by Barbara George,Tellington Ttouch Behaviourist
Cats are good at hiding their feelings, however they do show subtle signs that they are stressed. Stress can be chronic, long-term, as in living with other pets, or acute, for example a loud unfamiliar noise. Chronic stress signals are often seen as unwanted behaviour, while acute stress signals are more immediate and subtler.
Subtle signals, which may be used initially, and are easily missed – before moving on to the more visible ones. Many of these signals are of a short duration only.
- Licking lips, swallowing.
- Wide pupils.
- Whiskers may first twitch to catch information, then laid back against the lips.
- Excess shedding of fur.
- Fast breathing, almost panting.
- Heavy, laboured, breathing.
- Skin along the back ripples, sometimes even without being touched.
- Tension in the body, rigid posture.
The most visible, and easily recognised, signals may include one or many of these.
- Swishing the tip of the tail.
- Puffing up the tail.
- Tucking the tail under the body, or between the legs.
- Ears back against the head.
- Slinking or running away, also backing away.
- Crouched down, legs bent ready to make a quick move, head held low.
- Keeping perfectly still, freezing.
- Fast movement of the head in the direction of the source.
- Shaking the head.
- Vocalising more than usual, meowing, growling, hissing
- A normally vocal cat keeping quiet
- Rapidly and concentrated grooming, faster than normal.
- Drooling, excess saliva
- Involuntary urination, emptying the bladder without moving away
- Biting when this is not a normal behaviour.
- Not eating, not even a favourite treat
The recommended action to take when a cat is in a state of acute stress is to, where possible, remove the stress trigger, create an escape route for the cat, and allow him to move away to a safe place where he can calm down. Do not interact with the cat at this time, as he may react with aggression in order to release the tension in his body and mind. This is referred to as Redirected Aggression, where the nearest target is treated as he would have liked to react to the stress trigger.
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