Goodness knows how many words have been written about stress in humans, and there’s no doubt that stress, and its best friend anxiety, afflict many of us. Cats, and pets generally, can be a calming influence on their stressed out humans, but they can also suffer from stress themselves. As a cat owner you have taken on the responsibility to look after the well-being of those cats under your charge, and that includes puss cat’s mental health.
What Causes Stress in Cats?
Just as with humans, sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint a specific cause or causes of stress in your cat, but there are a few common ones:
Moving House: Cats are big fans of familiarity and regularity in their environment and routine. A change in that environment can disrupt the equilibrium your cat seeks so that they know all’s right with the world. I was told the story of someone who sold their house, then repurchased another house further up in the same street (let’s not go into why you would do that…just accept it for the purposes of this story). Their cat however refused to move to the new house, and ended up moving in with the family who had bought The Cat’s house. I wonder if the new owners appreciated the bargain they got compared to the buyers of this house in Melbourne who stumped up an extra $140,000 for the cat to be included in the sale!
An Addition to the Household: This can be either of the human or animal variety. It’s certainly no surprise that introducing another cat to the home can be like shifting the earth off its axis for the existing cat. Likewise the incoming cat is not only dealing with being the intruder, trying to figure out the pecking order, but the new physical environment as well. Having a new human come to live in the house, be it a baby or a new housemate, can be similarly unsettling for puss as there will be new and different smells, sounds and routines in the home.
Travel: Whether it’s traveling down the road to the vet, or moving overseas like we did, travel can be one of the most stress inducing situations for you cat. Travel for your cat is going to go hand in hand with being put in the cage, and the cage confines your cat. This confinement stresses them because they can’t exercise their flight response to a threat.
Where’s My Human Gone?: If you take a holiday, have a stay in hospital or, sorry to bring this up, die, your cat may feel your absence just as acutely as any human member of the household.
What Behaviours Do Cats Display When They’re Stressed?
The manifestation of stress can be many and varied, but these are some of the behaviours most often displayed by our favourite felines when they are feeling stressed out:
Over-Grooming: Some estimates reckon that cats can spend up to 50% of their waking hours grooming, and some cats will groom more than others, which is the case at Cat Habitat HQ. If Soph and Pussa were humans, Soph would be the sort of girl that wouldn’t walk out the door without a full face of make-up on. Pussa on the other hand would be the girl that pulls her hair back in a ponytail, gives herself a quick glance in the mirror, and goes out anyway! It’s hard to define exactly what “excessive” grooming is but if it results in your cat developing bald patches, well then you’re there.
Changes in Appetite: You often hear humans describing themselves as comfort eaters or emotional undereaters in a response to difficult situations. Cats can be similar, so take note if your once ravenous puss cat becomes disinterested in dinner, or a cat who doesn’t normally have a big appetite suddenly develops one.
Aggression: Hissing, biting, and scratching are some of the behaviours which your cat might pull out of their kit bag when confronted with certain stressors.
Not Using the Litter Box/Spraying: Cats can do this in situations when they are uncertain of their environment and they feel the need to secure their surroundings.
So, What To Do To Reduce The Stress?
If you think your Favourite Feline looks like they are carrying the world’s problems on their fur coat you can try some of these remedies:
Take a Visit to the Vet: You want to rule out any physical causes for the change in behaviour.
Remove the Stressor: Obviously! If it’s something simple like you’ve moved their scratching post from its usual spot, for the harmony of the household, move the damn thing back and just live with it.
Introduce Change Gradually: When time is on your side and you know change is on its way, like when a new baby is going to be joining the household, let puss get used to things gradually. Let them see the new furniture in the baby’s room (don’t allow them to jump into the crib because that will signal that you are ok with that, which you won’t be when the baby arrives), sniff around the wipes, talcum powder etc. When baby comes home, there will at least be a few things that puss will be familiar with.
Spend Time with Your Cat: Make sure you set aside time to play with your cat a couple of times a day (which in Perfect Pet Parent Land you’re doing anyway right?), give them a brush, talk to them and give them a scratch under their chin/on top of their head/on their belly whichever is their preferred location.
Turn a Negative into a Positive: If for example going to the vet stresses your puss cat out, when you get back home give them a treat or do something that you know they love.
Puss cat’s environment will never be totally stress-free, and that’s a normal part of life for them and us. Make sure that if you can’t get your cat’s stress under control, seek advice from your vet as further investigation and intervention may be needed.