Litter Box Troubles: Part 3: Anxiety

This is part 3 in the Litter Box Troubles Series.

Your cat has a problem that they are trying to solve with their bodily fluids. Solve their problem, and it solves your problem!

Today we tackle anxiety. Your cat may be doing their business in unapproved areas because they feel unsafe and/or anxious. Before you start feeling guilty, let me explain how cats are naturally wired to be anxious.

Frito appears courtesy of his friend, Laura Robson

I’m afraid of heights.

I can fly in a plane, 37,000 feet in the air. It’s really the first 300 feet that are a problem.

The bit in my brain that causes me to feel scared is my amygdala. I put my foot on a ladder and my amygdala fires off like a bottle rocket.

I spent Sunday afternoon¬† picking the plum tree. I teetered on a ladder and whispered to myself, It’s okay. It’s okay. It’s okay.

Humans are really good at talking themselves through their phobias. We ask the question, Am I really in danger? Am I just freaking out? The part of the human brain that questions irrational fear is called the prefrontal cortex.

Humans have big prefrontal cortexes. We are capable of rationalizing nearly anything. A cat’s prefrontal cortex is less developed.¬† Your cat has a really hard time talking herself out of being afraid.

If your cat is orange, tortie or calico, they have an even harder time dealing with feelings of anxiety because the recessive gene for orange fur is the same gene as the one for even smaller prefrontal cortexes (shout-out to Temple Grandin for discovering this).

A house that always smells the same is a safe house. Your cat knows it is safe because as long as it has smelled this way, no coyotes or mountain lions have found her and eaten her.

That’s some solid cat logic.

Cat Logic in Action

Fumbles appears courtesy of her friend, Julia Bunnell

Let’s say your cousin Frank comes to town. He brings the unique smells of his world into your home.

Your cat likes Frank. She rubs her face on Frank’s legs, marking him as hers. She sits on Frank’s lap all afternoon while you three binge-watch The Great British Bake-Off.

And then later, you hear Frank scream because your cat has climbed into Frank’s suitcase and had a wee all over it.

She likes Frank! What is going on?

Your cat likes Frank so much that she wants to keep him safe. She can only keep him safe by making him smell like your house.

What smells does your cat have at her disposal?

She has the scent glands on her face, the ones that she rubbed against Frank’s legs.

And she has her pee.

Your cat’s anxiety is jacked up. The smells from Frank’s world are causing her amygdala to react.

She thinks- Let’s be doubly sure the coyote doesn’t get Frank. Let’s pee on his stuff.

Cats, in general, like how their pee smells. It’s a comforting smell.
And they are surprised when they learn that we don’t.

Some cats are naturally anxious. An anxious cat is going to have that amygdala firing more often.

Other cats go through anxious times. Smells that used to be okay to a cat become suspect as a cat gets more anxious.

A Distinct Difference

This anxious cat scenario sounds like the annoyed cat from the previous post, huh? Cat doesn’t like smell. Cat Pees.

An anxious cat is not annoyed by the new smell of a cleaner. They are scared by a smell that’s different from the house. This is an important distinction because you treat the problem differently.

An anxious cat will pee and poop on suitcases and piles of laundry. They will do their business on something they know that’s in the wrong place. Bring a cushion for your patio into your living room, and suddenly your cat pees on it? You have an anxious cat.

Clothes that smell like new people are often a target. And shoes.

The Newly Anxious

Right now, I am encountering anxious cats everywhere.

We live in an anxious time. If the human, the person who controls the food is anxious, the cat will feel anxious too.

Let’s Fix This Problem

Austin appears courtesy of his friend, Amy Weiland

How do you fix your cat’s anxiety problem?

1. Check your own anxiety.

Your pets are soaking in your emotions. Are you anxious? Of course, we all have moments of anxiety, but if you are going through a time of where you are consistently anxious, please take care of yourself. You deserve to feel good and your cat does too!

2.Spend quiet time with your cat.

Take ten minutes and sit quietly with your cat (without your phone or a podcast or the TV), and quietly take deep breaths. Don’t stare at your cat. Try not to make it weird. Just sit and pet and gently talk with them.

3.Keep things picked up.

Put shoes and clothes in closets. If you can help it, don’t put a basket full of dirty laundry next to their litter box. The litter box is a safe space. Let’s keep it that way.

4. Use a flower essence

Flower essences are these interesting energetic healing liquids. I don’t know how they work. They seem like they shouldn’t, but I use them and recommend them to clients. You may have heard of Rescue Remedy. That’s a flower essence blend. I recommend Green Hope Farms’ Animal Wellness Line. Please note: if you go with Rescue Remedy (available at whole foods), get the liquid. Do Not Get The Candies and Use Them as Pills. This will kill your cat, as they have xylitol in them. I put a drop between my cat’s shoulder blades, about once a day. Some people recommend that you add the stuff to their water or food. I do not recommend this because dehydration is not good, and the carrier liquid (either vinegar or alcohol) smells off-putting.

5. Massage your cat

Use long firm strokes from the front to the back of your cat, and from the top to the bottom. Massage calms the central nervous system, and grounds your cat’s energy.

6. Better living through pharmaceuticals

Your vet has drugs. Some cats benefit from an anti-anxiety drug.

Your cat’s anxiety can get better, and their litter box habits can get better with it. I’m hoping these steps do the trick for you!

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