(Hint: it’s not dogs.)
Stress and Cats
Cats thrive in an environment that allows them to feel safe and secure. Predictability and familiarity go a long way in keeping a cat happy and preventing or treating behavior problems. When a cat feels its environment is no longer safe or secure, that stress can lead to a large number of behavior concerns, including litter box avoidance and aggression.
While some life changes are stressful for humans and cats alike, many things that may cause stress for a cat seem odd to us. From our (human) perspective we understand that they aren’t threats. Consider, in human terms, what your cat’s view of his situation may be and why he may not be handling it well.
|Stressful Event for Cat||Human Version|
|Guests or Workers in the Home||People you’ve never met coming into your home unexpectedly. They don’t speak your language and may try to touch you. They bring their own belongings into your home and move your things around.|
|New Baby||A new baby! Except it’s a alien baby, something you’ve never seen and can’t control. Your belongings are moved around to make space for it and you get yelled at for trying to look at it.|
|New Pet||You get a new roommate unexpectedly. You had no idea and now are expected to be best friends. This roommate may not speak the same language as you and may seem very threatening (a new dog in the house).|
|Left Alone with a Petsitter||You’re a child and a babysitter comes over. Your parents didn’t tell you they were leaving; you have no idea when/if they are coming back. The babysitter only spends a short time at the house each day and then you are alone.|
|Construction/New Furniture||Surprise changes are made to your home without your consent. You may have lost your favorite items or spaces.|
|Outdoor Cats/Wildlife||Strangers come into your yard at night and leave graffiti and trash. You have no idea if they will come inside in the future.|
|Illness and Old Age||You feel sick or weak or your senses are getting worse. You can’t tell anyone or find help for yourself.|
|Change in Routine||Your family, roommates, or boss require you to change your schedule. You don’t get to eat when you would like or get the things you need to feel relaxed. You don’t see your loved ones as much.|
|Most Punishments||You get yelled at, grabbed, hit, or squirted for some reason. You can’t figure out why or make it stop. You’re pretty sure you’re just doing things that you have to do.|
As you can see, it can get easier to feel empathy for your cat when you imagine life from their point of view. Some cats can handle any change with no noticeable issue. However, most behavior problems are caused by stress to at least some extent so it is worth considering whether stress is playing a role in your cat’s behavior. Even if you don’t see a concerning behavior from your cat, it is worth looking for ways to make change easier for your cat to give them their best life possible.
Reducing Stress for Your Cat
Avoid the Problem
If your cat finds visits from your neighbor’s dog extremely stressful, don’t invite the dog over! If there are stressors in your cat’s life that can be removed, that is a great place to start. Use effective behavior modification techniques to handle problem behavior and eliminate punishment. Help your cat avoid some stressors by using a safe zone. A safe zone is a separate room with a litter box, perching and hiding places, food and water, and toys. Your cat can stay in his safe zone while workers are in the house or during that loud and wild Super Bowl party and avoid the stress of new and unpredictable people in the house.
Keep It the Same
As much as possible, maintain your cat’s routine and environment during a stressful event. Don’t leave your cat alone for a weekend with some extra food sitting out. Instead find a pet-sitter that can feed your cat at his normal feeding times and offer play and cuddling if your cat enjoys it. If you have guests visiting, make sure the cat’s litter box doesn’t have to be moved to make room for them. If a new baby is coming, slowly move things around and change your cat’s schedule ahead of time in anticipation of not being able to keep it the same. The fewer changes that happen at once, the easier it is for your cat to adjust.
Make It Less Bad
Change happens and so does stress. Help your cat cope by:
Learn more about cat body language, introductions to other cats, dogs, or children, and using treats to build trust.
Need help relieving your cat’s stress and working on their behavior problems?