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The "Frisky Feline's" Guide to Feline Stress

Updated: Jul 2

Underlying stress can have a large impact on your cat's health and happiness. Many cats who are stressed show very subtle signs, while others may make their discomfort level very evident. Stress, anxiety, fear, and frustration present themselves similarly and can be observed in many ways such as:

  • Sudden or gradual changes in behavior

  • Seeking places to hide / be alone

  • Sleeping more than usual

  • Easily reactive to sounds and movement or “on edge”

  • Seeming depressed or uninterested in usual activities

  • Slinking around with their tail tucked or running quickly from room to room

  • Always looking behind them or look of “panic”

  • Avoiding interaction with family members

  • Vocalizing such as long meows, yowls, hissing, spitting, or tummy growls

  • House soiling

  • Lack of appetite, overeating or eating too quickly

  • Vomiting, diarrhea or changes in urination habits

  • Spraying or marking the environment

  • Overgrooming

  • Aggression towards family members or other pets

  • Unexplained biting, scratching or other unpredictable behavior

  • Body language: dilated eyes, staring, ears back or pinned, tail thrashing, panting, changes in breathing pattern, and stiff body movements

It is important to note that signs of stress can also be signs of serious health concerns and should be shared with your veterinarian to rule out the possibility of underlying pain or illness.

What causes stress in our feline friends and Is it "normal"?

YES! Just like humans, it is normal for animals to experience at least a some amount of stress at some point in their lives. Stress generally is short term and often resolves on its own but in situations where your cat is consistently stressed, it's important to find out why so that you may take the appropriate action. What causes stress in cats?

  • Underlying medical issues / pain

  • Insufficient mental & physical stimulation ( boredom )

  • Not enough resources

  • Poor litter box setup / cleaning routine

  • Improper diet

  • Change of / lack of routine

  • New people/ pets in the home

  • Poor relationships with other pets or people in the home

  • Outdoor influences ( other cats/ animals)

  • The loss of a family member

  • Forced interactions

  • Lack of "safe" zones

  • New furniture/change of layout

  • Moving homes

  • Certain smells

  • Travel / vet visits

  • Poor handling methods

  • Certain grooming methods

  • Certain medication administration techniques

  • Environmental influences (too much movement, activity, noise)

  • Punishments (squirt bottle, yelling, separations)

Stress has a huge impact on the overall health of your cat and can lead to serious health conditions. While stress can cause long term health conditions, it can also exacerbate symptoms of other non stress related disease as well. Cats with illness, disease or other medical conditions must limit their stress to reduce flare ups of their condition and to avoid further complications. Listed below are just a few health conditions linked to stress:

  • Feline Urinary Tract Disease - FLUTD

  • Feline Idiopathic Cystitis - FIC

  • Urinary Tract Infections - UTI

  • Urinary Crystals

  • Weakened immune system - reoccurring illness

  • OCD Behaviors - obsessive licking of certain areas of the body " barbering"

"How can I help my cat if they are given a diagnosis of a stress related health condition?"

If your vet has diagnosed your cat with a stress related condition, they will likely talk to you about a course of treatment including short or long term medications, diet changes, behavior plans and a follow up visit. It is important to know that once diagnosed with a condition, that you must follow your treatment plan closely and monitor your cat for future flare ups.If you feel that your cat might be stressed, be sure to consult with your veterinarian so that they can help to advise you on the best methods to achieve your goals. Below are just some of the best ways you can help your cat achieve a "stress free" lifestyle:

  • Maintain regular vet visits - (working with carrier training can help alleviate the carrier stress significantly)

  • Feed a quality diet that supports your cat's nutritional needs

  • Keep a routine each day so your cat knows what to expect

  • Make sure you have enough litter boxes & scoop them daily

  • Add resources to ensure your cat's natural instincts are being fulfilled

  • Make time for play and bonding

  • Have "safe" zones available for your cat to have space and time alone without disruption

  • Introduce changes slowly ( new pet, new family member, new home)

  • Work on poor relationships & DON'T force interactions

  • Keep a journal of your cat's behavior & share these notes with your veterinarian

  • Consider options such as pheromone diffusers, calming treats/ supplements, calming collars ( ALWAYS CONSULT YOUR VETERINARIAN BEFORE ADDING SUPPLEMENTS TO YOUR CAT'S DIET )

  • Discuss with your vet if pharmaceutical medication therapy may help your cat

  • Find support from a cat behavior professional to help you create a plan to reduce your cat's anxiety / stress

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