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Cats and Stress

Cats and Stress

Cats may seem like the embodiment of inner peace, but in reality, they can suffer from an overload of stress, just like their humans. Stress is not always a negative factor. In fact stress is part of what motivates survival. It's how the cat reacts to stress that determines when the overload point is reached.

What do cats find stressful?

Cat's don't like change. Period. Any change in your cat's routine is bound to increase his stress level.

Common stressors can be :

  • New family members, human or animal
  • Changes in their environment, even just moving the furniture in their favorite napping room can overload your cat.
  • Changes in your routine, for instance, a job change that requires you to work different hours.
  • Moving to a new home
  • Death or extended absence of one of her people or a cat sibling
  • Illness

Most of the stresses, as you can see, are external to the cat. How they deal with these situations will vary from cat to cat, depending on their own personality, and, in large part, the reactions of their human parents.

How do cats show stress?

Our cats can't tell us when they're stressed with words, but they do let us know how they're feeling by their actions. Often, these actions really get our attention because they are disruptive or even destructive in nature.

Mild levels of stress may cause your cat to look for additional security. Cat's feel secure in small, enclosed places and your stressed kitty may start hiding out more than usual in the back of the closet. She may want to be closer to you than normal or, she may start scent marking her territory more frequently, by rubbing the furniture with the side of her face.

If the stress escalates, marking behavior is usually the first strong indicator. Marking behavior usually takes the form of scratching, spraying urine and litter box issues. If your cat starts urinating or defecating outside of the litter box, and the litter box is clean, you may be dealing with a stressed cat. Of course, this is also an indication that your cat may be ill, so visit the vet for an exam before you decide that bad behavior is just stress.

Litter boxes themselves can be a source of stress for your cat. All cats require a very clean litter box; some cats get fanatical about it! Cat's can also view litter boxes as territory and too many cats sharing one litter box is bound to cause stress issues. Ideally, you should have one litter box per cat, plus one extra. They should be spaced around the house and have unobstructed access. Often, a dominant cat will pounce on a weaker cat as she leaves or enters the cat box. The weaker cat will very likely begin to have litter box behavior issues stemming from this power struggle.

Rarely, a cat may become so anxious and stressed that they simply give up trying to cope with it and become passive and unresponsive. This is signaled by a lack of normal grooming behavior; the cat no longer washes itself, a reduced appetite and reduced activity level.

As with humans, cats who suffer long term stress have an increased risk of illness and disease. A stressed cat may become an easy victim of more dominant cats, which is especially troublesome if your stressed cat is unsupervised out of doors. Even an indoor stressed cat is apt to be harassed by more dominant cats in multicat homes.

How can we help a stressed cat?

Help for the stressed cat is based in observation. You must first determine what is causing the stress for your cat. This may be apparent once you start looking, or it may take some clever investigation on your part. If the stress is based in an event that you can not change or undo, such as a move or job change, it is imperative that the cat adjust.

Allow your cat to adjust to life changes slowly, with your loving support. Try to keep as much as possible familiar. Spend some extra time with her in extra play or grooming sessions. Try talking to her a bit more often, by name, when you see her. Everyone, including our cats, benefit from a little extra TLC when they're feeling stressed and anxious.

Clearly, if the source of the stress is a danger that you can prevent or control, you must do so as soon as you identify it. There may be too few cat boxes. The stressed cat may be the pariah cat in the family and you may need to isolate her from everyone else. Be observant and soon you should be able to identify what is causing the anxiety in your cat's life.