Stress can do strange things to a cat.
Unfortunately cats are prone to stress, not least when we introduce another fur friend into the family. The symptoms of stress are many and varied; and range from the obvious, such as spraying, to the subtle, such as over-grooming. But one thing’s for sure, as a responsible cat guardian the last thing you want is a distressed fur-baby, so let’s look at how to reduce your cat’s stress.
If you can identify the cause this is helpful. For example, imagine a neighbour’s cat regularly enters the house and eats your cat’s food. This is hugely stressful to the resident cat, but is simply solvable by fitting a microchip activated cat flap. A little lateral thinking is often all it takes to get a happier household.
OK, perhaps the problem isn’t so obvious or your cat has ‘issues’. Here are five practical ways to create a stress-free living space for your cat.
1. Channel Normal Behaviour
Cats become stressed if they can’t do “catty” things. Think of it like this: imagine you’re a book-worm whose novels are confiscated, or a runner who is forbidden to jog. You’d pretty soon feel frustrated, right?
For cats these activities include exercising their claws (scratching), scent marking, climbing, hunting, and hiding. If the cat doesn’t have an outlet for expressing those behaviours she’ll either feel stressed (which could result in cystitis or the cat equivalent of self-harm that is over-grooming) or get into bad habits.
The trick is to provide ample opportunities for the cat to act ‘normal’. This means:
- Clawing: Provide cat scratch posts covered in something the cat likes to scratch. Does she like to scratch carpet or furniture? The former is a horizontal scratcher, the latter a vertical. Orientate the scratch posts to meet this preference. Put scratch posts near her bed (cats like to scratch on waking) and near entrances and exits so she can scent mark with her paws and stake a claim.
- Climbing: Cats live life in an extra dimension – up! Make the home a fun place to be with opportunities to cross a room without her paws touching the ground. This can mean cat ‘shelves’ along the walls, moving furniture, and providing cat platforms. Oh yes, and provide tall cat condos so she can perch on a high platform to watch the world go by. She’ll love you for it.
- Hunting: Cats are predators. Provide an outlet for seeking and stalking behaviour by hiding food around the house, or the opportunity to chase toys.
- Hiding: When not hunting, cats like to sleep or hide. A lack of safe hiding places is definitely a big stress, and even something as simple as a cardboard box in each room can solve a lot of problems.
2. Quality Time Together
Cats may be aloof at times, but they also like to feel loved. For a contented cat be sure to spend some quality one-on-one time every day. She’ll find this hugely reassuring, plus it’s good for you as well!
Play with her, for 5 – 10 minutes at least twice a day. This helps with those hunting, chasing needs, burns energy and is mentally stimulating, all of which is highly therapeutic when it comes to stress relief.
Another great activity is grooming, which she purr-fectly will adore. And don’t write off cat training, as lots of cats lap up the attention and it helps them feel secure.
3. The Cat-Friendly Home
We touched on this in #1 because this is all about making the home a place the cat feels safe, secure, and stimulated. In a multi-cat household this is about each cat having their own space and being able to get away from the others. This means providing cat trees, beds, hiding places, scratch posts, and giving them all individual attention.
Crucially, in a multi-cat household, ensure the cats can avoid confronting one another. This mean making sure there’s more than one way to cross a room, so no one cat can boss it over the others.
4. Cut Inter-Cat Competition
Few things are more stressful to a cat than having to share. Be it a food or water bowl, or a litter box, having to share ramps up the tension.
Make sure each cat has their own resources. In addition, spread the resources around as no cat can be everywhere at once, meaning they can’t lord it over everything at once. Also, cats prefer to drink at a site distant from their food, so put the water bowl on the opposite side of the room to their food.
Litter boxes are an especially sensitive subject. The basics include making sure the tray is clean (who wants to use a dirty toilet?), it’s located in a safe quiet place, and that each cat has their own facilities. Oh yes, and don’t line the trays up next to each other. Put them in different places, just like the food and water bowls, to prevent bullying.
5. A Helping Paw
Some cats are so stressed that you do all that and they still need a helping paw. This might be in the form of pheromones, a nutraceutical, or prescription medication.
- Pheromones: Feliway is a synthetic version of a pheromone (chemical messenger) that cats find reassuring and calming. Spritzing bedding with Feliway or using a plug in diffuser sends out a message that all’s well with the world. We use Feliway regularly in our home and it really does make a difference.
- Nutraceuticals: Products such as Zylkene are a food supplement with a drug like action. Zylkene is derived from a molecule in milk, and acts on the same receptors in the brain as diazepam. This helps calm an anxious cat, especially in high stress situations such as a trip to the cattery.
- Medication: Last but not least, there is a place for using medication in the severely stressed cat. Some cats literally make themselves ill, and develop recurrent bladder problems as a result. The answer for these cats can be to tackle their stress with the help of your vet prescribing a cat-calming medication or anti-depressant.
And finally, reducing stress in your cat is important to keep your cat healthy, and in the process spending time with your cat will lower your blood pressure and improve your wellbeing. Sounds like a win-win situation all round!
Do you have a cat that suffers from stress or anxiety? What steps have you taken to create a stress-free living space? Please share in the comments.