Despite common beliefs, pets experience stress. Sometimes the stressors that send our furry friends into a state of high anxiety are easy to understand and notice, such as moving to a new home or adjusting to a new family member in the house. However, sometimes the stressors that plague an animal for long periods of time are not so noticeable to the human eye. When dealing with cats and stress, most humans accidentally overlook some of the more overloading stressors in their kitty’s life, assuming that these things are either not stressful or that the cat’s behavior is just a personality quirk. The list of high end kitty stress includes too much time alone, separation anxiety, and boredom. Yes, boredom can lead to stress in cats. Just like other creatures, the cat’s mind needs a certain amount of stimulation daily. Without stimulation, a cat’s mind becomes overloaded with anxiousness, which in turn appears to come out in behavioral oddities such as self mutilation via excessive scratching and chewing.
If you are concerned about your cats and stress, the first step in combating a relatively easy to modify problem is to determine whether or not your kitties are showing signs of stress. Do they cry incessantly during certain times of the day? Are they forever grooming themselves, to the point where they leave raw or bare spots on their skin? Are they prone to excessive sleeping habits or are they quick to fight with each other or other animals in the home? Are you simply noticing changes in their behavior that are generally displeasing but have no committed cause? Cats who are experiencing stress often exhibit signs that range from mild to severe. Something as simple as an increased need for constant attention or sudden and out of character aloofness can mean that your cat is a little stressed out.
Combating stress isn’t all that difficult, yet it is quite a bit easier if you can determine the cause of his angst. Quite often, if you simply look at things from his view, you can find some hiccup in an otherwise routine day that might hold the key. Have you changed your schedule? Have you started a new hobby or are you spending more time with someone outside the home? Are you particularly stressed out about something? There have been many cases that a human has been able to “transfer” their own stress onto the animals they live with. The process of bonding allows for emotional connections that can be very deep. When a human in the household is going through a particularly difficult period, cats may respond by becoming stressed out as well.
Kitty stress can end up becoming very serious. If you believe your cat is scrambling for some relief, but you don’t know where to begin, start by spending a few extra minutes of quiet time with your cat. Sometimes this is all that it takes. Whether the two of you curl up on the couch for a little television viewing or you simply instate a fifteen minute “all about the cat period” before work, chances are a little calm reassurance from you that everything is okay can be enough to combat stressful events. Some active kitties might need something a little more physical to help combat their stress.
If your cat isn’t responding well to some quiet time with you, then try the opposite approach. Some cats are more active by nature and just like athletic humans combat stress by playing hard, some cats will find this method to be much more productive than some cuddle time. After all, there is nothing like a few minutes of frantic cat toy chasing to help shun a case of the blues. Varying the toys to keep things interesting can be a positive experience, although if your kitty has a particular favorite, you might want to save that one for days when he needs a little more encouragement to play. In most cases, if you keep your playtime relatively consistent, and your cat learns to expect a little rough—housing around the same time everyday, it won’t be long before he is standing at your feet starting the round of games for you. This is an excellent determining factor for indicating that play time is helping to relieve his stress.
For his time alone, especially if he doesn’t have other animals around to help keep him company, try a few brain teaser toys to keep him occupied in your absence. There is a long line of treat toys that challenge the cat to solve a kitty puzzle in order to get the treat. The first time you use one of these, do so under your supervision. While encouraging him to use his brain is a positive step, frustrating him beyond reason will amount to just another stressor in his life. If you are at work for nine hours a day, and he has to spend those nine hours relentlessly and futilely trying to dislodge a treat from an impossible toy, he really isn’t getting much but frustration out from the experience. However, don’t be too quick to jump in. On average, it can take as long as thirty minutes for cats to figure out a brain teaser toy.
One half of dealing effectively with cats and stress is simply validating that they feel off sometimes. Noticing your cat, and understanding his behavior to the best of your ability, will automatically tune you into him when he is unsettled, and in most cases your instincts regarding his reasons and his needs will probably be accurate. It doesn’t seem like cats should have any stress, with their lounge about life and their “barely notice the human” attitude.
We take in animals and we call them our companions. Thus, we become responsible for their entire wellbeing. When we neglect to notice their needs or address them in our best capacity, we are not living up to the unspoken obligation that comes along with taking a cat into our home. Cats and stress is not a topic that most shelters or breeders cover when you are determining which kitty is right for you, but it can be a very real experience for them. As his human, you are responsible for providing him with the very best that you can beyond the basics of food, water, and shelter.