by Barbara George
Tellington Ttouch Behaviourist
Cats are good at hiding their feelings and condition, so when cats show signs of stress it is already fairly far advanced and needs immediate attention. Stress can lead to illness as well as behavioural changes.
Most cats live with a level of stress as we ask them to live in our environment which is not natural to them.
Indications that the stress levels may be higher than your cat can deal with include urinating outside the litter tray, excessive or lack of grooming, excessive or reduced vocalisation, change in eating habits, excessive or reduced sleeping, hiding, excessive aggression and lack of socialisation.
There is an equally long list of possible causes for stress. For many cats even the slightest change in the structure of the family or home is stressful. Children leaving home, elderly relatives moving in, visitors, redecorating or renovating or even moving the furniture around. Other possible causes are new pets – even next door, loss of a companion pet, loud noises, change of chemicals including perfumes and deodorant, change of food, change of litter, illness in the family or the cat, or moving home.
The first step should always be a thorough veterinary check-up to eliminate or control any medical issues that may be causing the stress. Then try to work out what has caused the stress, bearing in mind the sensitivity levels of cats’ hearing and smell, and that there may be more than one cause.
If it is possible to identify the cause of the stress try to remove or reduce the stress trigger. If this cannot be achieved, or not enough to reduce the stress signals, then remove the cat from the stressful situation to a place of safety.
Safety is essential for cats, so creating a safe place where the cat can rest without fear of disturbance will help her relax. Depending on her preferences, either find a high space or a low hidey-hole with a soft bed.
Large open spaces and multiple options can be overwhelming for many cats. These cats would benefit from being confined to one small area initially with gradual exposure to additional areas. A limited space is easier to learn and control; cats that are given too much freedom may find this stressful.
Movement is a good way of generating feel-good endorphins. A good play session each day where she gets to stretch, hunt, chase, catch and move is recommended. This need not be a long session, just as long as she is willing to play.
Keep to routines as much as possible. This creates a stable timetable and predictability, which helps cats to cope more easily.
Stimulation, something to do to take her mind off the stress, can be as simple as providing a tall scratch post with a view out of a window, or a selection of toys or puzzle feeders.
Sometimes extra measures are needed, either when she is very stressed or when the stress is of a temporary nature. Look for natural or homeopathic calming remedies or speak to your vet for more potent medication.