give it heaps of praise, attention and treats.
It may not be a total cure for PTSD but it can help your cat come out of its shell and feel assured.
Play is a great way to keep your cat’s mind off its traumatic experience. It also forces your cat to be more active and playful.
It produces more happy hormones and helps them feel better emotionally.
Get toys that are more interactive in nature where they can chase, bite and paw. Toys, where your cat has to work to release a treat, are great too.
Set Up A Safe Space
Treating a cat with PTSD takes time and there will be moments when your cat won’t be feeling its usual self.
It’s during these moments that your cat would want a private and safe space to retreat to. Depending on how your cat likes it, give it an area where your cat can go to decompress. Some cats like an elevated platform while some prefer hiding on low ground.
You can even make a little tentage for your cat to hide in and feel safe.
By setting up a safe space for your cat, you are letting your cat know that it is ok to not be feeling 100%.
Some traumatized cats suffering from PTSD do far better with drug therapy. Please do not self-medicate your cat as it will cause more harm.
Bring your cat to see a vet or a certified pet behavioral specialist who can properly diagnose your cat and prescribe the appropriate medication for it.
Some of the more common medications used to treat PTSD symptoms in cats are clomipramine, fluoxetine and amitriptyline.
The effects of medication aren’t instantaneous but you should be able to notice a difference after a few weeks.
You can start to taper off the dosage as your cat’s symptoms improve.
It is unfortunate that cats who have suffered grave physical harm do experience PTSD. Although it can take effort and patience to rehabilitate your cat, it can be done.
There will be times when it feels like nothing seems to be working but just keep at it. Cats are sensitive creatures and need time to come around.
It won’t be long before the memories of the traumatic event your cat experienced are done and dusted.