Just like you and me, our family pets can get stressed. Including our cool friends, the cat. Cats and kittens can have stress for a variety of reasons. Some can be stressed due to experiences in shelters. They may have biological and temperament sensitivities. Perhaps it’s environment. Moving to a new house or the introduction of a new family member or another pet can create stress as well. It may even be a relationship with a previous person that is influencing the situation.
All kinds of things create stress in animals.
There can be good stress and bad stress as well. Stress helps your cat face challenges in daily life from hunger to navigating the dog or the fence. Stress keeps your cat nimble with the right amount of blood and oxygen to push forward and make the physical and mental leaps required in life.
Yet over-exposure to stress or issues with resilience can influence anyone’s coping mechanisms. Your feline friends are no different.
Here’s how you can identify some of the negative cat stress you may see- and what you can do about it
When do cats get stressed?
We’ve covered a few causes of cat stress in the introduction but much of the stress cat’s feel can drill down into 5 main categories:
- A lack of stimulation- this is especially true when a cat is not receiving exercise, mental stimulation and their environment is barren and uninviting
- Introduction of new family members – from new babies to new pets, the introduction of a new family member can create an awful lot of stress on your family cat
- Changes in the physical environment – this includes moving to a new house, taking a pet on holidays, cat rehoming situations, renovation impacts and general changes to physical environments
- Issues with socialisation- punishment based relationships can lead to stress, so too can a lack of attention, affection or uneven care
- Inter-feline conflict – this can be reflected in the household or even in neighbourhood situations. It can arise with new cats being added to the mix or a return of a previous cat from boarding, hospital and reintroducing old cat flat mates
Stress levels can also be influenced by general health and wellbeing. Nutrition, care and the general sense of acceptance a cat feels with it’s health and situation can influence stress to the positive or negative.
Is your cat showing signs of stress?
One of the biggest indicators of stress in any animal is a change of behaviour. If you notice a loss of interest in things that provide joy, changes to patterns of behaviour and even back-sliding on training and other habits, these are signs your cat may be under stress.
Some specific things you might see in a stressed cat include:
- More talking- increased vocalisation and even howling and elongated sounds can be a symptom
- Change in toileting habits- where a cat chooses to go to the toilet is a strong indicator of their happiness with a situation. If a cat is supplied with clean litter and still toileting elsewhere and in increasingly inappropriate places, it can be stress related
- Spraying – this is not only isolated to intact males, desexed males and females can spray as a stress sign
- Restlessness and a loss of focus – cats are usually quite good at keeping their cool and maintaining focus. However, if you find your cat cannot seem to calm and get comfortable, doesn’t have the focus for toys and puzzles it once enjoyed, and generally looks restless and listless, stress could be a factor
- Increased interest in grooming – a cat that has moved from general cleaning to repeated cleaning can be stressed as they attempt to soothe and control their environment. If your cat is grooming to the point of hair loss and skin damage, they need help
- Decreased interest in grooming- this is akin to stressed people that find it difficult to cope with showering and dressing that may be moving beyond stress to depression or anxiety
- Short-tempered and aggressive behaviour- again like humans, if cats are stressed, they lack the resilience required to cope. This lack of coping may show in unwanted behaviours such as aggression and lashing out. Or it may demonstrate in a lower tolerance to changes in circumstance
- Changes in appetite- think of your own stress and how this can influence our relationship with food. Some of us can’t eat due to nerves. Others try to calm ourselves with treats and comfort food. How your cat eats, their disinterest in everyday food and a strained food relationship can be an early sign of increased stress
- Comfort needs change- cats that are under stress may avoid other animals, people, being touched and situations where they attract attention. Or they may seek more comfort and cuddles than usual. It comes down to the individual personality of the cat
Stress might be something where a little time can be applied, and things begin to revert to normal. For example, after moving to a new house or a change in routine or family makeup, expect your cat to show some signs of stress.
When it becomes problematic is if the feelings are intense and showing strong reactions. Or if the period of showing signs of stress is prolonged. Even low-level stress for a lengthy period can create issues. Treating it in a timely fashion can help alleviate the distress and get everyone on track.
Be proactive about cat stress
While we’d like to think that cat stress can reduce itself over time, this may not always be the case. In situations where the environment won’t change for a while, your cat needs support to de-stress and positive coping mechanisms.
Want some positive ways you can reduce your cat’s stress? Check out this blog.