Twisted Whiskers: Is Your Cat Stressed?

Cats are extremely sensitive to stress, a negative emotional state that can lead to serious health conditions. Unfortunately, cats are also expert at concealing their feelings, so their owners often have difficulty recognizing their cat’s struggle, and fail to seek appropriate veterinary care.

Is your cat’s emotional life a mystery? Learn how to recognize and interpret your cat’s behavior with this feline stress guide from Animal Hospital of Parkland—a Cara Family Vet.

More than a mood—the impact of stress on your cat’s health

Acute (i.e., sudden, temporary) stress is a normal mental and emotional response to challenges or threats in the environment, while chronic (i.e., prolonged, unresolved) stress is an ongoing state that causes harmful changes throughout your cat’s body. These changes can include:

  • Increased cortisol levels — Cortisol is a helpful hormone in small quantities, but can harm organ function and lead to various metabolic and immune-related disorders if levels are persistently high.
  • Increased cardiovascular demand — Stressed cats are in a heightened, tense, fight-or-flight state of awareness, caused by adrenaline and cortisol, which can lead to high blood pressure and heart muscle and blood vessel damage.
  • Poor urinary tract health — Stress and anxiety negatively influence urinary health and can contribute to feline idiopathic cystitis (FIC) and life-threatening urethral blockages.  
  • Altered gastrointestinal motility — Increased cortisol can slow your cat’s digestion and cause vomiting, diarrhea, and nausea.
  • Behavior problems — Stress and anxiety can make cats irritable, aggressive, and destructive.

Read my body language—stress signs in cats

Your cat won’t tell you how they’re feeling, but they will show you through their behavior and physical signs. 

Because stress signs can be mistaken for bad behavior, always assume your cat has a medical issue and seek veterinary attention before pursuing corrective training. Punishment or harsh corrections will intensify your cat’s anxiety, especially if pain or illness is triggering their stress. If our veterinarian confirms a behavior cause, they may refer you to a veterinary behavior specialist.

The most common feline stress signs include:

  • Hiding and isolation Anxious cats may hide or self-isolate out of fear, uncertainty, or self-protection from a perceived threat. In an older cat, this behavior may be considered as increased sleeping or decreased activity, and be mistaken as an age-related change. These cats show no interest in normal household routines, previously enjoyable activities or toys, or attention from their owners or fellow pets.
  • Inappropriate elimination (i.e., house soiling) — Stress can cause previously well-trained cats to urinate or defecate outside the litter box, because they’ve developed an aversion to their litter box (e.g., bullying, painful urination, dirty box) or to express emotional conflict or claim territory (i.e., urine spraying or marking on objects, clothing, or furniture).
  • Personality changes — Stress can trigger erratic and uncharacteristic behavior ranging from quiet and antisocial, to needy and anxious, or irritable and aggressive. Unusual temperament or personality changes can make your cat act unpredictably and put you or someone you know at risk for injury. If your cat’s behavior has changed, they need an examination by your veterinarian
  • Increased or decreased grooming — Healthy cats spend 30% to 50% of their day grooming, but stressed cats may groom excessively or stop grooming altogether. Because grooming can be self-soothing, many cats will overgroom to calm or comfort themselves, and cause bald areas, sores, and secondary skin irritation. 

Other cats may internalize stress by neglecting their usual grooming routines, resulting in an unkempt or matted appearance. Undergrooming commonly indicates pain in cats, so if your cat looks a bit bedraggled, schedule an appointment at the Animal Hospital of Parkland.

  • Unusual appetite — Like people, each cat experiences and expresses their stress differently. Some anxious cats will lose interest in eating or be finicky, while others will overeat and gain weight

If your cat is showing one or more of these signs, they may be struggling with stress. But, before you can determine what’s bothering your cat, your veterinarian must rule out health causes, such as pain or illness. Contact the Animal Hospital of Parkland to schedule an appointment

Common causes for cat stress

Cats are creatures of habit who prefer consistency and routine. Anything that disrupts their normal daily rhythm—externally or internally—can be stressful. The most common triggers include:

  • Pain Arthritis, dental pain, inflammatory bowel disease
  • Resource access — Insufficient or inaccessible resources (e.g., litter boxes, food and water dishes, scratching posts)
  • Relocation — Moving or rehoming
  • Illness — Hyperthyroidism, cancer, kidney disease 
  • Bullying — Dominant or competitive cats or dogs
  • Household shifts New or absent family members or pets
  • Routine changes — Changes in feeding schedule, litter box maintenance, or social opportunities

One cool cat: Reducing feline stress

Your cat doesn’t have to live with stress, anxiety, or fear. Proper diagnosis and treatment at the Animal Hospital of Parkland can determine your cat’s stress cause or triggers and provide calming relief for physical or behavioral conditions. For more information, or to schedule your cat’s appointment, contact our caring team.

By |2024-02-14T23:50:33+00:00June 1st, 2023|Uncategorized|0 Comments

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