What is stress? Is it always bad?
Stress is just another word for anxiety and worry. Being worried that something might attack you is a necessary part of being able to avoid it. If you didn’t care at all about situations where your life is at risk, you probably wouldn’t last long enough to pass on your genes. We would call that acute stress, a necessary system within the body which provides hormones that prepare the individual to face a challenge, often referred to as the fight or flight response.
However, these systems are not well adapted to dealing with long term stress. This type of stress plays a significant role in the development of emotional and physical problems in cats.
These systems start developing before the kitten is even born. If the mother has a stressful pregnancy, the kittens are more likely to develop stress related problems later on, even if they are given perfect homes. Kittens who lack early socialisation and opportunities to experience the sights, smells and sounds of a typical home, are likely to find life with us humans generally more challenging.
What stresses cats out and what are the signs?
A significant cause of stress in cats relates to their interactions with their own species. Domestic cats are a solitary species. They are responsible for their own survival and spend their lives constantly risk assessing, looking for the presence of threat and danger in every new location or social encounter. Therefore, a multi-cat household or living in an area where there are lots of cats can be very stressful for many felines.
They can also suffer stress by not being allowed to “be cats”. As humans, we tend to perceive that safety and love are the most important things, however being confined indoors, being bored or having restricted access to hiding places or litter trays, can be extremely stressful for some cats.
Signs of chronic stress in cats include the following:
- Inappropriate urination or defecation
- Urine spraying
- Pica - eating strange/ non-edible substances
- Overeating/ under eating
- Development of certain ailments such as urinary disease or hair loss.
What can we do to avoid our cats getting stressed?
Cats are only a semi-domesticated species. Your cat’s ability to choose, based on their likes and dislikes, is compromised when you are in sole charge of the decisions. If you base those decisions on human considerations or what you think should be important to your cat, then you will probably be making your cat’s life less than perfect. Here is a list of the things to consider in order to make your cat’s life with you as stress-free as possible:
- If your cat has no access to the outdoors, they cannot behave naturally. You must provide adequate, alternative stimulation so they do not become bored and frustrated.
- Other cats. Think carefully about how many cats you have. By choice most cats would live as an “only” cat. If you have more than one cat always provide at least one each of food bowls, water bowls and litter trays.
- Minimalistic homes. Open plan homes and clean lines with no clutter may be the basis of modern home style. However, it couldn’t be further removed from a cat's chosen habitat, with their preference being available camouflage and places to hide.
- Cat flaps can be seen by cats as a vulnerable point in the defences of their territory where an intruder could gain access. Invest in a microchip enabled one to avoid the problem.
- Choose an appropriate number of feeding bowls and if you have more than one cat, don’t make them all eat in a line. Cats generally prefer ceramic or glass dishes which are shallow.
- Do not put the water bowls near the food. In nature cats would seek food and water on different excursions. Always fill bowls to the brim. Water fountains are great for cats too.
- Provide high resting places with up and down access to provide haven. Also provide other hiding places, under beds, in cupboards so the choice of privacy is theirs.
- Provide different types of beds in various locations, some cool, some warm such as radiator hammocks. Do not wash often as the familiar scent is important.
- Litter trays should be provided in private areas or discreet corners which are not thoroughfares. Clean them out daily and wash at least once a week.
- Scratching posts which are long enough for them to scratch at a stretch should be provided, in various locations.
- Social contact with humans is welcomed by most cats but let your cat be the instigator. Do not irritate your cat!
Do fireworks cause stress in cats?
Anything that is out of the ordinary will be viewed with suspicion by your cat. Loud noises such as fireworks going off, will be frightening. Most cats will find somewhere safe to hide during displays if they are nearby. The best advice if you own cats and there is a firework display happening close to your home, would be to keep your cat indoors during the party or the display. Allow them to find a nice quiet place to hide and sleep until the festivities are over. It is not usually necessary to give cats medication under normal circumstances.