Cats may become stressed by many things. Just what stresses cats out is not always obvious, and stress may manifest in many forms. Commonly seen signs of feline stress may include any of the following:
- aggression towards people or other pets
- urine marking (spraying) or going outside the box
- not eating
- even hair loss, a condition called psychogenic alopecia
NOTE: as with any health concerns, such as not eating, hair loss, urinary behavior problems, etc., please see your veterinarian first before assuming that stress is the cause. Medical problems should always be ruled out first.
What causes stress in cats?
Some of the more "nervous" personality cats are easily stressed by many things - a new baby, loss of a pet, visiting family member, loud noises, other cats, and so on. What is surprising to many people is that even the more "laid back" cats can become stressed, even if outwardly still calm.
What can be done to reduce stress in cats?
While some of the stress scenarios will be obvious, some will not, and you may never know why your cat is stressed. Even mundane things such as loud music or traffic can be annoying to cats - they hear much better than we do. Same goes for any odors that they may come in contact with that we may never smell. During a major remodel years ago, we created a "cat room" that the cats could retreat to at any time they felt like it, and it was only accessible to them - no dogs and no kids. This was immensely helpful for stress reduction.
Take time to assess your cat's living situation and try to rule out any possible stressors. Here are some places to start:
- give each cat some "space" - a safe place to retreat to, away from other cats, people and pets.
- have at least one litterbox per cat, an extra one or two boxes above that is great.
- offer food separately - either in different locations or with cats separated to ensure that everyone can eat in peace.
- ensure that the cat(s) have a place to get away from the dogs or other pets.
- Offer a variety of toys for fun, exercise and general distraction.
- Offer climbing spaces where cats can hid or perch from -- cats often like to be up high where it is "safe."
- For vacations and other extended absences, consider a live-in petsitter or boarding facility so your cat(s) are not as lonely or stressed about your return.
- For a new baby or visiting guests in your home, try as much as possible to create a gradual introduction with a "safe place" for your cat to retreat to, if overwhelmed.
In summary, it is often best to keep changes for your cat(s) to a minimum or at least with a gradual introduction when possible. Even small things, like keeping the brand of cat litter the same will help keep stress levels at a comfortable level.
Another option is the use of an environmental pheromone treatment, such as Feliway® to create some "feel good" moods of your feline population and hopefully reduce overall stress. If all else fails, please schedule an appointment with your veterinarian to discuss the current medical treatments that are available for pet behavior problems.