Cats are creatures of habit and with that are extremely sensitive to change. Whether you notice or not, the smallest changes can really affect our cat’s behaviour and in turn health. Which is why during a time of constant changes and unrest it is important we pay more attention to our cats and ensure we take extra measures to keep our cats stress-free and calm.
Cats can become easily frustrated and in turn, this can lead to both emotional and physical illness therefore as good cat owners we should always strive to provide a calm environment for them.
This article will cover:
- Causes of stress in cats
- Recognising the signs of stress in cats
- The health and medical implications of stress in cats
- Tips and tricks for cat calming to reduce anxiety
How to keep your cat calm during times of change and stress
Causes of stress in cats
As we have already said, cats are creatures of habit, therefore it is the smallest thing which can often unsettle them.
The most common stress complaints we see in cats are:
Changes in the household (including a change in your routine)
This can anything from a new baby to building work being undertaken. Cats can become stressed by anything that is out of the ordinary to their daily routine and environment.
Therefore if you are cat is used to having no one at home all day, then suddenly you begin to work from home and are constantly there, this may take time for your cat to adjust to. They can also reflect our mood changes, therefore if you are stressed, there is a good chance your cat will pick up on this and become stressed as well.
Having to compete for vital resources
This most often occurs in multi-cat households when cats feel like they must compete for food, water, toys, litter tray or time with their humans.
New smells or sights in the home
Some cats have been known to get quite distressed by something as simple as new furniture in their home, this is particularly the case if it has taken the place of something of importance to them – for example, a litter tray or food bowls.
If your cat suddenly starts acting out of character and you cannot work out why try to think if you have recently moved any of their core resources recently.
More nervous or sensitive cats may become worried by the presence of unfamiliar people in the home. This is particularly important during the holiday seasons where you may have more frequent gatherings or visitors to your home.
Cats quickly establish their own territories and you will often find they will stick to these. Unfortunately, they will often have to share these territories with neighbouring cats. Cats may show additional signs of stress during times of boundaries being crossed and established.
Cats that are bored and don’t have an outlet for their energy can often become stressed. Therefore it is important you provide adequate enrichment to prevent this becoming an issue. Check these simple homemade cat toys to help combat this.
Recognising the signs of stress in cats
Firstly it is important to understand cats can be very good at hiding signs that they are stressed or in pain because in the wild this would make them an easier target for predators. Therefore, you need to learn to think more cat and understand the signs your cat is trying to give you.
Physical symptoms of a stressed cat
- Large bald patches or sores on the coat caused by over grooming
- Eating non-food items such as plastic or wool (this is called ‘pica’)
- Poor appetite or eating less than normal
- Looking lethargic and sleeping more than usual
- Excessive eating and/or drinking
- Sudden weight loss or weight gain
- A poor coat condition
- Not going to the toilet as often as usual (faeces and/or urine)
- Frequent squatting, painful urination with blood in it (e.g. cystitis).
Behavioural symptoms of stress in the cat
- Any noticeable change in your cat’s usual patterns of behaviour and routines
- Toileting outside of the litter tray (e.g. behind the sofa, under the bed, on the bed etc.)
- Spraying urine on furniture and other items around the home
- Scratching excessively on the furniture
- Aggressive behaviour directed towards you, your family or visitors
- Aggressive behaviour directed towards other pets in the home
- Excessive meowing
- An increased dependency on you or your family, constantly wanting to interact
- Withdrawal from you and the family, no longer interested in interacting with you
- Constant vigilance and jumps at every sudden sound or movement
- Frequent hiding when in the home (e.g. under a sofa or bed, on top of a wardrobe)
- Reluctance to play – having previously been very playful
- Reluctance to come into the home
- Reluctance to go outside
- Excessive grooming
- Repeated pacing when in the home, often accompanied by loud meowing.
The medical implications of stress in cats
While some of the symptoms shown above may seem quite trivial if left to continue over an increased period of time you may start to see medical implications.
A common secondary to a stressed cat is cystitis (a type of urinary tract infection) this can be both uncomfortable and painful for your cat. It may be recognised by your cat frequently visiting the litter tray but only passing a small amount of urine, sometimes blood may be present in the urine and sometimes your cat may be vocal when in the litter box.
If ignored this can become a true medical emergency in male cats as they can develop urethral obstructions (or ‘blocked bladders’) – when this happens their body cannot expel urine and it is fatal if left untreated.
If your male cat is showing any signs of being unable to urinate, irritation or vocalisation in the litter box or is licking at his penis consistently. Please contact your Veterinary Surgery immediately, this is potentially a medical emergency.
Cats can often express stress by over-grooming – this, in turn, can lead to skin irritation and bald patches.
Exacerbation of concurrent illnesses
When the body is under stress it may not be using coping mechanisms as well as it normally would. For example, if your cat is a cat flu carrier, at times when they are under stress you may find this flares up and in turn, could lead to further processes such as inappetence (a reluctance to eat).
Tips and tricks for cat calming to reduce anxiety
Stick to the status quo
Where possible, try to stick to a routine when it comes to caring for your cat. This will help it feel less anxious and vulnerable if things that are out of your and their control have changed. Simple things such as keep feeding times the same as always will help your cat to keep routine.
A safe place to hide
Ensure your cat somewhere in the home where they can feel safe. This can be achieved by offering enough places for your cat to perch on or hide in.
Cats love vertical space, so try offering some elevated perches. This can be anything from a shelf or cat perch, to on the top of a wardrobe.
Cardboard boxes and caves/areas under a bed are great places for cats to feel out of the way and secure.
Offering safe places is especially important for cats living together in a multi-cat household, as it enables them to get time away from each other and relax.
Keep interaction with cats on their terms
It may be tempting to pick up your cat to cuddle them, especially if you are worried yourself but it should always be on your their terms. Allow them to approach you and decide they want the attention.
A stressed cat may prefer to hide to settle themselves rather than be forced into a situation they don’t currently feel comfortable in.
Further pushing these situations may result in your cat acting out of character and potentially even show aggression.
Ensure there are enough resources for ALL cats in the household
A cat which feels it does not have access to adequate supplies is a cat which is stressed. If your cat is showing stress due to a new member of the household, ensure you are now not making them share resources.
Each cat should have its own separate resources, so it does not feel like it has to compete.
With litter trays, we always recommend one litter tray per cat plus one extra.
Use the distraction of toys to give your cat something else to think about. If they are food orientated, puzzle feeders are a great way to keep them engaged and busy.
Toys do not need to be expensive and can easily be made from objects around the home. See simple homemade cat toys for ideas.
Use artificial pheromones to prevent stress in cats
Artificial cat pheromones have been scientifically proven to reduce stress in cats. We personally always use and therefore recommend Feliway for cats.
Feliway is a room-diffuser which gradually releases natural calming pheromones to help aid and prevent stress in cats. These pheromones help your cat to feel safe and secure in their environment despite changes. The diffuser has no effect on humans and is safe to use with children of all ages and other pets in the home (we are unable to smell it as well).
Keeping cats calm and preventing stress in cats can be a challenge. They are sensitive creatures who like routine, but as good cat owners, this is something we have to be prepared for. Hopefully, this article has helped you to better understand cat stress and be more prepared if it does occur.