7 Simple Stress Busting Tips For Your Cat
Stress can play a big role in your cats life. It reduces quality of life and can result in serious conditions such as cystitis. It can even start to affect the well being of you, their owner. The great news is that there are many easy steps we can take to reduce stress in cats and help them relax at home.
If you're wondering if your cat is stressed or what on earth they have to worry about then make sure you head over to my article all about the signs of stress in cats.
If you're reading this then you might be as your wits end and becoming just a stressed as your cat. If so then calm down, take a deep breath and get stuck into my 7 point plan to reduce stress in cats and get your cat back to their normal happy self.
Cats love a routine and just like us are creatures of habit. They get a great deal of reassurance from knowing when they will be fed, when they will be shut away at night and when they will get to sit on your lap for a stroke and play.
If their lifestyle is hectic then this causes anxiety. Modern life is busy and often unpredictable but trying to be as consistent as possible can really help your cat feel calm and safe. Try and feed them at the same time every day. If you are not going to be around then see if a neighbor, friend or other family member can feed them for you.
Also be consistent with the level of interaction you have with your cat and try and let them initiate this interaction. Don't force them to sit with you on the sofa or allow strangers to pick them up for a cuddle if it is not something that happens regularly as well as something they clearly enjoy. If they are wriggling and trying to get away then let them do their own thing.
How many cats?
Consider how many cats you have and consider those that are already part of the family before you agree to get another kitten. Multi-cat households are generally a source of stress no matter how well they seem to get on. The more cats the higher the stress levels. Cats are generally solitary animals and so while they often tolerate others and can form relationships we should not be fooled into thinking they are always getting on.
They might be sleeping on the same bed or sofa but are they as far from each other as possible and with their backs to each other? Are they "play fighting" but really one cat is growling or hissing, a cat's way of saying go away? They might instead sleep intertwined with each other or be frequently seen to be grooming their housemate in which case they really are likely to be friends.
We should always consider the impact of another animal being brought into the family. If your cat is stressed then an addition is likely to only make things worse.
This brings us nicely onto competition for resources. As well as causing stress just by being there, having more than one cat means that there will be a competition for resources. This mainly includes food, water and toilets but you should also think about beds, toys, hiding spots, scratching posts and anything else your cats use on a day-to-day basis.
As we've already discussed, cats are generally solitary in nature, never more so than when eating, drinking or toileting. They like to do these activities alone and preferably out of site of other cats. Or at least have this option. If space is tight then a covered feeding station or covered litter tray (amazon link) may make all the difference. This means that ideally there should be one more food bowl, water bowl and litter tray than there are cats.
As well as this number they should also be placed in different locations, ideally at least 6 feet apart and in a private spot. Even this is not necessarily ideal and to make things even better litter trays should also be kept completely separate from a cats food and water. No-one wants to go to the toilet next to their dinner!
Adding to this point is that different cats prefer different litter types. Some may dislike clay based ones sticking to their feet, others will stay away from anything scented. If you are finding that your cat isn't using their tray or seems to be holding on for a long time then consider switching the type of litter you use. You should also regularly clean their trays and once one cat has been to the toilet it is unlikely to be used again unless out of absolute necessity.
If you have 3 cats then you should have 4 food and water stations and 4 litter trays all placed well away from each other (and potentially containing different types of litter). Another reason to think before adding to your furry family.
As you will have guessed by now, cats live complex social lives. You may not see any other cats in your garden but your cat will definitely know who walks across your lawn and shares their wider environment with them. Cats communicate by scent and marking and will generally work out a system that allows them to partly share territory while at the same time avoiding having to come face to face. This reduces stress and the potential for conflict and fighting.
What this means is that if your cat does go outside then they should get to decide when and for how long. If you are forcing them to go outside then this may co-inside with the time the big male is in the area. Terrifying for your cat and a huge source of stress.
Environment, environment, environment
As well as being complex socially, cats like a lot more than a bed on the floor and a ball to play with! They love to climb and, spend time at different levels and also like a challenge to get to where they want to go. Now your cat may be able to go outside and climb trees, spend time on the roof of your house and explore the environment. If they spend any time indoors though allowing your cat to express these behaviors in the safety of their own home.
Having scratching posts and cat furniture like a jungle gym will help provide mental stimulation and improve your cats mental well-being. It doesn't have to be huge. My cats love their play tower and both of them will still sleep together on the top platform even though it is becoming a bit of a squeeze for two!
Cats also like safe places that are quiet, comfortable and out of the way. They will choose that safe place but you can help by moving your furniture so they can get to a high spot. You could have a chair next to your wardrobe so they can get to the top or leave a cupboard open and let them use the top shelf. If you know your cat has a special place they like to spend time then make it comfortable for them. Put a bed or blanket there and make sure your cat can get there whenever they want.
Secure your house
Wouldn't you hate it if strangers kept coming into your house, taking food from your fridge and using your toilet before leaving again. No thank you! For many of you, that might be just what your cat is experiencing. It is pretty common for me to hear that people have a strange cat who comes into their house for a feed on a regular basis. If your cat is prone to stress just imagine how this intrusion makes them feel.
There are a couple of different ways you can go about securing your house. The first is to forgo the cat flap and personally let your cat out and back in through a door. The clear downside of this is that either you will become your cats personal assistant, on call 24/7 (if you're not already!), or your cat won't be able to always get out when they want to. We've already discussed why this is not ideal for a stressed cat.
An alternative to this is to get a cat flap that will only allow your cat to get into the house. There are 2 different types, the first being a magnetic cat door. This works by having a magnet attached to your cats collar. This unlocks the door for your cat in particular. The door will stay locked for any cat who does not have a magnet. The clear downside to this is that your cat will have to wear a collar and that the magnet may pick up bits of metal. I've never used one of these myself but I know many clients have found them to work really well.
The second type of cat flap is a microchip cat door (you can read my review here). This works by using your cats existing microchip (if they don't have one then it's something you should strongly consider anyway). The door scans the microchip and will only let in those cats it has been programmed with. This means that even if the strange cat has a microchip it will not open. I have one of these installed for my cats as we had the exact problem of strange cats eating their food. It has been excellent, although you need to make sure you keep the batteries refreshed or your cat might get locked out (it's only happened once!).
Another thing that can help if you have strange cats hanging around is having more than one entry or exit point. This will always give your cat a different option of getting home if a competing cat is near one door.
Pheromones, Supplements and Drugs
My final tip for reducing stress in your cat is the use of supplements or medications. Broadly speaking there are 3 different types. The first is a pheromone supplement Feliway. This looks like a plug in air freshener and releases feline facial pheromone into the room. Something we can't smell but your cat will be sure to notice. This pheromone is produced by cats when they rub their face on objects. It is a way of marking their territory and making them feel at home. The more there is the safer they feel which is why this addition can be a great comfort to your cat.
Next we have a large range of herbal supplements which typically come as powders or liquids and can generally be added to your cats food. Examples would be zylkene and calmex. These are most often well accepted and can really help, although this does vary between cats. Some will also cause a bit of sedation and with anything given orally there is the chance that they will either not take it or it will cause a stomach upset.
Our final group is pharmaceutical drug intervention. These are typically reserved for cats that are showing extreme signs of stress or stress-related disease that have not benefited enough from all of the other changes we have discussed. This is something that needs to be discussed with your vet who can also advise you of the supplements that might best suit your cat.
Implementing some, or all, of these strategies will likely have a huge impact on your cats stress levels, well being and quality of life. It will also help prevent related problems which can have significant associated costs. Everyone's a winner!
Do you have any tips to reduce cat stress that helped your cat feel more relaxed? I'd love to hear them in the comments below. Also if it's your first time here sign up to my newsletter to get a free copy of my weight and diet calculator and allow me to continue to help you and your pet live healthier, happier lives.
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