Is Your Cat Stressed?

Close-up Angry Black Cat with Yellow Eyes on WhiteCats are temperamental creatures, as so many of us cat-owners have already figured out. Cats can express a variety of emotions in their own cat language, from a happy purr to a scared haunched back. Most cat owners can easily recognize contentment, irritation, excitement, and hunger, but lots of cat owners overlook the symptoms of a very problematic feeling; stress. When a cat is stressed, any combination of behavioral issues and changes can come about. It is important to look for the signs and symptoms of a stressed cat, and begin to figure out the best ways to calm your cat down.

At times, you may experience your cat going through something called “acute stress.” No, this doesn’t mean that they are exhibiting cute behavior while stressed. This refers to short-term appropriate stress responses. For example, if you bring your cat to the veterinarian and they are acting obviously stressed, you have identified the source of their stress and know that it will be over soon. Acute stress will be demonstrated through dilated pupils, a crouched position, hair on edge, ears laid flat, and/or growling. Luckily, acute stress is usually caused by something that won’t be around much longer.

Now, the more important type of stress in your cat to focus on is chronic stress. Chronic stress refers to an underlying stress that your cat is dealing with on a regular basis. This happens when your cat loses control over their surroundings. Cats like regularity, and a state of uncertainty can cause your cat to experience chronic stress. For example, if you have invited a new pet into the home and they are terrorizing your cat, or your cat is dealing with a constantly dirty litter box. Even if there isn’t anything seemingly stressful, your cat may be feeling stressed for a variety of reasons. Sometimes cats from shelters or that were formerly feral will suffer from stress for years to come, dealing with residual upset from a former situation.

Some cats get more stressed out than others. This could be because they are overall in a state of distress, or they haven’t been raised to feel normal around certain stimuli. For example, a well-socialized cat may find no issue with a new pet or visitor in their home, where a less social cat might become seriously stressed out. Some situations may stress out certain cats, and not others. Some cats may be fine with a noisy and chaotic home, whereas other cats may only be able to function best in quiet situations. A former outdoor cat may find stress being confined to a home as they transition to indoors, whereas others may be grateful for a warm bed and a constant source of food and pets.

This guy looks pretty stressed out. When dealing with a stressed-out cat, it is important to understand all that you can about the way that they demonstrate their stress, the sources of their stress, and how you can help alleviate their stress. First, you’ll need to identify the symptoms. Then, you’ll need to investigate the possible sources of stress. Third, you’ll begin attempting to relieve your cat from distress with behavioral therapy and stress-reducing activities.

Some of the symptoms of a stressed cat include:

Making messes: If your cat is going to the bathroom outside of their litter box, they may be stressed out. The first thing that you should do if you are experiencing this symptom is to check out the litter box. Make sure that it is adequately cleaned and looked after. A common source of stress for cats is a dirty litter box.

Not eating or drinking: If your cat has lost their appetite, that is a clear indication of stress or possibly a medical issue. If your cat is being bullied by another pet away from their food bowl, you’ll need to take precautions in order to allow each of your cats to have easy and stress-free access to their food and water sources.

Eating or drinking too much: If your cat is over-eating, they may be stressed out. If you’ve noticed a weight fluctuation in your cat, you should consult your veterinarian as soon as possible.

Acting fearful: This could mean anything from hiding all day, to acting skittish when you come home from work. Your cat’s body language will also tell if they are feeling fearful; demonstrating a reserved demeanor, with ears pinned back, and wide pupils. Some cats are naturally non-social and skittish, but almost any cat should be able to enjoy some time in the same room as their owner.

Pacing: If you notice your indoor cat pacing around a doorway or window, they may be having a hard time being inside. You can take steps to calm them down and distract them from their indoor-induced stress with interactive play.

Hair loss: If you’ve noticed that your cat is losing patches of hair, they may be exhibiting a common behavior of stress, or have an underlying medical condition. Pay attention to see if your cat is gnawing at the area that has lost hair, or if it is falling out on its own and let your veterinarian know.

Portrait of yellow scared cat hiding at homeSome of the most common sources of stress for a cat include:
– A new member of the family; animal or human
– New surroundings, for example if you move to a new home
– A change in surroundings, for example if you’ve gotten rid of their favorite couch
– Visitors, for example if you have a party and don’t restrain your high-strung cat to a designated room
– Confinement, for example if your indoor cat craves the great outdoors
– A medical condition

Again, not all of these reasons will stress out every cat. Each cat is different, so in order to diagnose the source of their stress, you’ll need to take some time observing and remembering your cat’s behavior.

Some ways to help de-stress your cat are:

Addressing any issues with other household members: If your cat’s source of stress is another pet or cat in your home, you’ll need to attend to this right away. Even if they’ve lived together for a significant period of time in tolerance of each other, this could still be a source of your cat’s stress. You may want to re-introduce your pets in a way that will help them get acquainted and calm down. Separate your pets at all times while you’re away. Begin by letting each animal get familiar with the other animal’s scent with objects that the other animal has played with or rolled on. Schedule monitored meetings, and think about constraining the aggressive animal. With regular meetings like this, your animals will eventually get used to each other. Reinforce positive behavior by rewarding good behavior with treats, and interrupting bad behavior in a non-invasive way.

Take your cat to the veterinarian regularly: Another common source of stress is health ailments. You may not know that your cat is ill, but if you notice stress, it could point to a health problem. If your cat is in pain from a broken leg or a bruise, they may only show this in their stressed-out behavior. The veterinarian may prescribe anything from a procedure (if there is a physical problem), to drug therapy, to a new type of food.

Make sure they’re getting the right food: There are thousands of types of cat food out there, and you’ll want to make sure that your cat is getting all the nutrition that they need. If your cat’s food isn’t agreeing with their tummy, they could be stressed. Your veterinarian can help you to choose the best diet possible for your cat. Feel free to consult pet supply store employees as well.

Interactive play: The best way to reduce a cat’s stress is to give them something else to focus on. Make sure that you have some fun interactive toys available to your kitty at all times. Whether you choose to play with them each day for 15-20 minutes, or you provide them with an electronic chase-toy, this short period of time can be very theraputic for a stressed-out kitty.

Cute cat enjoying his life outdoors.With time and patience, you can provide your cat with a stress-free life. If you feel that your cat is stressed out and you’ve done all you can in your home to set a calm environment, you may want to consult your veterinarian or a cat behavioral specialist. Just don’t give up and you and your kitty will be living the zen lifestyle in no time.