Natural Remedies for Obsessive and Compulsive Behaviors in Cats
Obsessive and compulsive behaviors in cats are repetitive actions that may or may not be normal behaviors, but they are performed without logical context or purpose in response to an irresistible urge. Sucking or chewing on fabrics, excessive grooming, repeated vocalizations, pacing and constant tail chasing are some of the most common obsessive and compulsive cat behaviors.
Causes of Repetitive Behaviors in Cats
A variety of medical problems, including allergic skin conditions, fleas or other external parasites, pain, dementia and other neurological disorders (particularly in older cats), and nutritional deficiencies, can account for observable repetitive behaviors. That’s why it’s important to take your cat to the vet for a checkup before assuming the problem is feline obsessive compulsive disorder (“OCD”).
Feline obsessive and compulsive behaviors can be caused by stress and anxiety, which also have numerous possible causes. Boredom due to lack of adequate physical and mental stimulation is a primary one, especially for indoor-only cats; on a somewhat related note, these behaviors may be a form of attention seeking.
Other common stress and anxiety triggers include moving, travel, disruptions to routine or the familiar environment (as with renovations or new furniture), unpleasant noises (maybe there’s construction across the street), the loss or addition of a human or animal family member, separation anxiety when the house is empty for prolonged periods, and seeing cats or prey animals outside but being unable to get to them.
Resolving the underlying cause, whether it’s medical or stress-related, is key to treating these repetitive behaviors. However, once they become ingrained, it may be extremely difficult to eliminate them.
Naturally Resolving Sources of Stress
There’s no need to jump to anti-anxiety medications when obsessive and compulsive behaviors can be resolved with environmental and behavioral changes that address the source of stress and anxiety.
Provide your cat with a variety of interactive toys, hiding places, and an item or two to climb, like a cat tree. Play an active game with your cat at least once per day for at least 15 to 20 minutes. If your cat is chewing, do your best to prevent access to inappropriate or potentially dangerous items and instead offer catnip, cat grass or kitty chew toys. If your cat seems to get anxious about what she sees out a particular window, use curtains or blinds to eliminate the view.
Establish as much routine as possible. Daily activities like feeding, cleaning the litter box, brushing and play should occur at the same times each day. Keep your cat’s stuff, including her litter box, bedding, and food and water bowls, in the same locations. Also, don’t positively reinforce attention-seeking behaviors by rewarding it with attention.
Observe your cat to determine whether other items, circumstances, or actions seem to trigger her obsessive and compulsive behavior. When you find the common denominator, address the stressor appropriately. For things that cannot be eliminated, consider desensitizing your cat by gradually increasing her exposure to the stressor over time and concurrently offering treats for positive reinforcement.
Natural Remedies for Obsessions and Compulsions in Cats
While attempting to address sources of stress or manage health conditions to alleviate obsessive and compulsive behaviors, your cat may also benefit from natural remedies for her anxiety and stress. These may help calm her and reduce the need for the repetitive behaviors that comfort her.
Here are a few natural ways to manage stress in cats; try different approaches to find what works best for your cat:
- Play soothing music quietly
- Give her stress-relieving dried herbs (never essential oils), such as catnip, valerian, chamomile, hops, or an alcohol-free Bach flower remedy.
- Use an all-natural diffuser or spray that mimics calming pheromones.
- Dress your cat in one of the new shirt-style products that gently constrict her torso for comfort.
- Use lavender or other calming scents for aromatherapy.
- Learn T-Touch and massage techniques.
- Try acupuncture – yes, acupuncture!
Don’t Punish or Physically Prevent Repetitive Behaviors
As an important end note, don’t attempt to stop obsessive and compulsive behaviors with negative consequences or by physically restraining your cat from performing these repetitive acts (e.g., by holding her, putting her in an Elizabethan collar, etc.). Your cat won’t learn a lesson this way, and these efforts will only increase her stress and anxiety. This increased stress and anxiety will, in turn, make her compulsions worse and may even create new ones.
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