Anxiety triggers – 10 reasons why cats get stressed
Below is a small selection of the possible anxiety triggers for the average cat. It’s quite important that these should be identified, minimised or avoided as far as possible.
- Conflict – cats like their own personal space, so any territorial or sexual dispute will result in stress. All too often their owners find this difficult to detect, and all the visual clues can be missed. Multi-cat households for example, are notorious places for creating feline conflict. Many cats just want to be on their own, and struggle if they can’t find space.
- Lack of enrichment – cats love being able to go outside and explore, so those that are kept inside because they live near a busy road or in an apartment, are at risk from stress. They’ll have little to occupy their curious minds, and eventually become anxious and stressed.
- Abnormal weather events – sudden snowstorms or heavy prolonged rain will make most cats want to stay inside. The trouble, is they then feel trapped and soon become uneasy and stressed.
- Car journeys – it’s rare to come across a cat who feels comfortable travelling in the car. A visit to the cattery or vets could easily trigger a stress event.
- Moving to a new home – it’s estimated that at any moment in time, 10% of people are moving to a new house. Cats like to be comfortable with their own surroundings, but a new home will be always be unfamiliar and stressful for weeks.
- Building works – decorating and renovations taking place with unfamiliar people around the home can soon make a cat very anxious. The works can result in all sorts of upheaval, with mess, dust, noise and unusual smells invading their space.
- Cat flap closed – if a cat that’s used to going outside regularly is suddenly confined by virtue of the flap being locked or blocked, they won’t necessarily understand and will soon become anxious.
- Animal friends – an unexpected new feline or canine companion in the home will invariably lead to a cat feeling threatened and stressed. Just because we understand why the new puppy or kitten has arrived doesn’t help the older cat. Have a look at this Simons Cat video >
- Litter tray troubles – cats can be very particular about where they defecate and urinate. Litter trays need to be placed in quiet locations where they won’t be disturbed, so keep them away from noisy and busy areas such as doorways. Ideally there should be at least one more litter tray than there are cats. They also need to be kept clean. The choice of litter is very important, so all owners need to find which their own pet prefers.
- Changes in diet – some cats like one brand of food, whilst others prefer a selection. Sudden changes to the type of food being offered can easily upset some individuals, making them hungry, anxious and at risk from idiopathic cystitis.
Reduce stress – 10 ways to help a cat with idiopathic cystitis
Once you’ve identified the stress to be behavioural and have ruled out physical conditions such as pain and infection, you then need to find some practical ways to help. Some of the more common suggestions you can offer to your feline patients include;
- Keep it quiet – cats are happiest in peaceful environments. Excessive noise will create anxiety, so allow them to have a place to escape where they can find some solitude.
- Provide cover – empty cardboard boxes with small openings work well as hides, whilst high perches allow them to look down on the room with a feeling of control and security. Both of these will immediately reduce stress.
- Food and water bowls – use low-sided bowls so they can drink and feed without their whiskers touching the sides. Ceramic bowls are preferred above plastic and metal, as they won’t alter the taste of the food and water. Always keep the bowls well away from litter trays.
- Avoid chlorine – rainwater is often preferred, but if you do use tap water, allow it to stand for a few hours so the chlorine levels drop.
- Multiple litter trays – always have more litter trays than there are cats, and place them in different parts of the house.
- Avoid overcrowding – idiopathic cystitis is more of a problem in multi-cat households, so encourage cat owners to keep the numbers down. With a really stressed cat suffering from recurring episodes, it may be worth rehoming the individual to a single cat household.
- Play time – get the owner to set aside some time each day to allow the cat to play, especially if they are restricted to living inside. There are many toys available these days, and cardboard and paper are also great fun.
- Scratching posts – cats love to scratch as it helps them remove old material from their claws, and they mark territory with scent glands in their paws. Encourage their owners to supply their pet one or more around the home, otherwise furniture will be used instead.
- Pheromones – the synthetic facial pheromone Feliway is very beneficial when used selectively around the home.
- Cat flap safety – one of the areas in the home which can make a cat feel insecure and anxious is the cat flap. If unwelcome intruders (dominant neighbouring cats!) are using the flap, the cat will feel vulnerable and stressed. It’s probably worth moving feeding bowls and litter trays away from the flap as it will be perceived as a danger area. Locks and microchip activated flaps are also worth installing.