To most of us, the life of a cat sounds about as stress free as you could possibly get. Spending most of your day sleeping in a nice warm sunny spot, having your meals prepared for you by your servants (owners!) and only going out for a wander around the garden or maybe to do a bit of bird watching sounds like the lap of luxury. Surprisingly enough though, there are a lot of stressed cats in this world.
When we talk about cats and stress, we don’t mean “human” forms of stress such as worry about how we will pay our bills or that we are late for an appointment. Cats do not cope well with change, so stress in a cat most commonly occurs with changes in their environment. Examples of this includes:
- A new cat in the household
- A new cat in the neighbourhood that is encroaching on their territory
- A new person or baby moving into the house
- Changes around the home such as builders coming in to do renovations
- Moving house
- A visit to the cattery or (sadly) the vet clinic
- Even cats that have been long term housemates can be an ongoing source of stress to each other if they don’t get on
Compared to their doggy counterparts, cats can be quite unusual with how they respond to stress. Most people would recognise that a cat was stressed if a new kitten was introduced to the household and the cat subsequently spent all day hissing or growling every time the kitten came within a 3 metre radius. Similarly spraying (where the cat backs up to an object, vibrates their tail and pees on the object) is a commonly recognised and unpleasant form of stress. What you may not know is that often a stressed cat will spend time pulling their own fur out, to the point that they will have a completely bald tummy. Some cats even respond to stress so dramatically that they will literally start peeing blood!
So what can we do to avoid or reduce stress in our cats?
- Install a magnetic or microchip activated cat door to avoid any unwanted visitors
- Give each cat in the household their own sleeping environment as well as their own food bowl and litter tray, plus a spare (if you use them)
- If you are introducing a new kitten to the household make sure the cat has an area it can go to get away from the kitten (e.g. a room only the cat is allowed in or somewhere up high the kitten can’t get to)
- For stressful situations that cannot be avoided such as moving house or during the introduction of a baby or new cat to the household, the use of cat pheromones can be very helpful
- In particularly stressful situations medication may be used to help alleviate stress as well
There are many other things that can help depending on the specific situation so being able to recognise stress is the most important first step. If you are concerned that your cat may be displaying signs of stress, a discussion with a vet on environmental changes that can be made may be really worthwhile to avoid both a stressed cat and a stressed owner (especially one having to clean up cat pee all day!)