Stress. It’s something most of us deal with on a regular basis. Whether it’s work-related, due to health issues, family problems, or because of financial concerns, there are so many opportunities for stress to set up camp in our lives.
When you think of what your cat goes through during the day do you ever thing of the possibility that she could also be affected by stress? If she’s lounging in a sunny window right now it’s probably hard to imagine that anything in her life could cause stress, but surprisingly, there are many events that can result in stress to your cat.
What Causes Stress in Cats?
Just as with people, there are some cats who are more easily stressed than others. You may have a cat who is rather timid and fearful normally and so even small stress triggers can leave her vulnerable. Things that you may assume are so minor that your cat shouldn’t even notice can create stress such as:
having new carpet installed
loud music being played
dirty litter box conditions
change in food brand
change in litter brand or type
being denied access to particular hiding places
appearance of a strange cat in the yard
a barking dog
visitors in the home
repairs being done in the home
Big stress triggers are easier to identify because they’re usually things that would affect our stress level as well, such as:
death in the family
moving to a new home
addition of an additional cat or dog into the home
What happens in some cases though is that we get caught up in dealing with our own stress crisis that we don’t see how it’s also affecting the cat.
Signs of Stress in Cats
Cats don’t all show the same signs when it comes to stress and they can be easy to overlook. You might attribute your cat’s change in behavior to something else or the stress effects might happen so gradually that you aren’t even aware that there is a change in how your cat behaves. If your cat tends to hide on a regular basis, it can be easy to not notice that her stress level has increased. Signs of stress may include:
loss of appetite
excessive grooming (which may result in a condition known as psychogenic alopecia)
less interaction with family members
change in the relationship with companion cats
elimination outside of the litter box
Reducing Stress in Cats
The first step is to have your cat examined by the veterinarian to rule out any underlying medical problem. Don’t assume that the cat’s inappropriate elimination problem or aggression toward a companion cat is due to stress until other health concerns have been looked into.
If possible, try to identify the cause of the stress. This isn’t always an easy thing to do because the stress trigger may not be obvious. Still, do your best to try to figure out what might be the source. When it comes to trying to determine any less-obvious cause of stress, it will help if you remember the sensitivity level of a cat’s senses. Your cat hears much better than you and her high-level hearing is especially sensitive. Imagine how ongoing loud music might affect her. Your cat’s sense of smell is also much more sensitive than a human’s so scents that might not bother you could be disturbing to her. It could be the scent of another cat, the odor from having a room freshly painted, pest control chemicals sprayed in the environment, cleansers, etc. When it comes to your cat’s sense of touch, having a room carpeted or having the carpet removed and flooring put down could be disturbing not only from a noise and smell perspective but also from a textural point of view. If you have a cat who already tends to be a bit jumpy and reactive to change, imagine how these types of changes could cause an increase in stress.
Here are Some Tips:
Gradually prepare your cat for known upcoming changes so she won’t get blindsided. The bigger the change – the more prep time needed.
Make sure your cat has safe hideaways and safe retreats for when she doesn’t want to be bothered.
Keep litter box conditions pristine and make sure the set-up is appealing (type of litter, type of box, location, number of boxes).
In a multicat home, if there is any tension, use behavior modification techniques to help each cat feel secure. Make sure there are multiple locations for resources. Offering choice is a great start toward decreasing stress.
Make sure your cat has ways to get away from unwanted attention from children, dogs or other family members. Be sure all family members (and guests) know that when kitty is in her safe spot she is to be left alone.
Engage in daily interactive playtime sessions to build confidence and help your cat develop a positive association with you or with certain areas of the home.
Increase vertical territory in the home. Cat trees are a great way to do this. Cats depend on elevated areas for security.
Cats don’t like change so try to keep changes to a minimum. This applies to even the simplest things such as brands of litter, food or even the food bowl itself. If a change must take place, do a gradual transition.
Increase environmental enrichment so kitty has activities to keep her occupied when home alone. Puzzle feeders, activity toys, cat entertainment DVDs, etc., are valuable tools to use when creating more stimulation and fun in the cat’s everyday life.
If you have to travel, have a pet sitter or friend come to your home to care for your cat. Make sure it’s someone your cat is comfortable with. Don’t leave your cat home alone – even if it’s just for overnight. This can be very stressful.
Clicker train your cat so you can work on confidence-building.
Need More Information?
For more specific information on stress in cats, refer to any of Pam’s books including her latest release, CatWise. You’ll find the latest behavior information in this new book from best-selling author Pam Johnson-Bennett. Pam’s books are available in bookstores everywhere, through your favorite online book retail site and also here on our website.
Please note that Pam is unable to answer questions posted in the comment section. If you have a question about your cat’s behavior, you can find information in the articles on our website as well as in Pam’s books. If you have a question regarding your cat’s health, please contact your veterinarian. This article is not intended as a replacement for your cat’s veterinary care.