Common Stressors for Cats

Ever have a difficult roommate? Imagine living with someone who really doesn’t like change- sticks to their routine and the slightest change sends them into a tizzy. Well…surprise… that’s what it’s like to live with an indoor cat! In our latest installment of  Longwood Veterinary Center’s “Keeping Your Cat Content” series, we will talk about life stressors that might negatively affect your cat’s wellbeing. As soon as you are better equipped to anticipate your feline friend’s emotional needs your roomie relationship will be the best it has ever been.

Life stressors are any change in the environment that creates a sense of discomfort and stress. These common stressors for cats can lead to medical and behavioral concerns. Let’s discuss some common life stressors and ways to help manage them in order to avoid negative repercussions that will impact the relationship you share with your cat.

common stressors for catsSome common life stressors include:

1.    Change in the family dynamic
2.    Change in physical environment
3.    Change in care routine
4.    Impact of animals living outside the home on those living inside the home
5.    Temporary excitement: holidays, construction, thunderstorms, etc

A change in the family dynamic includes the addition of a new family member or pet, or the loss of a family member or pet. If you are able to prepare for these changes, it will ease the transition. When bringing home a new baby, help your cat get used to the sounds and smells associated with babies beforehand.   Begin using small amounts of baby lotion on your own hands, play a tape recording of an infant’s cry, and turn on new toys or gear that have movement or sound. When the new member arrives, keep your cat’s routine as close to normal as possible, and allow time for play and extra attention.

When bringing home a new pet, you should prepare for a slow introduction. Start by keeping the new cat in a separate room for at least two weeks. Allow pets to sniff each other through the door but not face to face initially.  Feeding each cat just behind the closed door helps cats associate something good, food, with the other pet.  A calm household may take several weeks to months to achieve, so go slow and reward positive interactions.  New dogs should be introduced behind a gate and on a leash until you are absolutely certain the dog will not chase, bite or hurt your cat. Conversely, the loss of a family member, two or four legged, affects the entire family.   Some pets demonstrate signs of grief that are similar to humans. Your cat may experience loss of appetite, become anxious or depressed, behave inappropriately and become more vocal. Don’t attempt to punish your cat for changes in her behavior. If the deceased was the cat’s primary caretaker, an article of clothing that belonged to that person can be placed in the cat’s refuge. Ideally, the new caretaker should be someone the cat is familiar with. If that is not possible and the cat needs to be relocated, follow our guidelines for changing the environment and above all, be patient.

A change in the environment can disrupt a cat’s sense of control and comfort. Something as simple as rearranging furniture might put your cat on edge. While you are moving things around, separate your cat into a quiet area but consider turning the TV or radio on low for background noise. You may also consider spraying the area with Feliway, a natural pheromone that helps decrease stress and anxiety. Once things are quiet, allow your cat time to explore. You may be inclined to throw blankets and bedding in the wash to complete the transformation of your room. However, it is usually best to hold off on the laundry for a few days to keep your cat’s bedding and belongings smelling familiar. The length of time it takes a pet to transition to changes in their physical environment will vary depending on the pet and the amount of change.

A change in care routine can occur when the pet’s primary caregiver goes away on vacation or falls ill. Cats tend to do best in their own environment rather than being moved to a boarding facility.  Hiring a pet sitter or service that comes to the home is a better option. Stress the importance of consistency and communication with your caretaker.  Discuss guidelines to follow during illness or emergency situations that might occur with your pet while you are on vacation.

A common stressor for indoor cats is the encroachment of outside animals on their territory. Indoor cats often spend hours watching through windows and examining there local territory in the confines of their home.  Cats, by nature, do not openly embrace new cats into their territory.  In fact, feral cats tend to form a commune of related females and are most unfriendly to strange, unrelated cats. The presence of skunks, possums, and other wildlife can also be stressful for your indoor cat and can invoke fear and anxiety. Remove overgrown landscaping and trash to try to eliminate wildlife from settling too close to your home.  Contact Forgotten Cats if you are struggling with a feral cat colony or stray cats frequenting your property.  Forgotten Cats can help trap, spay/neuter, and possibly relocate strays.

It is easy for us, as humans, to anticipate change. We know seasons change and are aware of the associated changes in weather patterns.  We anticipate the hustle and bustle of holidays and guests. We can understand and plan for the noise of home renovation. Pets cannot understand and mentally prepare for these temporary disruptions. During these situations, the same general recommendations are given: provide a safe and quiet refuge, use white noise and calming supplements or pheromones, follow your normal routine and allow extra time for TLC. Discuss any further concerns with your Longwood veterinarian.

A stressed cat will often begin to display several unwanted behaviors. These may include urine marking, hiding, or becoming aggressive towards other pets or their owners. Always consult your veterinarian to rule out any medical conditions first. Once it is determined these changes are behavioral in nature, your veterinarian will help create a plan for resolution of these issues.  The Ohio State University’s website has wonderful ideas and problem-solving tips:

We hope this discussion will help you turn your sensitive and persnickety cat roommate into your best friend!  Contact Longwood Veterinary Center, a Certified Cat-Friendly Practice, to discuss how to best care for your feline friend through everything life throws at us!

Written By: Tara Corridori, LVT
Edited by: Corrina Snook Parsons VMD

Photo Copyright: evdoha / 123RF Stock Photo