Chronic Stress in Cats
This is the type of stress that’s more subtle and easily missed by some cat parents. Chronic stress occurs when the cat is left in a state of uncertainty. Think of a cat forced to live every day with another cat who displays constant hostility, or a cat living in an environment where the litter box conditions are dirty and unappealing. What about the cat confined to a cage in a shelter for months? Can you imagine the degree of chronic stress there? Or what about the indoor/outdoor cat who has moved to a new neighborhood and is put outside every day with no safe retreat back to the security of his home? These are just a couple of examples but there are so many other situations that could create stress. It’s important to look at your cat’s world from his point of view – use your “think like a cat” skills in order to see what might be the stress culprit. Pay attention to your cat’s movements and behavior. Your cat is a marvelous communicator. His behavior patterns and body language are providing volumes of information. The problem is that many times, we’re too busy to notice or we fall into the pattern of assuming cats are low maintenance so we brush off those behavior changes.
The cat’s body is equipped to handle short-term stress but it’s the chronic, long-term stress that can play a big role in the development of behavior problems and even disease. The body wasn’t designed to handle ongoing, relentless stress.
Signs of chronic stress can be very easy for cat parents to miss. The cat may start hiding more often or might have a decrease in appetite. Maybe the cat has started being inconsistent in using the litter box. Because most of the behaviors happen slowly over time, they can be easily overlooked or attributed to something else.
Do Some Cats Handle Stress Better Than Others?
The answer is yes. There’s a genetic component to how well your cat may be handling stress. How she was socialized will also play a significant role. A cat who was exposed to different stimuli (sights, sounds, people, etc) as a kitten, will probably stand a better chance of coping with stress over the cat who didn’t receive adequate socialization. How stressed the queen was can also affect how stressed the kittens may be. The other big factor is the environment and this is the one element where I find many people miss the signs. A person may bring a cat indoors and provide complete safety and the best health care but not realize that neglecting to provide environmental enrichment for that cat may actually be creating stress. Or maybe the cat parent is unaware that the noisy, chaotic home environment is frightening to the cat and on a day-to-day level, it’s contributing to continued stress. Even the most loving cat parent may be unaware inappropriate attempts at insistent interaction with the newly acquired frightened shelter cat may appear threatening. With no relief from the forced physical contact, the cat becomes chronically stressed.