Stress, anxiety, and frustration are all feelings that affect our kitties, just like they impact us. This can result in not only an unhappy cat, but in some circumstances, anxiety can even worsen or cause medical issues. None of us wants to see our precious fur babies down, so it's important to be able to spot the signs early and know what to do to get them tickety boo again. We'll start off by looking at the behavioural and physical signs of anxiety, and some of the common events that can trigger stress in cats. Then we'll delve into 5 of our easy cat calming tips that you can use whenever your kitty needs some TLC.
How to spot if your cat is stressed
Whilst every cats reaction to stress will vary, there are some common signs you can look out for to tell if your cat is stressed. If you're particularly attuned to your cat, you may even be able to tell just from looking at their facial expressions. Dilated eyes, ears turned back, and staring intently would all be signs to look out for.
For the others, we've split them into physical and behavioural symptoms below.
Physical signs of stress:
- Loss of appetite or excessive eating
- Sudden weight gain or loss
- Less frequent toilet trips or difficulty urinating
- Excessive coat shedding or bald patches
- Excessive grooming or scratching
Behavioural signs of stress:
- Isolating themselves
- Becoming aggressive towards you or other animals
- Urinating outside of the litter tray or in unusual places
- Becoming "talkier" (you know what we mean)
- Lack of response to their surroundings
- Loss of interest in their favourite food, toys or games
- Refusal to go outside
- Pacing around
- Acting lethargically, or sleeping more
If your cat suffers from an illness, anxiety can also exacerbate symptoms or in some cases even be the cause of the medical issue itself. The most common ones are urinary tract disease and respiratory infections, which can be identified by symptoms like difficulty urinating or sneezing a lot. If your cat frequently suffers from these issues pop over to your vet, who'll be able to help work out if they're being caused by anxiety, or something else.
Reasons why stress may occur
Of course, there's a whole range of things that can trigger anxiety in cats. Determining the cause or causes are essential for you to be able to help your kitty and pull together a treatment plan. Here are some of the common ones:
- Moving home, redecorating or changing furniture
- Changing their litter, food, or even simply moving their food bowl
- Introducing a new member to the household, whether that's a baby, friend, grandparent or another pet
- Suffering from an illness or are in pain, like dental disease
- Loud noises like Fireworks
- Travelling the car, particularly to the vets
- For outdoor cats a particularly aggressive or dominant neighbouring cat
- Boredom (Is this not the most bored kitty you've ever seen below..)
Cats also have a particularly sensitive sense of smell, so a pungent candle, room diffuser or spray can cause stress, especially if they're changed frequently. Sorry candle lovers!
5 cat calming tips
For most cases of anxiety, there won't be one quick fix that will cure it. You'll need to adopt an approach that includes changes to both their environment and behaviours, and you'll need to stick to them for quite some time to see results. Of course, prevention is always better than cure, so properly socialising your cat as a kitten is a great way to prevent anxiety later on in life. This involves introducing them to strangers, going on car trips, meeting other cats, and hearing loud noises. However if anxiety does develop later on or if you've rescued, here are 5 of our top tips that we'd recommend using together as part of a schedule for best results.
1. Create a safe place
Ever build a fort and hide in it as a child? No... us neither. Just as this helped give you comfort, it will also do the same for your cat. Designate a room or section of your home that contains all the things your kitty needs to feel secure and comfortable. Think furry beds, blankets, their favourite mousey toy or cardboard box. Make sure that everyone in your home knows this is your cat's area, and to try and not disturb it.
Cats often find comfort in closed off or dark spaces, so have a browse for a cat house or pod like the one below. Some also feel safer if they're high up, as they can easily keep an eye on all their surroundings. You can make one by putting a cushion or bed on top of your wardrobe, or a high piece of furniture. Just make sure it's easily accessibly by placing smaller pieces of furniture close by.
2. Try Cat Calming Music
Researchers have found that music is a great tool to use for calming our kitty's nerves. Of course, not all music is appropriate. For example, your kitty is hardly going to be lulled down by a hardcore bit of drum and bass, are they? So instead think classical, or there are even some tunes specifically made for cats. These contain cat noises (purring) or have a similar frequency to your cat's vocal range, which is two octaves higher than ours if you wanted to know.
If you're a Spotify user check out this Calming Music for Cats playlist, or for anyone else there are plenty available on Youtube, like the one below. They're pretty catchy beats, so we're quietly confident cat calming music will be your new fav genre very soon.
3. Use Cat Calming Products
You might have seen products like sprays or diffusers that boast a calming effect. These typically work by releasing pheromones, which are natural chemicals your kitty releases in response to stimuli. By releasing a mimic of the happy pheromones, your kitty will understand it like a message, reassuring them that everything's okay in their surroundings. Different pheromones can be used to help with different issues, so make sure to look for one specifically designed for calming. These are also available in collar or wipes form.
If not pheromones, a herb called valerian is also often used. This mimics catnip, with one pretty major difference, that after the initial excitement, your kitty will be super calm and might even fall asleep. Humans can use this too, so if you're suffering from a lack of sleep you might like to check it out for yourself!
4. Introduce Enrichment Activities
There's a common misconception that cat's simply like to sleep all day when in reality they need lots of physical and mental stimulation. Enrichment games are a great way to do this, that also keep your kitty entertained, therefore reducing anxiety. Our favourite games to play with our rescue kitty Boo include the cup game, where we hide treats under cups that she has to find and playing with her favourite micey. We take it and hide it around the house in different spots, wait for her to find it, and then repeat the process several times.
5. Desensitisation Training
If you know the culprit for your cat's concern, desensitisation training can be used. Essentially this involves repeatedly exposing your cat to their fear, in a controlled manner, gradually building up the intensity. For example, if you know it's fireworks that do the damage, you can play fireworks noises. Start off at the quietest volume, working your way up to the loudest setting gradually over time. Keep an eager eye on their body signs to make sure it's not causing them any stress which could relapse them. By the end of the training, your cat should have gotten used to the stimuli, so when it happens for real it's far less scary.
So to summarise
At some point in their lives, all kitties will suffer from anxiety in one form or another. However continual periods of stress may debilitate your cat, cause medical issues, and ultimately reduce their quality of life. As well as of course causing you lots of worry too! Luckily there are lots of signs you can look out for to catch things early and help you formulate a plan to reduce their anxiety. There won't be any one quick fix to cure it, but by using a range of behavioural and environmental techniques, as well as prevention methods, you'll be able to help them overcome their concerns and enjoy a happier life.
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