Signs of Stress in Cats

Cat perched on high

Do you have a cat and are you worried if it is stressed? Stress in cats can be incredibly difficult to see with the naked eye, but unfortunately more cats  are thought to have chronic stress. The stress can arise due to various factors such as other cats or unhappiness on the part of the owner and be the cause of various diseases such as urinary tract infections.

What is the cause of stress?

As in humans, stress in cats is individualized and can be caused by different parameters, which is why it can be difficult to see and generalize towards a cause.

Multiple cats under the same roof is not an abnormal cause of stress in cats. In a clowder of cats, there is always one cat that is at the top of the hierarchy and another at the bottom. The bottom cat is typically the cat that can develop stress because it is practically bullied by the top cat.

The bullying can consist of preventing the vulnerable cat from accessing its resources such as water and food bowls, the litter box, toys, scratching boards, the good resting place, etc. Can this behavior be prevented? It is difficult as the cat's signals to other cats can be so muted and invisible to humans that it is almost impossible for us to notice.

External factors such as a new cat in the home, a puppy, a baby, renovation of the home, care in another home over a longer period, etc. are other parameters that can be stressful for cats. Discontent from the owner such as no contact, no play, no fur care etc. stress can also be to blame.

Cats, like so many other animals, are creatures of habit and if you break their habits they can become stressed. Having said that, a cat does not become stressed overnight because you have painted the living room or moved the furniture, but it is changes over a longer period of time that can create an imbalance for the cat.

This is because it is important from the start to try to make and maintain some habits and routines. It could be, for example, that when you have found a nice place for water and food bowls, they should not be moved after a year. If you are moving, which can also be stressful for cats, especially outdoor cats, there is not much to do, but it is important that the litter box, scratching board, bed, etc. are always in the same place.

It is therefore about meeting the cat's need for resources in the home. The need for food bowls, litter box, scratching board, toys, bed/blanket, resting place etc. It is clearly easier if you only have one cat, as the cat does not have to "fight" with another cat for these resources, but if you have more than one cat, it is important to offer all cats the same amount.

Therefore, have more litter trays, preferably one extra than the number of cats, more bowls, scratching tools, beds etc. Make it as easy as possible for the cats to be in peace and have enough resources to choose from, thereby minimizing their invisible struggle for these. A good idea is, unless the cats are best friends and do everything together, to place the resources at a good distance and preferably in different rooms. Two cats do not need to eat, sleep or go to the toilet right next to each other.

How is stress expressed?

As I said, it is extremely difficult to see if a cat is stressed, as they do not always show clear signs. However, there are some cats who physically show it in the form of overeating (if it is possible for them), they do not eat, they become antisocial and withdrawn, do not groom their fur, urinate and defecate outside the litter box, become afraid of things they normally were not afraid of, become aggressive etc. Fortunately, these different forms of different behavior is visible and noticed by the owner, which is why it is important to observe your cat and keep an eye on whether it changes behavior.. 

What to do if the cat is stressed?

If your cat is stressed or if you suspect this due to a change in behavior or secondary diseases, see your vet. As it is extremely individualised from cat to cat, the treatment against stress is also different and cannot be generalised. 

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