Cats can get easily stressed, and stress can also be a causative factor in many feline disease processes. For example, Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease and Feline Orofacial Pain Syndrome in cats.
If your cat is feeling stressed, their behaviours will change. Some of these changes can happen suddenly and be obvious, however others can develop gradually, and be quite subtle.
Signs your cat might be feeling stressed include : Hiding and staying out of the way of the family; Eating less than normal; Avoiding certain places, pets or people; Poor coat quality; Showing stress body language e.g., slinking low to the ground, crouching or arching, ears back; Over-grooming and hair loss; Low energy; Passing urine inappropriately in the wrong places, urine spraying or marking, blood noted in the urine; Vocalising and meowing or yowling more than normal; Sudden changes in behaviour e.g. not wanting to be petted; Aggression; Facial scratching and self-mutilation; Weight loss.
Many of these signs can also be caused by underlying medical problems, so it is very important initially to contact your vet for a general health check-up.
Cats can be stressed by a variety of different things. It is important to try to identify your cat’s particular stress “triggers”, so you can hopefully take some steps to help them.
One of the most common causes of stress for cats is sudden changes within their immediate home or surrounding environment. For example: Moving house; New pets or family members; New furniture or moving furniture; Decorating, painting, or new carpets; Moving their usual places for food and water bowls or litter trays; Losing access to a favourite hiding place; Changes to their bedding.
Cats can become stressed if they do not have easy access to the essential resources they need, or if these are suddenly changed. This includes food and water bowls, litter trays, scratching posts and a comfortable place to sleep. This can be a problem if there is more than one cat in the household, or in a busy home. Your cat might feel stressed if they can’t get to their resources without going past other cats.
Cats can also find sudden changes in smell in their environment stressful. So, it is best to avoid using strongly scented diffusers, candles, or air fresheners.
Long periods of nothing and boredom can lead to stress, so try to keep your cat entertained and active. Keeping their brain active can reduce stress. Make sure your cat has access to plenty of toys to play with and rotate these regularly. Use puzzle feeders and hide dry food or treats in toilet roll inners, so that your cat can “hunt” for their food.
Many cats like their own company and can find the sudden introduction of people, children and other pets, especially other cats, stressful. They can be quite territorial and enjoy their own space. Your cat may become stressed if there are people in the house more often. This could happen if your working situation changes and you now work from home, or during the school holidays. Also, during celebrations like Christmastime and New Year when guests may visit.
Changes in the daily routine can also be stressful for some cats. This includes changes to their feeding times, your work patterns, quiet time with you in the evenings, and cleaning routines, for example if you suddenly clean out their beds and blankets all at once.
Some cats will also have their own fears or phobias which make them feel stressed. Common fears include Fireworks or other loud noises; Cat baskets and travelling in the car; Strangers; Other pets, in or outside the home environment.
Illness, injury, discomfort, and pain can cause stress for cats. This can be especially true with chronic disease conditions which can have a big impact on your cat’s quality of life. It is important that you arrange an appointment with your vet if you think your cat is unwell. Your vet will be able to discuss treatment plans to help your cat feel better and be more comfortable, and so less stressed.
To try to alleviate any social stress, make sure your cat has everything they need to be content. Provide plenty water bowls, beds, scratching posts and litter trays. Food and water containers should not be kept near one another, and litter trays should be spaced apart and kept away from feeding areas. For one cat, ideally you should have at least two of each of water points, litter trays, posts, and beds. If you have more than one cat always have one additional extra of these items.
Make sure you have lots of hiding places for your cat where they can feel safe. This could include igloo beds, large cardboard boxes, and plenty of “high up” platform spaces that offer a vantage point to safely peruse their territory.
For cats that enjoy time outdoors, provide an easy opening cat flap so they can come and go as they please. Make sure that other cats or pets in the home don’t “guard” this cat flap access preventing entry or exit. If you can’t have a cat flap, keep to a set routine for being let in and out, so your cat knows what to expect.
Cats are creatures of habit. Try to keep to your daily routine as much as possible with the same feeding schedules every day. Avoid cleaning all your cat’s beds and blankets at once. Try to rotate them through the wash so your cat always has something that smells familiar.
Try a pheromone diffuser for cats in your home. The use of commercially available diffusers or sprays containing feline facial pheromone F3, can also be useful.
Cats can also get stressed with too much attention, they are extremely independent, and they will choose when to spend time with you. Be careful of over handling with young children, always supervise children to make sure your cat stays relaxed, and is having fun too.
Be “cat” aware and give your pet time to adjust when introducing new things, people, or pets to the household. If you have a cat that is stressed by sudden change, consider whether these are necessary.
It is always best to contact your vet and arrange for a check-up. If any underlying illness is ruled out, and your cat seems to be stressed all the time, they are also showing aggressive behaviour, or you think the stress is impacting on their health and quality of life, it may be advised that you contact a certified behaviourist for further guidance and advice.