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When I talk to some people about how stress affects their cats, I sometimes get very strange looks. Back in 1982 when I first started my cat behavior consulting business, the idea of stress in cats was pretty much unheard of. I even remember being laughed at when my first book came out in 1990. Cats experiencing stress? What nonsense! These days, the veterinary world is doing more and more to educate clients about stress in cats and veterinarians work hard to minimize stress in the clinic setting. For some cat parents though, even with more information available about how stress affects cats, the idea their pampered pet could have anything to feel stressed about is a ridiculous one. Is it really ridiculous? Absolutely not. All animals are capable of being stressed and it can be potentially dangerous so it’s important to learn the signs and evaluate your cat’s situation to see if there’s anything that can be done to keep stress levels to a minimum.
Understanding Cat Stress
No one, not even your cat can escape a certain amount of stress in life. In fact, some stress is necessary for survival. If your cat perceives an immediate threat, it’s the acute stress response that triggers the release of hormones responsible for the flight or flight response. The fear from the impending threat and the stress response it triggers is what prepares the cat to fight it out or get the heck out of there. This acute stress response is short-lived and once the threat is over, the cat’s physiological systems return to normal.
Cat parents are more likely to recognize when their cats are experiencing acute stress. The cat’s body language is not at all subtle. The cat’s ears may be laid back flat, the pupils dilated, the body may be in a crouched position and vocalization may include growling. Just think about how most cats tend to look when they’re sitting on the examination table at the veterinarian’s office or when one outdoor cat comes face-to-face with another unfamiliar cat.