Cats may become stressed by many things. Just what stresses cats out is not always obvious, and stress may manifest in many forms. Commonly seen signs of feline stress may include any of the following:
- aggression towards people or other pets
- urine marking (spraying) or going outside the box
- not eating
- even hair loss, a condition called psychogenic alopecia
Some of the more "nervous" personality cats are easily stressed by many things—a new baby, loss of another pet, visitors, loud noises, other cats, and so on. What is surprising to many people is that even the more "laid back" cats can become stressed, even if outwardly still calm.
While some of the stress scenarios will be obvious, some will not, and you may never know why your cat is stressed. Even mundane things such as loud music or traffic can be annoying to cats—they hear much better than we do. The same goes for any odors that they may come in contact with that we may never smell.
During a major remodel years ago, we created a "cat room" that the cats could retreat to at any time they felt like it, and it was only accessible to them—no dogs and no kids. This was immensely helpful for stress reduction.
Take time to assess your cat's living situation and try to rule out any possible stressors. Here are some places to start:
- Give each cat a safe place to retreat to, away from other cats, people, and pets.
- Have at least one litterbox per cat, an extra one or two boxes above that is great.
- Offer food separately—either in different locations or with cats separated to ensure that everyone can eat in peace.
- Ensure that the cat(s) have a place to get away from the dogs or other pets.
- Offer climbing spaces where cats can hide or perch—cats often like to be up high where it is "safe"
- Offer a variety of toys for fun, exercise, and general distraction.
- For vacations and other extended absences, consider a live-in pet sitter or boarding facility so your cat(s) are not as lonely or stressed about your return.
- For a new baby or visiting guests in your home, try as much as possible to create a gradual introduction with a "safe place" for your cat to retreat to if overwhelmed.
It is often best to keep changes for your cat(s) to a minimum or at least with a gradual introduction when possible. Even small things, like keeping the brand of cat litter the same will help keep stress levels at a comfortable level.
Another option is the use of an environmental pheromone treatment, such as Feliway to create some "feel good" moods of your feline population and hopefully reduce overall stress. If all else fails, please schedule an appointment with your veterinarian to discuss the current medical treatments that are available for pet behavior problems.