Cat Stress & Anxiety
Anyone who has suffered stress and
anxiety knows the debilitating effects it can have on your health.
Stress in cats acts much the same way, and not only can it
exacerbate existing physical conditions, but it can lead to a
number of problems often considered behavioral, such as litter box
avoidance, aggressive behavior, or depression and withdrawal.
When behavioral problems suddenly
appear, savvy cat owners soon learn to look first for signs of
health problems (such as urinary tract infections with litter box
avoidance), and next for stress factors, such as changes in the
Although humans relate stress to
emotional factors, and those are prevalent in feline stress,
stress and anxiety in cats can come from other sources, including
environmental changes and physical stress. You will find that many
of these areas overlap as we explore further
We will look at some of the causes
of stress in cats, the symptoms, and how we can help our cat get
back on an even keel, for better physical and emotional health.
External Causes of Stress in Cats
Cats do not deal well with change.
Even subtle changes in a cat's environment can lead to stress;
substantial changes, such as moving, introduction of a new baby,
spouse, or other animal to the household, can have devastating
New Family Members, Human or
Animal: Cats may react
in a number of ways to new family members, including aggression,
withdrawal, or sudden litter box avoidance, to name a few. By
understanding this and planning ahead, the concerned caregiver
can help her cat avoid the stress of a sudden introduction,
while letting the cat know that he is still "number one" in the
family tree. Introducing a new spouse or human roommate calls
for understanding and patience. The newcomer needs to allow the
cat to come around at his own pace, and to avoid trying to rush
Moving to a New Residence:
Moving calls for care in seeing that your cat's life is
disrupted as little as possible. During a local move, it helps
to keep him closed off in a separate room with his favorite "blankie,"
toys, litter box, food and bed, while the rest of the house is
moved. Last, bring kitty and all his belongings to the new house
or apartment, where you will put him in his own "safe room"
while you unpack and rearrange the rest of the household. Having
his own things around him will help him understand that he is
home. A long distance move is better handled with help. Have one
person go ahead to the new residence and set up kitty's safe
room. The other will accompany the cat in a carrier with his
favorite toy or "blankie," whether by plane, train, or
A New Job:
A new job or other change in daily routine should also be
handled by planning ahead. A week before starting work, start
leaving for the day, for gradually increasing periods of time.
Before leaving, hold you cat and tell her, "I'm going to be away
for awhile, but I promise to come back to you. I love you and
I'll miss you, but we'll have fun together when I return." Upon
your return, make a big deal over your cat. Tell her how much
you missed her and how good it is to be back home. Carry her
around, pet her, and ask her how her day was. By the time your
job starts, your kitty will be quite accustomed to your absence
during the day, and the two of you will look forward to new
bonding experience each night upon your return.
The View Through the Window:
A discussion of external stressors would not be complete without
mentioning re-directed aggression, a sudden and often
inexplicable phenomenon which is more common than realized,
Re-directed aggression often happens when a household cat is
sitting on his favorite perch, gazing out the window. Suddenly
he sees a strange cat stroll through his yard. Frustrated
because he can't get outside to defend his territory, the cat
will suddenly attack the closest being, whether it is another
resident cat or a hapless human. Dealing with this form of
aggression calls for creative thinking, which includes keeping
your cat away from that window or somehow barring his view,
while taking steps to discourage the strange cat from further
exploration in your yard.