Stress is an everyday occurrence, and a stressful event and environment can affect your pet. Cats in particular are prone to anxiety, and they often exhibit physical and behavioral health issues because of unmanaged stress. Read our Westerville Veterinary Clinic team’s guide to feline stress and learn how to identify and manage your cat’s anxiety to improve their mental and physical wellbeing.
Identifying stress triggers in your cat
Some cats are much more sensitive than others and can display seemingly dramatic signs when feeling stressed. Although the situation may not seem that stressful to you, your cat views it as a serious issue. Consider your household’s environment and determine whether your cat is being exposed to the following potential stress triggers:
- Change — Cats are exceptionally sensitive to change, whether something major occurs, such as a move to a new home, or a minor alteration is made, such as rearranged furniture. Changes in routine, surroundings, family structure, and diet are common feline stress triggers.
- Poor litter box upkeep — A dirty or poorly positioned litter box is a significant feline stress source. If you place litter boxes next to noisy appliances, near busy walkways, or far away from the main living space, your cat may be uncomfortable using them. Litter texture, odor, and cleanliness can also affect your cat’s stress level.
- Boredom — Boredom is a key house cat stress trigger, because these cats receive minimal enrichment by spending their lives indoors. Spice up your cat’s environment by providing plenty of opportunities to express natural behaviors such as climbing, scratching, and hiding.
- Illness or injury — A cat who is sick or in pain may suffer a tremendous amount of stress.
- Travel — Every aspect of traveling, including carrier confinement, the car’s motion, and the strange scents, sights, and sounds, can stress your cat.
- Bullying — Whether your cat is being bullied by another household cat, your dog, or your child, tense relationships can lead to stress.
- Inadequate resources — Bullying among cats can also include resource guarding and territorial behavior, so ensure all your cats have easy access to food, water, litter boxes, beds, and hiding spots.
Recognizing stress signals in your cat
Identifying whether your whiskered pal is stressed can be a challenge, as cats often hide cues that they are suffering. Your cat may feel anxious if they exhibit the following behaviors:
- Increased hiding — Uncomfortable, anxious cats often hide from other pets and people.
- Excessive grooming — Licking and grooming are feline soothing behaviors, so your stressed cat may groom themself to the point of hair loss.
- Appetite changes — Depending on your cat’s personality, stress may cause them to binge eat or shun their food bowl.
- Litter box aversion — Generalized stress can cause feline idiopathic cystitis (FIC), an inflammatory bladder condition that results in appropriate elimination. Stress about a dirty or improperly placed litter box can also cause a cat to avoid using their box.
- Excessive vocalization — Cats in distress are likely to meow or yowl more than usual as a way to express discomfort or seek attention.
- Increased aggression — Stressed cats often lash out, hissing, growling, or swatting at housemates or their owners.
Managing stress in your cat
Banishing your whiskered pal’s stress can be a challenge. Fortunately, many stress-relieving methods have proven effective, especially as part of a multimodal management plan. To help alleviate your cat’s stress and anxiety, follow these tips:
- Adhering to a routine — Cats thrive on routine, so try to stick to the same schedule every day, especially for mealtimes and playtimes.
- Maintaining consistency — Once your cat gets used to something, avoid making a change unless necessary. Strive to be consistent with your cat’s diet, litter type, and resource placement.
- Building a retreat — Give your feline friend a cozy spot to which they can retreat when they are feeling anxious or overwhelmed. Ideally, this spot should be off-limits to other pets and people and offers your cat the opportunity to decompress and relax. Offer a hideout in a specially designed cat bed, behind the sofa, in a closet, or in another small area that is perfect for hiding.
- Providing environmental enrichment — A house cat’s life can be pretty boring without plenty of physical exercise and mental stimulation. Provide your feline friend with opportunities to engage in natural behavior by filling their living space with scratching posts and pads, interactive toys, climbing structures, and hideouts.
- Ditching the food dish — A cat whose food bowl is always full is prone to overeating, and obesity increases their risk for numerous, stress-inducing health problems. Ditch the food dish and help your cat stay mentally and physically fit by using a food puzzle to feed them.
- Consulting with your veterinarian — Sometimes stress can negatively impact your cat’s quality of life, so much so that professional help is required. If the stress management techniques presented here aren’t as effective as you’d hoped, ask our Westerville Veterinary Clinic veterinarian for help.
Left unmanaged, stress can take a serious toll on your whiskered pal’s mental and physical wellbeing. If you think your cat is stressed, schedule an appointment with our Westerville Veterinary Clinic team.