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How to Help a Stressed Cat

Sep 12, 2022

By Sassafras Lowrey CPDT-KA

Just like people, cats experience symptoms of stress. Unfortunately, often a cat’s emotional welfare and overall stress levels aren’t taken as seriously as dogs who experience symptoms of stress and anxiety because cats are often (though not always) less outwardly destructive with their stress. We all know how awful it feels to be stressed so it’s important to pay attention to your cat’s behavior and watch for signs of stress. If your cat is experiencing stress you’ll want to attempt to decrease stressors in their environment and provide support to help your cat cope.

Signs of Stress in Cats

The first step to supporting a cat who is stressed is to be able to recognize what signs of feline stress are. Individual cats will express symptoms of stress differently. Some cats will channel their emotional discomfort inward by:

  • hiding
  • excessively licking themselves
  • being withdrawn

Other cats will express stress by:

  • becoming withdrawn and disconnecting from people they are close to
  • behavioral issues like going outside the litter box

Pay close attention to changes in your cat’s body language and behavior for any changes. Body language to watch for include squinting, avoiding behavior, pinned ears, hissing, and an overall stiff body.

What Are Stressful Situations?

Each cat will respond differently to stress and stressful situations, but there are some things to be aware of which are generally stressful to cats. Being able to anticipate situations that will be stressful for your cat can help you to be proactive with supporting your cat. Situations that are likely to stress cats out include any changes in their routine or environment. This might look like visitors coming into your home, and especially any changes in who is living in the home such as new roommates, as well as friends and family coming over. Cats can also be stressed by new animals coming into the house, or if there is conflict between your pets. Although many cats do live happily with other animals, cats can also be solitary and territorial and struggle with sharing space. Cats can also become stressed by their environment changing such as traveling or moving. Essentially anything that is a routine change like a shift in work schedules or a shift in a cat’s normal environment can be stressful for cats.

Establishing A Schedule

A primary way to help cats to be less stressed is to establish a consistent routine for your cat. Routines can help cats to feel more secure and comfortable, which in turn can reduce overall stress levels. The ideal routine for your cat will be determined by your lifestyle and schedule. It doesn’t matter so much exactly what time you do different things during the day for your cat, what matters more is that you develop routines that your cat can rely on. Cats thrive on consistency. Routines can help them to self-regulate their emotions and experience less stress. To reduce stress try to feed your cat in the same place, and around the same times each day. You can also make sure to set time aside daily to spend quality time with your cat. Making sure that you build time into your cat’s routine for enrichment, games, and activities.

Increasing Your Feline’s Enrichment 

In addition to making your cat’s environment more comfortable, it’s also beneficial to increase levels of enrichment your cat receives. Enrichment refers to the idea that we want to create an engaging environment for your cat where not only their basic needs of food, water, and a clean litterbox are being met, but also that your cat has an opportunity to get mental and physical exercise and stimulation.

Giving your cat access to safe and comfortable places to hide and retreat can help cats to relax and reduce stress. Providing your cat with cat trees or shelves so that your cat can explore naturally is both fun and comforting to cats. You may also want to introduce interactive cat toys for your cat to play with including treat dispensing toys and puzzles. To help provide more mental stimulation, you may also want to consider making your cat’s mealtime more engaging for your cat. Instead of feeding your cat their meals in a traditional bowl, you can try feeding in slow feeders and treat-releasing toys.

Over-the-Counter Support

If your cat is struggling with stress, or you know that some stressful occurrences are about to happen in your cat’s environment you may also want to consider adding in some over-the-counter supports. It’s best to first consult with your cat’s veterinarian to make sure there aren’t any underlying health conditions going on that could be contributing to the anxiety symptoms such as a urinary infection, which can result in a cat urinating outside the litter box etc. Assuming your cat doesn’t have any underlying medical conditions, your vet may recommend trying some over-the-counter stress/anxiety support. Over-the-counter stress support for cats includes CBD supplements, as well as plug-in or spray cat pheromones. Over-the-counter supports can help reduce your cat’s stress levels, promote relaxation, and in general help your cat to be more comfortable.

Getting Professional Help

If you know that you’re going into an especially stressful time and your cat is still struggling with stress, it’s important your cat may need extra support. If your attempts at decreasing your cat’s stress aren’t working, it’s a good idea to go back to your veterinarian for another consultation. Your cat’s veterinarian may want to do additional tests to ensure there aren’t other health issues going on. For cats who are still struggling with stress, or before highly stressful circumstances like airplane travel, our vet may also consider prescription anxiety medication for some temporary relief for your cat in addition to over-the-counter support.

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