Feline Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Is there such as thing as Feline Post Traumatic Stress Disorder? Yes… yes I can definitely vouch for the existence of FPTSD.

My wife’s friend, Lindsey, recently discovered this reality as well when she looked after our cat, Marbles, during the holidays. She blogged about Marbles on her website http://www.happyorhungry.com and even managed to post a picture of herself giving Marbles a “hug” (see the full post here). marbles1

I would like you to take a moment to look into Marbles’ eyes (and into her mouth). Is this an easy-going cat? Is this the kind of cat that meets you at the door, climbs happily up your leg, perches herself on your shoulders, and purrs into your ear-hole? The answer is no.

ModernHouseDad No Ear Hole Purrs

Marbles did NOT always present with FPTSD, however. As a kitten she was energetic and enjoyed being around others. She even like to play poker and ping pong with the boys.ModernHouseDad Pong Cat

Everything was peaches and cream until…

ModernHouseDad stomp stomp

Oh no… what’s that?!!

ModernHouseDad stairs stomp Yes… that is my loving Mother-In-Law. She is a wonderful woman with 2 cats of her own, but she has some interesting ideas about how to nurture a young kitten:

  1. Stomp loudly towards kittens until they run into the basement (see above).
  2. When they come back up the stairs and look nervously around the corner at you, stomp after them again and gleefully exclaim, “Kittens love this game!” ModernHouseDad kittens love this
  3. When your legs get tired of stomping, replace stomping with broom-swinging. Continue to mix in the phrase “Kittens love this game” as needed. ModernHouseDad Broom Chase

Looking at the DSM-4 criteria for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, the following applies to Marbles [my additions are in brackets]:

  • The person [or cat] has experienced, witnessed, or been confronted with an event or events that involve actual or threatened death or serious injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of oneself or others.
  • The person’s [cat’s] response involved intense fear,helplessness, or horror. Note: in children [or kittens], it may be expressed instead by disorganized or agitated behaviour.
  • Physiologic reactivity upon exposure to internal or external cues that symbolize or resemble an aspect of the traumatic event [i.e. convulsive hissing at strangers and attempting to transform oneself into a porcupine by spiking one’s hair].
  • Sense of foreshortened future (e.g., does not expect to have a career, marriage, children [kittens], a normal life span, [or shows signs of paranoia regarding the freshness of one’s water].
  • Exaggerated startle response [that allows oneself to defy gravity and dash up walls].

There are many other symptoms listed in the DSM-4 that Marbles fell short on; however, for all intensive purposes I am going to confirm the diagnosis of FPTSD. Having this diagnosis will allow her to access more services in the community.

ModernHouseDad Raptors Tryout


American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (Revised 4th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

11 thoughts on “Feline Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

  1. I miss our ping pong games with Marbles.

    …and I TOLD you there was something strange about that cat. Nice, but terribly skittish. It all makes sense now.


  2. Recently, I’ve gone over to my friends house. They were just given a cat from their upstairs neighbors. They were given this beautiful creature because there was a drug deal gone wrong and a man ended up getting shot in the head and killed. The cat was in the room when this happened. I feel as if there’s two things that could’ve been really traumatic. It was her hearing the gun shot (she gets really scared at average noises that are sudden) and being around the death. She wouldn’t come out from under the bed at the owners apt, but when she got down to another room with new owners she seems to be doing better. My question is does she have PTSD, or should we watch out for it? I’m just really upset over this because she is the sweetest baby who should get care if she needs it.


    1. What?? That’s big time traumatic! Nonetheless, a cat might be more traumatized by something much more random (ie cleaning off their cat bed for them). I’d say keep an eye on it and let me know 🙂


  3. I live with a very sweet female cat of three years. Her eyes show complete openness and trust for me, and have caused a fierce protective love in return. Yet now I find myself increasingly stressed by her PTSD. She was born in the countryside and saw her entire family carried off by hawks, coyotes, etc, before her legacy of fear brought her at last to sanctuary with me. She exhibits the extreme startle reflex, loud vocalized separation anxiety when I’m out of sight, and almost daily nightmares that continue until she wakes herself with her own cries. I’ve lived with cats my whole long life, and have never seen a more pitiful and heart-rending example of this condition. She needs very close contact at night now, practically sleeping in my arms. I awaken to her crying out in dream, and gently wake her with gentle touch and voice. She always is so thankful for my re-assurances.. and quickly goes from wide-eyed fear to relief at seeing me, closing eyes and laying head in my palm, and sometimes panting in relief. It fairly tears my heart to see this, I’ve had her almost two years and the startle reflex has improved, but the nightmares continue unabated and perhaps even intensifying. This is the sweetest-natured and most appreciative little soul I’ve ever known, and witnessing her being terrorized by some invisible, unstoppable force causes me increasing distress and horror. After she has relaxed in my arms, I now break down in sobbing tears of empathy, (which has gotten me in trouble before) and our bond is stronger than any I’ve had yet. All I want for this beautiful, sweet little girl is her confidence and happiness, but I’m powerless to counter this last demon in the night. I don’t know which of us needs counseling the most, as my own peace is increasingly shattered with every episode. This little soul is my child, in effect, and my outrage and distress grows with each nightmare. Her life is short enough already, and to have it punctuated with such cruel bullying is almost more than I can bear. I sometimes think I’m losing my mind, but the only thing keeping me on an even keel is the fact that there’s no-one else who would care for and understand her like I do.

    Thank you for having this page, and for giving me the chance to express myself here. I’ve just come straight from yet another episode and this gives me a chance to steady myself somewhat. My little precious waits for me to turn back to her, and I will do just that, now.


  4. My 3 year old male Bengek definitely has PTSD. When he was a kitten he was the most loving, relaxed -and loud purring kitten I’ve ever had (I’ve had cats for 50 yrs.)

    When he was about a year old I tripped over him, stepping on his paw and scared him badly. With this event his demeanor changed.

    Now he’s skittish, always fearful, takes to high ground when someone walk by. It’s really sad to me as I wish there was a way to help him feel better??


  5. My loving cat turned into a scardie cat after an incident when his head got caught in the handle of a paper shopping bag . He’d always want to play with bags and loved hiding in them. Since this scary episode, (he ran around the house frantically till my husband finally got the bag off him), he’s nervous, skiddish and hides if anything out of the ordinary happens. He won’t come around visitors anymore and he flips out if I touch a bag of any kind. I tried calming treats but he won’t eat them. My vet has prescribed zylkene and I really don’t see much improvement. I guess I’ll ask for something stronger, like Xanax or Paxil. Any feedback would be welcome. We miss our fun loving cat,,,


    1. Sorry to hear. Now that you mention it, though, our cat had a similar experience with a plastic bag. She ran right up the wall at one point before we were able to remove it. I’m sorry I don’t have any good advice other than to keep chatting with the vet.


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