How can you tell if your cat is stressed? This page provides some answers. It can be a tricky problem because cats tend to hide their emotions. They are essentially solitary creatures and have not developed a form of communication that indicates stress (although the domestic cat has adapted to communal living). Also it is sensible for a cat to not show stress from the standpoint of survival.
Stress can compromise the cat’s immune system which might lead to more frequent illness. Picking up bugs is easier. A classic illness that is said to be caused by stress is cystitis (bacterial infection in bladder). The signs are small, bloody drops of urine dotted around the home. The cat has a strong, uncontrollable urge to have a pee.
Something as simple as being left in an apartment all day while the person goes to work can cause enough stress to result in cystitis. Although the reason why a cat is stressed probably won’t be obvious. Assume changes in the environment will or might cause stress. Even changing the carpet can!
Another classic illness or medical condition that can be caused by stress is overgrooming or psychogenic alopecia as a result of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). If your cat is overgrooming ask whether he is stressed. Then I guess you have to ask why he is stressed. That can be another tricky one too. Another version of overgrooming is overeating causing obesity. Is the high level of obesity in cats in the USA partly caused by the high level of indoor cats in the USA? No idea. Just asking. Eating and grooming makes a cat feel better which counteracts the feeling of being stressed. They are coping mechanisms.
Other signs of a stressed cat are:
Hiding – A cat hides for protection and to feel safe. A person should leave places in the home where a cat can hide as it will obviously reduce the stress. The sort of classic stressful environment for a cat is living in someone’s garage or basement without any cat furniture. I have read about this sort of thing on several occasions on the internet. Even wild cats can be kept in basements. You don’t have to look for signs of stress or ask the question; your cat is bound to be stressed under these horrible conditions. A home should be cat friendly as well as suitable for the person who lives there.
Static but Alert – Cats that are static for long periods but not really resting or asleep may be stressed. I think this is a cat being in defensive mode and ready to take action but fearful to explore and move around normally.
Retreat to High Positions – Cats remaining in high perches may be stressed. These sorts of places are good defensive positions against other animals that might harm a cat. This sort of sign of cat stress indicates to me that the stress is caused by another cat, possibly in the household. Or even a person living in the same place.
This would be a multi-cat household where the owner has introduced cats which don’t get along with existing cats. However this is not always a sign of a stressed cat as cats just like it. Perhaps it is a question of how much they do it? Bengal cats do it for fun (see SunDog).
Unprovoked aggression – a stressed cat – stressed because of another cat – might show aggression towards the cat’s owner. A sort of transferred or redirected aggression. Humans do this sort of thing too.
Urine Spraying or Increased Scratching – this is a way a cat reinforces the feel good factor in his own environment. It is scent marking and also tells other cats of his presence. It is reassuring for a cat. Cat scratching posts will help as well as isolating the cause of the stress and removing it.
Resting or Sleeping is his litter tray – cats will go to areas where they feel safer and more comfortable. Places that smell of themselves are those places. Litter trays smell very strongly of themselves. This is stress caused by the presence of another cat usually. I know about this one because I have seen show cats in their cages in show halls curled up in their little litter trays (see picture above – the cat is a British Shorthair silver tabby in the UK) and/or under a blanket put there by the breeder to hide under.
Things to do to reduce stress:
- Be around
- Be nice to your cat – play etc. Relate to your cat.
- Make sure the home is cat friendly – hiding places, scratching posts
- Don’t introduce new cats willy-nilly into the house
- Don’t introduce people into the house without checking with your cat first!
- Check for things happening outside that might cause stress – noise and other cats
- Are there enough food bowls and litter trays in multicat households?
- Use the synthetic feline facial pheromone (Feliway) to help make a cat feel more secure. The cat produces this scent from glands in his cheeks.
There are other things but the underlying objective is to create an environment that is suitable in every way for a domestic cat.