Anxiety illnesses of cats are linked to either developmental disorders or the environment which trigger the neurological maladaptive state.
Deprivation anxiety affects cats which were kept in isolation (e.g. in a barn or cellar). Such cats are often considered to be fearful and will try to avoid anxiety-inducing situations, for example going outside. However, phobias, anxiety and even depression frequently develop when a cat cannot escape. Developing an excessive attachment to a human may be one of the ways in which a cat chooses to react and may lead to separation anxiety.
Territorial anxiety is triggered by upsets in the cat's life (moving house, change of furniture, death of a person or another animal). Owners often seek advice early on because of frequent urine spraying. Cleaning up the spray and punishing the cat can often further alter the environment and affect the bond between cat and owners. Reactional, reversible spraying leads to anxiety.
Enclosed environment anxiety develops in cats which are prevented from going outside and is caused by a profound lack of visual stimuli. The cat has regular bouts, notably in the evening, of hyperactivity, consisting of racing around in all directions, licking its body and predatory aggression toward its owner. Fear of these things happening leads to correction by the owners which can make the cat even more anxious.
Anxiety is a reactional pathological state characterised by an increased probability of emotional responses, akin to fear, following any variation in the external or internal environment. It results in a breakdown of self-control and a loss of adaptability. Anxiety can take on three distinct clinical forms.
Paroxysmal anxiety - attacks are short lasting and consist predominantly of neurovegetative signs: tachycardia and tachypnoea, ptyalism, diarrhoea, sweating, expression of anal sacs. Neither aggression nor displacement activities are seen.
Intermittent anxiety - leads to prolonged disorders and presents as neurovegetative signs, increased marking and aggression, dorsolumbar hyperaesthesia and 'rolling skin syndrome' (violent waves running through the skin of the cat's back). Displacement activities (e.g. licking and scratching) may be seen and the cat may attack particular parts of its body. Sleep patterns may be disturbed. Permanent anxiety may ensue.
Permanent anxiety - reflects a severe loss of capacity for adaptation. Inhibition is predominant. Displacement activities, especially licking and bulimia, are always present.
- Guaguere, E & Prelaud, P (2000) A practical guide to feline dermatology. Merial, France