We often think of stress as a human condition, but cats can be affected by stress too. Just like us, many factors can lead to stress in the cat; common causes include:
- Moving house
- Change in household dynamics — new baby, pet, a new partner, a partner leaving etc
- Change in the family schedule, such as an increase in work hours
- New cat in the neighbourhood
- A trip to the vet or boarding cattery
- The death of a family member (human, feline, canine)
- New furniture
- Household renovations
Cats are creatures of habit; they don’t adapt well to change and can quickly become stressed. It may be long or short term (a trip to the vet). Long term stress takes its toll on the immune system. When we are stressed, levels of blood cortisol increase, this is good for short term stress, generating energy and assisting in our fight or flight mode. However, long-term exposure to cortisol can harm the body; it suppresses the immune system, making us (and our stressed-out cats) susceptible to disease and illness.
Cats handle stress in several ways:
- They may become destructive, scratching or chewing at objects and furniture
- Spraying and other types of house soiling
- Loss of appetite
- Excessive vocalisation
How to help your cat overcome stress
The first thing you should do is take your cat to the veterinarian and have him checked over to make sure there aren’t any underlying conditions. Some of the symptoms of stress can also be linked to medical conditions (i.e., not eating could be due to sickness; inappropriate urination may be FLUTD).
Identify and eliminate the cause of stress: This is the logical answer, but in most cases, this isn’t possible. I do think that prevention is better than cure and we pet owners need to factor in our cat’s temperament when we make decisions that may affect them. If you have a highly-strung, one-person cat, then the introduction of a second cat is likely going to stress him out as is a change in routine. Some situations cannot be avoided. All cats need to go to the vet, but you can use methods to make the trip less stressful for them.
Play therapy: This has the benefit of making your cat happy, giving him exercise, interaction and quality time spent together. It can not be emphasised enough, just how important play therapy can be. All cats react to different types of toys. Some like the feather on a stick variety, others a laser pointer, cardboard box, chasing scrunched up paper. Spend a minimum of 15 minutes a day playing with your cat; it will go a long way to reducing stress.
Routine: Cats thrive on routine. They like to be fed at the same time every day; they don’t want their litter box, bed moved around randomly. Find a routine and then stick with it.
Feliway: Have you ever noticed a cat rubbing its lips and cheek on your leg, the furniture, etc.? It is marking you/the object with facial pheromones. These feel-good pheromones are mimicked in a product known as Feliway. Pet owners have had great success soothing and calming a cat using Feliway. It can be used either in a spray form, or there is a plug-in variety available.
Herbal: Such as Rescue Remedy, put a couple of drops in your cat’s water.
Medication – This really should only be used as a last resort and when other methods have failed to reduce stress. The two most commonly prescribed drugs are Clomicalm and Valium.
In some cases, it may be kinder to rehome your cat. We had a Siamese who was very devoted to me and hated being a part of a multi-cat household. He was aggressive to the other cats, sprayed, was very possessive. The arrival of our first child pushed him over the edge. He was utterly miserable with cats and now a new person in the house. We made the sad decision to find him a new home. A lovely semi-retired couple adopted him, they had just recently lost a Siamese to old age and were delighted to be able to give our boy a new home. He was far better suited to being an only cat in a quiet home and be king of his realm. It wasn’t an easy decision to make, but what made it easier was when we realised we had to do what was best for him, and not feeling like a failure for giving up on him.