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Can Cats Have Panic Attacks? Vet-Approved Facts & FAQ

Written by: Christian Adams

Last Updated on January 12, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team


Can Cats Have Panic Attacks? Vet-Approved Facts & FAQ


Dr. Marta Vidal-Abarca Photo


Dr. Marta Vidal-Abarca

Veterinarian, BVSc GPCert (Ophthal) MRCVS

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Pet owners know that curiosity is a formidable driver of cat behavior. It’s almost like a challenge to them if you bring something new into the house. They sniff around it and jump into the air if it suddenly moves. However, a startled feline is much different from a fearful one who seems to have a panic attack. The intense fear certainly has all the makings of a panic attack from a feline’s perspective.

Cats are more in touch with their wild origins than dogs. That explains their hunting instinct when they see a bird or a squirrel dash across the ground. No one has to teach a kitten what to do if they’ve cornered a mouse. Those same behaviors make cats alert to changes in their environment. They are the so-called flight-or-fight responses, but we’ll begin by defining panic attacks.


What Is a Panic Attack?

We’ll start with the human version. defines it as a “sudden episode of intense fear that triggers severe physical reactions when there is no real danger or apparent cause.” A person can experience a wide range of symptoms, including:

  • Trembling
  • Fast heart rate
  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath

We kept our list of things we could observe in cats instead of feelings or other intangibles. If you’ve seen a cat frightened by something unexpected, you probably recognize many of the same signs. Your kitty may hiss and back away from you. They may strike at you or run away and disappear for a while. One of the other human symptoms is a fear of danger. That sounds like this frightened cat.

Defining Cat Anxiety

scared British blue-point cat hiding under the bed
Image By: Zossia, Shutterstock

Cats experience anxiety for many reasons, most of which stem from the anticipated danger of some sort. It doesn’t have to be a real threat, just like the human definition of panic attacks indicates. It may take other courses, too, such as destructive behavior, GI distress, and withdrawal. It can occur from unpleasant experiences and the associations that a cat may make.

For example, a cat that a man abused may shun males in your household, fearing the trauma might happen again with this new person. While it may feel distressing, it’s essential to remember that it makes evolutionary sense for a cat to react this way. It’s a matter of survival in their perception. Sometimes, they don’t get a second chance to determine if something is a threat or not.

Physical causes, such as certain health conditions, can increase your cat’s anxiety, worsening to the point of a panic attack. When age is linked to vision or mobility problems, it can also play a role. The feline may view familiar objects as something they should fear and react accordingly.

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Treatment for Behavioral Issues

Not surprisingly, many treatments mirror those that people receive. After all, we share 90% of our DNA with cats. Most involve behavior modification techniques that can replace undesirable actions with preferred ones. You may recognize many of these methods if you’ve studied psychology.

Habituation means getting your cat used to a particular situation to make it less frightening. Cats in a new home may react to every odd sound they hear. They may run and hide when someone knocks at the door or a car backfires outside. The repeated exposure to the stimulus and the lack of harmful consequences allows your pet to ignore the noises.

Overlearning is another effective technique to help your cat overcome an unwarranted response to a non-existent threat. It’s taking habituation to the next level with repeated exposure. The best thing about it is that it can create appropriate, long-term behavioral modifications.

cat sad
Image By: Pixabay

Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety is an intense set of behavioral and emotional responses triggered by separation from an attachment figure, such as a pet parent or companion. Cats usually manifest separation anxiety with inappropriate toileting, excessive vocalization, destructive behavior, and excessive grooming.

It is essential to begin by eliminating health issues when cats manifest this way.  Your veterinarian or cat behaviorist can help you handle this situation. They may recommend giving your cat plenty of distractions, with interactive toys, a window perch, or a safe hiding place with a comfy bed. They may also recommend using a spray or diffuser pheromone that fosters a feeling of security in your pet. Medication is sometimes necessary.

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Final Thoughts

Cats are fascinating creatures. One moment, they’re exploring their world with abandon. The next time, they run away, tearing down the hall at the sound of a car racing down the street. Instinct and survival define feline behavior. Sometimes, anxiety and panic attacks work their way into the mix of unhealthy habits. Fortunately, there are several measures you can take to restore the calm in your kitty’s life.

Featured Image Credit: Mary Swift, Shutterstock

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