by Barbara George – Tellington Ttouch Behaviourist
Triggers are events, smells, sounds, or sights that cause anxiety or stress. When too many triggers are present at one time the total amount of stress may be too much for the cat to deal with. His leads to coping behaviour; running away, hiding, over- or under-grooming, over- or under-eating or aggression.
The easies way to explain trigger stacking is by example. We’ll look at two cats, Fluffy, a gentle older lady, friendly but rather timid, and Tom, a confident adult male with outdoor access. This is a hypothetical example; each cat will have their own rating system.
Here is a table of possible triggers for these cats. In real life there is a much longer list!
|Breakfast is late||10||0|
|Too cold to go outside||0||15|
|Strange cat in Garden||20||15|
|Visitor with young child||25||10|
|Dirty Litter tray||15||5|
We can see from this that the same event or trigger has a different impact on the cats; When the weather is cold, Fluffy is quite happy to stay indoors, while Tom feels stressed. Tom can go outside when the vacuum cleaner is on, but Fluffy finds that very stressful.
Each cat will have a point at which they start stressing, and another point beyond which they cannot deal with the level of stress. In our example, Fluffy will stress when she reaches 30 points and when she reaches 75 points, she is too stressed to cope. Tom, on the other hand, will only stress when he reaches 60 points, and his maximum is 90 points.
On a morning when the litter tray is dirty and breakfast is late, Tom is only at 5 points and would need almost all the triggers to be set before he stressed, especially if he can get into the garden.
On the same morning, Fluffy is already at 25 points, so any additional trigger (except the cold weather), will make her stress. If the vacuum cleaner is switched on, she is up to 45 points, over her stress level. However, if the litter tray is cleaned, that will drop her back to 30 points, and a nice warm breakfast will ease the stress level down to 20, a level where she can cope.
This simple example shows that sometimes sorting out the small issues can help cats (as well as people and dogs) deal more easily with the larger issues. It is not always possible to change or reduce the larger triggers, so let’s remove the small ones and reduce the incidence of stress.
To contact Barbara, please email firstname.lastname@example.org