Is my cat stressed and what can I do to help?
Cats can be affected by stress, which can lead to both behavioural and health problems. It's not always obvious that they are feeling stressed or why they might be feeling like this.
Why is my cat stressed?
Cats are all individuals and so this will vary from cat to cat, however the majority are creatures of habit and anything that disrupts their daily routine can become hugely stressful. Large changes such as moving house, new babies, trips to the cattery or even to the vets can be stressful. Other less obvious stressors can include moving or buying new furniture, bringing new people or animals into the house, changing the position of the litter tray or even just the type of litter!
Cats are generally solitary animals, so other cats or animals can also contribute to their stress levels. Living in multi-cat households, with limited resources is a common cause for stress and associated behaviour. Bringing new animals into a stable household should always be carefully considered.
How do I know my cat is stressed?
Some stressors may cause an obvious reaction e.g. a neighbour's cat in the garden may cause your cat to crouch down, with ears back, body shaking and start vocalising and meowing at it. These signs usually pass when the stressor is removed or goes away. Short term stress is a normal, and even useful reaction.
Chronic stress can be more difficult to recognise as the signs are often much more subtle. It can also lead to behavioural and health problems if it continues.
Things you may notice include:
- Changes in behaviour at home – some cats may become more withdrawn and quiet, while others may become more aggressive, or jumpy and nervous.
- Inappropriate toileting – this can include spraying, which is often a marking of territory. Or inappropriately passing urine and faeces in the house.
- Changes in appearance – when a cat is stressed they may spend less time grooming and caring for themselves and start to look tatty. Other cats over-groom and you may see areas of hair loss or increased hair around the house. Beware though - cats are private animals, so you may not always see them grooming.
What can I do about my cats stress?
Have one litter tray per cat, plus one extra. These should be in locations that suit the cat, ideally away from other resources such as food and water. Different cats prefer different types of cat litter, so always think carefully before changing to an alternative as this can become stressful.
Feed and water areas:
Food and water should be located separately from each other. Cats often will not drink from water located next to a food bowl. This can become stressful if they do not have alternative access. Again, the one per cat plus one more rule is the gold standard. They should have free access to food and water without competition. There are novel ways of providing these, from cat water fountains to glasses. Try to stay away from plastic as this can retain smells and put cats off.
Enrich the environment:
Cats like routine and comfort, but can also suffer from boredom, so it's important to get the environment right. They should have access to hides and beds, which they feel safe in and can escape to. Cats enjoy being up high, so high resting places which they can easily access are ideal.
Equally, they need stimulation and challenges to express their natural behaviour. This is especially important for house cats. Scratching posts, toys and puzzle feeders can all help to keep your cat entertained and stimulated.
Feliway is a synthetic pheromone treatment which can help to reduce stress and deal with associated behavioural problems. If you know a stressful event is coming up it can also be used in advance. For example, if you are moving house, having a plug-in in the new house for a few days before you move in can make it a more appealing environment for your cat.
Reducing a cat's stress is often about making a number of smaller changes.
If your cat is exhibiting any of the above behaviour and you are concerned contact the AlphaPet team.