Chronic (or long term) stress is a common, under-recognised problem in our feline friends. It can have serious consequences with regard to their health.
Some subtle changes of behaviour that can indicate your cat is stressed, include:
- Changes in appetite
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Decreased play
- Decreased or increased grooming
- Being easily startled
- Increased facial rubbing
Or more obvious signs of stress include:
- Aggression towards owner, or other pets
- Toileting outside of the litterbox
- Marking with urine
If we recognise the signs of stress, then we can try to identify the causes, and help rectify them.
Common causes of stress in our cats include:
- Other pets in the household
- Pets outside the house
- Moving to new home / area
- Veterinary visits (see below for ways to reduce stress when visiting your vet)
- Changes in the household
- Painful conditions
So why is stress important to recognise in our cats?
Stress has a role in the development of FIC (feline interstitial cystitis) which causes bladder irritation and pain, IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) seen as chronic diarrhoea and various skin conditions.
Stress will also cause the release of glucocorticoids, which affect the areas of the brain that are important for memory, learning and emotions. Initially, they potentiate memory-formation and learning (we often remember stressful events clearly) but extreme or long-term levels inhibit it.
Stress can lead to animals being fearful of noises they were previously used to, or cause relationships between animals they seemed happy with to break down. In cats’ cases, they often avoid other cats they seemed happy to get along with or even start fighting with them out of the blue.
In extreme cases, stress can lead to stereotypical, compulsive behaviour such as flank and tail sucking and licking.
Some strategies you can use to reduce stress in our feline friends:
What about the stress of going to the vet?
We recognise that veterinary visit can be stressful. Some tips to prepare your cat for the trip include:
- Leave the crate out somewhere obvious so the cat gets used to it, can rub their smell on it and can even use it as a bed.
- Put a non-slip, comfortable bed inside the crate for trips
- Spray the crate/bedding with ‘Feliway’. Remember to do this at least 15 minutes before you need the crate so the alcohol can dissipate.
- Feed your cat by the crate. Intentionally moving the food into the crate (slowly!) can create positive associations with the crate
In the car:
- Strap the crate in or put it in a footwell so it can’t shift about, and cover with a towel.
- Don’t let your cat out to look around. This can increase fear, anxiety and stress, and make it hard to get the cat back in the crate when you get to the clinic.
At the clinic:
- Cover the crate with a towel so cats can’t see people or other animals
- Put the crate up high instead of on the floor. There’s nothing scarier to a cat than a dog coming up to sniff their cage!
- If your cat is feeling stressed, meowing or even panting, ask our staff to find you somewhere quiet to wait.
If you have any concerns that your cat is stressed or struggling to cope with its environment, give your local Anexa vet clinic a call.