Cats and Stress – Why It Happens and How to Spot It
Photos by Tatiana Rodriguez on Unsplash
Humans stress about work, running late for a brunch, money issues or that something is going to happen to our loved ones. In times of stress and worry, our cats are always there for us to calm us down and make us focus on something else for a moment – they know exactly how to reduce our stress. But do we as owners ever think about what might potentially make them stressed?
Stress is not an uncommon problem with cats. They are naturally anxious animals that don’t deal well with change, so there are lots of factors that might make your pet stressed. It’s not always easy to spot signs of stress, or to combat them, but it’s important to try, as chronic stress can lead to health and behavioural problems in felines.
What causes stress in cats?
Stress for cats is, easily explained, the perception of threat, rather than something actually harmful or risky. Often this is triggered by something changing in the cat’s daily life, as even positive change will be seen as a threat to the cat.
It’s important that you manage to identify what might be the cause of your cat’s stress. We’ve divided the most common causes into four categories:
- Physical factors
An illness or physical trauma that requires treatment or medication will very likely make your cat feel worried. Apart from the potential pain or discomfort, the cat might also have to take pills or wear a cone, which limits their agility and freedom. Being on heat, or being pregnant, will unsurprisingly make most female cats feel on edge, and it’s very difficult to tell them what’s happening to their bodies. Apart from more medical conditions, grooming related changes like having a bath or getting a haircut can sometimes cause stress in your cat.
- Environmental factors
The big ones here are moving to a new house, or spending time away from the home, like in a kennel or on holiday. Cats prefer the safety of what they know, and will most likely not enjoy travelling anywhere.
Extreme weather and seasons changing can make cats worried and stressed, as can a lack of stimulation in their current living space. Outdoor cats who for some reason have been limited to the house will for example often develop stress related symptoms. Another common environmental stress factor for cats is the presence of other pets, including another cat.
- Human factors
Anyone unfamiliar to the cat coming into the household will be seen as a threat, and can make your pet anxious, whether they are guests who are just over for dinner, or new housemates moving into the spare bedroom. A new baby in the house is also a nightmare for some cats.
Often the problem is a change in the amount of attention the cat gets. Excessive stroking and playing will be just as stressful as the sudden lack of attention a newborn baby can cause.
- Litter tray and diet factors
Changing brand or type of litter or food will likely make your cat stressed, unless done gradually over a longer period of time. A new litter box can also be anxiety-inducing, as can an unusually dirty tray or lack of food and water.
What can stress do to a cat?
All living things are affected by stress, cats included. Bursts of stress, fear or anxiety are normal and harmless, but prolonged, chronic stress can be dangerous. Like in humans, longer periods of stress are associated with depression and a weakened immune system. In cats, stress is also believed to cause or trigger things like asthma, allergies, liver disease and stomach problems.
Stress can also cause many behavioural problems like aggression and litter tray avoidance.
How can I tell if my cat is stressed?
First of all, it’s worth pointing out that a cat that seems worried by a barking dog outside the window or the sudden noise of something dropped on the floor is completely normal. You only need to help your cat if you think they may be stressed than normal, or if they are constantly on high alert.
Physical symptoms of stress include, but are not limited to:
- Vomiting and diarrhoea
- Excessive shedding and/or grooming
- Changes in eating and sleeping patterns
And in terms of behavioural symptoms you should look out for:
- Any big changes in routines or behaviour
- Urinating outside the litter tray and spraying on furniture
- Unexpected aggression towards humans or other pets
- A disinterest in things going on around them
- Excessive meowing
- Hiding for long periods of time
If you notice a change in your cat’s behaviour or physical appearance, the first thing you should do is take them to the vet to rule out any possible medical condition that could be causing the symptoms. Stress can in itself be a symptom of some diseases and illnesses, but the vet will be able to give you some advice.
What can I do to help my cat?
The most important thing to do is to try and find the source of the stress. Have a look at the things we’ve listed above and try to observe your cat’s behaviour in different situations to try and see if there are any triggers.
Once you think you have located the reason or the reasons your cat feels stressed, try to solve the problem. Some are easier to deal with than others, and in some cases, as with moving or introducing a baby to the family, you will just have to give it time.
Make sure your cat has a safe space they can retreat to when they feel stressed or anxious. It can be a room where you rarely go, or a cat den like the Maya Nook. It’s important that everyone in the family knows not to disturb the cat when they are in their safe space, so that the cat can fully relax.
Spending time with your cat is a good way for you to keep an eye on him or her to make sure they are not struggling, and it gives the cat stimulation and social interaction, which are both great ways of dealing with stress. It can be chasing after a catnip toy or just relaxing on the sofa, let your cat decide.
Another thing to think about is that our pets are highly affected by our wellbeing. If you feel stressed your cat is more likely to feel stressed, and if you’re relaxed they are more likely to not see everything around them as a threat. It’s obviously easier said than done to stop feeling stressed and anxious, but maybe the knowledge that you’re affecting your pets’ mental health can make you find ways of making your life less stressful.
This entry was posted in Cats