Every living thing, from the smallest amoeba to the biggest whale, reacts to its environment in some way. Cats are no exception, and just like humans there are things that cats generally dislike and which cause them stress.
First, what is stress? One simple definition is that stress is a reaction to events or changes which negatively impact your cat’s happiness. These can include things like moving, the addition or loss of a pet, a traumatic event, or even loud noises.
Cats show their stress in a number of ways. A stressed out cat may stop eating, hide, become aggressive, act nervous, destroy items, urinate inappropriately, and generally seem uncomfortable. Indoor cats depend on us to provide them with an environment that is safe and comfortable so when they send the signal that they’re unhappy, we owe it to them to pay attention.
What are some things cats dislike? Generally speaking, cats dislike change. That doesn’t mean they won’t or can’t deal with it, but at least your knowledge and understanding of the stress can help you help your cat. Here are some specific things that stress cats:
- Moving from one home or apartment to another can be stressful. You can minimize the effect by isolating your cat to one room in the new location with many familiar objects to minimize the sense of change. Unpack your cat’s beds, toys, bowls, and food and place them in the room with familiar objects while you unpack the house. Allow your cat to acclimate to one area before allowing them to roam the entire home. Spend extra time with them alone as well to reinforce the idea of your presence being stable. Go here for some great tips on things you can do before and during the move to make it easier.
- Boarding or kenneling is VERY upsetting for many cats. They go from a familiar environment that’s safe and secure to one full of odors and sounds that are strange and maybe even scary. No wonder they get stressed! A pet sitter at home is a much better option for cats. Encourage your cat sitter to provide a stable consistent environment for your cat by playing with their favorite toys, offering their favorite treats, and even leaving a few items of your clothing behind so your cat can comfort themselves with your scent while you’re away.
- Introducing a new cat into the home is the source of much kitty anguish. Cats don’t know if they need to protect their territory and so can become very scared upon the introduction of a new family member. Occasionally a cat will see the new pet as a friend but often, instinct kicks in and they are seen as an intruder. Ensuring that your home is full of environmental enrichment can encourage your cat to feel safe. You should also be sure to utilize the right way to introduce a new cat.
- The addition of a new dog can be an even bigger deal than a new feline family member. It’s very important not to rush the initial introductions, especially if your cat has never met a dog before. Take a look at our tips for dog-to-cat introductions.
- Along the same lines, people moving in can be stressors to cats. During this busy time, provide your cat with as much consistency as possible by spending extra time with them and retaining as many familiar things as possible. If there is a new adult in the household, encourage them to feed, give treats to, and play with your cat. Don’t force your cat on the other person or vice versa; instead, give your cat space and let them decide when they are comfortable.
- The introduction of a new infant is one of the top reasons that people surrender their cats to shelters. The sounds, smells, new people visiting, and general disruption of routine life can stress cats out to the point that they begin acting out and even becoming sick or destructive. Help your cat prepare for the change before you bring your baby home with this article.
- Conversely, the loss of a household member through factors such as divorce or death can have a profound effect on cats. (This goes for animal companions as well.) As with other changes, make sure your cat has a safe refuge and try to keep their routines as consistent as possible. Placing clothing or a blanket with your scent can help calm some cats, as can some extra play and petting time.
- Switching a cat’s food is one small change that can have surprising consequences. You can’t simply swap out their kibble for a new brand and assume everything is ok. Place down the new food in addition to their old food for a few days and see what happens. Gradually mix the new food into their old food for the next few days and closely monitor your cat for signs of stomach upset or loss of appetite.
- The sounds, activity, and smells from parties and gatherings can be very difficult for some cats. If your cat prefers some alone time during these events (and most do to some degree), it’s crucial to give them access to their safe zone. This is a room in the house where they have a perch, bed, window, food, water, and litter box and won’t be bothered. This protected space allows them to feel safe while you are entertaining.
- Remodeling can spell panic for many reasons: new people, loud noises, power tools, and disruption everywhere can be a cat’s worst nightmare. This is a great time to allow your cat time in the safe zone as described above.
- You might enjoy the change that redecorating brings, but your cat almost certainly doesn’t. Allow your cat to explore the new area at her or her own place and offer access to their safe area at all times.
- The sounds and smells of vet clinics make them a sure bet when it comes to stressing out kitties. Every day dozens of animals come through the doors, and a cat’s sensitive nose can pick up traces of every one. The sounds of other screeching cats and barking dogs can add to this stress even more as your cat prepares to defend themselves against the new threads. Add to this the fact that strange people are touching and talking to them and it’s no wonder cats hate the vet! One thing you can do to alleviate these feelings is to help your cat get used to her crate before she goes to the vet. Leave the carrier open and even offer treats or catnip in the carrier so it becomes a “good spot” that your cat enjoys. Some vets advocate taking your cat for a ride around the block a few times so they are accustomed to car rides. During the trip, keep all sounds to a minimum: talk softly to your cat, avoid loud radio stations, and drive slowly. Be sure to give your cat time in his or her safe zone upon your return.
- Other cats returning from the vet can cause problems too if you have multiple cats and one cat returns from the vet clinic after routine shots or an illness. Other cats in the house can be stressed over the “hospital” smells that the first cat brings home. These negative reactions lead many cats to hiss at or even attack a returning cat. You can gently wipe off your returning cat with a damp cloth to help minimize some of these vet-related odors and keep them separated from the rest of the household for a brief period of time.
- Prolonged hospital stays are even more upsetting. On top of the other anxiety-inducing parts of a vet visit, now your kitty is ill and homesick. Alleviate this by visiting your cat per clinic policy. If they aren’t eating at the clinic, ask if you can bring some of his or her favorite food and treats. When you return home, allow your cat to his or her safe zone and give any other kitties in the family time to readjust to their housemate.
One last note: sometimes behavioral modification doesn’t entirely solve the issue of stress for cats. In this case I recommend speaking to your vet about a pheromone or medication treatment to help. One popular method is the use of Feliway, a synthetic cat-safe compound that mimics the natural feline pheromones and the olfactory signal used by cats to soothe kittens. Feliway has been reported to increase appetite and food consumption in hospitalized cats as well as minimize cat stress in general and promote a feeling of well-being. Feliway can be used to spray in carriers before vet visits, in remodeled areas, in places where new pets or people are introduced, and any location where stress can occur.
I hope this article has helped you understand what causes stress in cats and how to resolve it.