Stress awareness in cats

Guest post by Corinne Mitchell

April is National Stress Awareness Month . This campaign was launched to increase public awareness about the causes of stress and possible cures. Now, while it is true that this campaign is geared towards people of all ages, did you know that your cat can experience stress and anxiety too?

What is stress?

Physiologically, stress is a specific response by the body to a stimulus, such as fear or pain that interferes with normal physiological equilibrium. It can include physical, mental, or emotional strain or tension.

What is anxiety?

Physiologically, anxiety is a multi-system response to a perceived threat or danger, causing a state of uneasiness and apprehension.

Given these two definitions, you can see that cats certainly can and do experience stress and anxiety.

What causes cats to be stressed?

There are some obvious and not so obvious reasons for your cat to feel ill at ease. Some cats are more naturally prone to stress. A cat’s past experiences may also lead to them being stress; they may have significant issues due to past traumas. The more in tune you are with your cat and their personality, the more aware you will be if they are stressed or anxious.

Major events in your cat’s life that can lead to stress include:

* Separation from family
* Loss or addition of family member or cat
* A health problem or pain
* Moving to a new home

Other causes may be less evident but are just as influential and include:

* Changes to daily routine
* Loud noises
* Fear
* Inadequate nutrition
* Boredom
* Lack of exercise / play

Signs your cat is stressed:

Depending on your cat’s temperament and personality, they will show signs of anxiety or stress in their own way. Changes in your cat’s personality or behavior may indicate they are suffering from stress. These symptoms may include:

* Changes in appetite – eating less or more
* Loss or gain of weight
* Excessive vocalizing
* Changes in litter box usage – going outside of the box
* Box sitting – a cat sitting in their litter box
* Excessive grooming
* Restlessness
* Noticeable health issues
* Excessive salivation or panting
* Frequent vomiting
* Destructive behaviors – such as scratching the carpet or furniture
* Aggression
* Trembling
* Lethargy
* Depression

Effects of stress on your cat:

If you have ever been stressed or anxious, then you know how uncomfortable and unhappy it makes you. The same is true for your cat.

If your cat becomes stressed or anxious, and you do nothing about it, your cat can become severely depressed, develop behavior problems and develop health issues due to a compromised immune system.

Ways to prevent and treat cat stress:

Depending on the source of the stress, there are several things you can do to try to minimize stress and anxiety in your cat’s life. Whenever possible, remove the source of the tension or help your cat overcome their reaction to the cause.

Physical Methods:

* Give your cat new toys and cat games to play with
* Play laser with your cat
* Grow or buy some catnip or catnip toys
* Grow or buy cat grass
* Add a new scratching post or cat tree to your home

Emotional Support:

* Spend quality time with your cat
* Have brushing and petting sessions with your cat
* Make sure your cat has a ‘safe’ spot to take a time out

Always make sure your cat is getting nutritious cat food, fresh water, and a safe and secure environment.

If you have any doubt, you should always bring your cat to a vet to rule out any possible medical causes of stress. And in some cases, the cat may need over the counter or prescription anti-anxiety medications or the assistance of a veterinary behaviorist.

Treating anxiety in your cat may take some time, but if you are willing to work with your cat, you can help your cat find relief.

Corinne Mitchell is a cat socializer and an animal ambassador for Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. She lives with her husband and three rescue cats with the additional of an occasional foster in Coronado, CA. She has devoted countless hours to helping with the cats from The Great Kitty Rescue and is using what she learned to teach cat socialization, to help orphaned cats everywhere find homes and to establish a network for cat care givers.

You may also enjoy reading:

Minimizing stress for cats can decrease illness

How to make your cat’s trip to the vet less stressful

13 Comments on Stress awareness in cats

  1. Denise
    April 6, 2017 at 6:37 am (7 months ago)

    I enjoyed all the issues of having a healthy introduction of bringing in a new kitty. I have done it both ways; of isolating the new,slowly intro..and wanted to try a free roam of my house with a new kitty. The first method was just about strees-free 2 new cats with 2 older cats. Now I’m working with the new 10 mo old male cat and my 4 other older cats, (3 male, 1 female). The male cats don’t really cause any concern. However Miss Bella, shows a growling fit at times. The new, Lil’ Squirrel is very friendly and likes my female. Time will tell, I think she will adapt. So for know with my intro of new kitty to resident cats, Isolation first worked wonders for all, it does take time and alot of patience and work on the owners part, it was well worth it! I will post how the 2nd intro comes along. Hope my comments weren’t too long! I rescued many cats & dogs that went for adoption over the years. Five is way the limit for me, all inside & fixed. And to note, 4 of them are sleeping in my bedroom, as I write including Lil’ Squirrel. Good night to all and Best Wishes to the Wonderful caring owners of Felines!

    Reply
  2. tia
    December 10, 2016 at 2:16 pm (10 months ago)

    my cat is stressed out due to home renovation. he licks himself raw. ive had him on steroids and prozac but nothing works. it’s been 2 yrs. I put a cone on him. he hooked it behind his knee and licked away. he now has a cone and a blow up neck brace. hes depressed and sits in litter box. anybody ever hear of this?

    Reply
  3. Athena
    August 19, 2014 at 10:03 pm (3 years ago)

    Another question (sorry, I just discovered your website and am having fun!): one of my rescue kitties always seems restless. She’s almost always flipping her tail around or looking around bug-eyed at everything. She has 6 others to play with, but maybe that’s not enough? I’ve been sick for a while now, and have very little energy to run around with her (and the rest), and she isn’t interested in toys after a few minutes. She likes to chase the laser dot, but sometimes I can’t even get myself to get it out. I tried a battery-powered toy with a mouse that goes around in a circle under a cloth, too. She likes that, but not for very long. I also have a plastic thing with a scratcher in the middle and a ball that rolls around the outside, and a plastic pup-up tunnel… several cat trees and a couple of other little scratching posts. Am I just not thinking of something?! Any suggestions?

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      August 20, 2014 at 6:49 am (3 years ago)

      It sounds like your kitty gets easily bored. You may want to rotate some of the toys (hide them for a couple of weeks and then bring them out again) so she thinks they’re something new. If you have the energy to use interactive toys with her (fishing pole type toys), that may also be a good option.

      Reply
      • Athena
        August 21, 2014 at 7:10 pm (3 years ago)

        I guess I’ll just keep trying. She does like the laser pointer, but I must need a better quality one than what I have, because it goes dead after a few minutes and needs a “rest.”

        Reply
  4. Athena
    August 19, 2014 at 9:54 pm (3 years ago)

    What are examples of “safe spots” for cats to go to and take the time-outs you mentioned? Are cat trees and cubby-hole things sufficient, or should I be looking for something additional?

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      August 20, 2014 at 6:50 am (3 years ago)

      Cat trees and cubby holes are good, Athena, even cardboard boxes or cat carriers can work.

      Reply
      • Athena
        August 21, 2014 at 7:08 pm (3 years ago)

        Ok, I have all those out for them to go into. I guess I just need to keep looking for that “magic toy” that really gets her going. Thanks!

        Reply
  5. Esme
    May 1, 2011 at 2:10 pm (6 years ago)

    Ingrid what are your suggestions for moving to a new home.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      May 1, 2011 at 2:44 pm (6 years ago)

      Esme, I’ll put something together on that topic for a future post.

      Reply
  6. Siobhan Fagan
    May 14, 2017 at 11:47 pm (5 months ago)

    I have just moved house and my cat is very stressed and anxious. She is about seven years of age and has always gone to the toilet outside but now does her business in the bathtub. The problem is not the new home, but the cats in the neighbourhood. There is one cat in particular who keeps coming over to our house and makes itself quite at home, sleeping on the outside furniture etc. Apparently it attacked our cat. I did not see this. My cat is not used to socialising with other cats as she has always lived on her own. She is now losing weight and I am quite worried about her. She doesn’t even want to go outside anymore and I am unsure about what to do.

    Reply
  7. Ingrid
    May 15, 2017 at 5:12 am (5 months ago)

    You’re going to have to find a way to deter the outside cat from coming to your house. You can use humane deterrents like motion activated sprinklers or ultrasonic devices.

    Reply

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