Causes and Symptoms of Stress in Cats
As anyone with a cat will know, every cat has their own distinct personality and individual likes and dislikes. The causes of stress are variable between cats, and the signs you may see in a stressed cat can also be quite different between individuals. Read on to learn more about the causes, signs, and solutions for a cat experiencing stress.
Causes of Stress in Cats
Cats are creatures of habit. They know every inch of their territory, who is in it, what it smells like, and anything that is new or different. Houseguests, new pets, new babies, or even new objects are all potential sources of stress.
Things happening outside can also play a role, even for a strictly indoor-only cat. Neighborhood cats (or other animals) could be seen through a window, or loud noises can be scary.
Multi-cat households can be responsible as well, as many cats will simply not get along and have a constant source of conflict and competition.
Also, consider that owners can be a source of stress! Constant petting and attention can create problems for a cat that just wants to be left alone, so take your cat's personality into consideration.
Signs Your Cat May Be Stressed
A cat in a crouched, tense body stance with its tail tucked in, head lowered, and pupils dilated is a stressed cat. Some cats will become vocal (meowing excessively, hissing, growling) or aggressive (scratching, biting, attacking people or other pets). Other cats may just hide, preferring solitude under a bed or other similar safe spot.
When there is a constant or recurrent source of stress, you may see signs of skin, gastrointestinal, or urinary issues. Some cats will obsessively groom themselves, to the point they may become raw and/or bald in areas. There could be vomiting or diarrhea, a change in appetite, or the cat may suddenly start urinating outside of the litter box.
Sudden changes in behavior warrant a trip to your vet to rule out any potential medical causes. For example, a cat that does not typically hide under the bed should be considered potentially sick and be checked by your vet before deciding if the behavior is stress-related. A cat that is suddenly grooming constantly may have a skin infection, allergies, or fleas and should head in for a checkup.
Solutions for Your Cat’s Stress and Anxiety
There is no one specific solution when a cat shows signs of stress. Removing the source of stress is ideal, but it may be hard for the owner to identify.
For the neighbor's cat that likes to hang out on your front porch, keep the blinds closed in that room to prevent your cat from seeing it. Consider your cat's relationship with other pets in the house, and minimize competition with extra feeding bowls and litter boxes in the house. Keep things familiar to your cat – if you bought a different brand of litter, and she suddenly won't use the litter box, go back to what your cat knew and liked.
Environmental enrichment also helps many cats. A cat's natural behaviors are hunting, exploring, and socializing. When prevented from performing their natural behaviors, a cat's only options are sleeping, eating, and grooming. Evaluate your cat's living areas and make sure there are areas for hiding, climbing, scratching, and sleeping. Toys (fur and feathers are cat favorites), catnip, kitty grass, and water fountains are all sources of pleasure for many cats and can provide entertainment and distraction from potential stress.
We also can help stressed cats with cat pheromone sprays, wipes, and diffusers. These pheromones have been shown to have a relaxing effect on cats and are often used in the veterinary clinic setting. These products are also available for home use. Additionally, your vet may be able to recommend a food or medication for your cat's specific issue, so be sure to discuss any concerns you have about your cat's behavior.
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