Stress doesn’t only effect people, cats can also be stressed, and yes just like people, stress will affect some cats differently, but cats do not show their emotions or at least we don’t understand them so it isn’t so easy to tell. Some cats are naturally more timid and fearful from a young age where even small things will trigger a stress reaction. We should keep an eye out for the symptoms of stress to enable us to treat them in the earlier stages. Stress has been known to be a significant component of, or trigger of most common cat behaviour problems and some common diseases. It is therefore important for us to recognise the subtle signs of stress in our cats in order for us to give them the best possible care.
There are different types of stress:
This is caused by an unexpected incident or threat and is usually quite easy to recognise.
- Body – Crouched directly on all fours, shaking, belly not exposed, rapid breathing, legs bent, tail close to the body, head lower than body, motionless, eyes fully open, pupils fully diluted, ears flattened, whiskers back
- Vocalisation – Yowling, growling, or silent, hissing, drooling
- Involuntary urination, defecation
- Aggression if approached
This is more difficult to recognise, it could develop over time and the signs would be more subtle and it would be more likely to affect their routines and patterns of behaviour.
- Natural Apprehension to feeding, grooming, urination/defecation or overeating
- Increased sleep, or fake sleep (just laying around)
- Hiding, increased dependency or social withdrawal
- Unusual aggression
- Easily startled
- Lack of Playing
- Changes in their natural pattern of behaviour – Spending more time indoors irrespective of season or usual preference, inappropriate urination/defecation, urine spraying doors
- Increased facial rubbing or scratching on surfaces
This is not to say that if your cats display one or more of these signs that it is definitely stress, it could also just be a part of their behaviour. In other words, you need to be able to differentiate between your cat’s usual behaviour and a stressed behaviour.
Even very small things can stress your cat, these include:
- Any repairs or changes to your home
- Loud music
- Dirty litter box conditions or a change in the type of litter
- Change in food brand
- New furniture/ or moving around existing furniture
- Not being able to go to usual hiding places or sleeping area
- New cats in the area or dogs
There are larger stress triggers for cats, and these are the ones we don’t usually realise because it is usually very stressful for us too, this includes:
- Death in the family
- Moving to a new home
- Major renovation
- A new baby
- Illness in us or in them
- Addition of an additional cat or dog into the home
- Natural disaster
- Injury to us or to them
Now this isn’t to say that when you get a cat you cannot do any of these “triggers”, it’s just a reminder to be mindful of the implications of these actions, making it easier for us to recognise and hopefully reduce the stress caused.
Reducing stress in your cats:
Firstly, get your cat examined by a Vet to rule out any underlying medical problems, you can’t assume any inappropriate behaviour and their causes unless you first eliminate possible health concerns, then you start with environmental factors
Go through the above lists and try to pin point if any of those signs or causes seem to fit your situation. Be more open-minded and try to think of all the changes that have been occurring around you, or possibly in your cat’s external environment. If you know of upcoming changes, try to prepare your cat.
It will be a little easier to help your cat if you know the cause, but this isn’t always possible, if you can’t prevent the cause, treat the symptoms.
Some options include:
- Calming treatments such as Calmeze Gel, NutriCalm which you can find at most Vets or Vetshops and Rescue Remedy also helps.
- Engaging in interactive play time. Get yourself one of those feather wands and engage in some personal playtime between you and your kitty.
- Have more vertical territory as cats usually like elevated areas for safety, for example, shelves staggered along your wall, allowing them to get to higher places where they can relax and look over their kingdom.
- Increase environmental enrichment, with regards to ensuring there are activities in place for your cat, while you aren’t around.
- When making changes to your environment, try to do them gradually.
- When travelling, preferably get a pet sitter instead of taking them out of their homes, as new environments can be extremely stressful, not to mention the added stress of not having you around.
- Make sure there are adequate hiding places, like Scratch Posts with covered areas, or even leave a few boxes lying around.
- Always make sure your cat’s Litter box conditions are pristine and there are enough if you have a multi cat household. The formula for adequate litter boxes goes as follows: One litter box per cat plus one, so if you have three cats, its three litter boxes plus one, so four total.
Cats are very reliant on their own instincts for survival, so they are constantly risk assessing and looking for threats and danger, it is therefore quite advantageous to create a daily routine, these familiar routines and a degree of predictability will provide a sense of safety and thus are a great way to combat stress in your cats.
It would be unrealistic for you to expect that your cat will never get stressed, but appreciating their nature and looking out for the signs will guide you in minimising the effects and aiding in their recovery.