Cats are independent creatures, but they also love routine. That means changes to your cat’s day-to-day activities can make them feel stressed or anxious. Knowing the signs of a distressed cat means you can recognise when they’re not feeling their best and offer them some relief.
From renovating your house to going back to the office or adding a new pet to the family, changes to your home circumstances can trigger anxiety and stress for your cat. By keeping a close eye on your cat’s behaviour you can take steps to help them stay calm.
Recognise the signs of stress and anxiety in cats
Watch out for the following clues that your cat’s stress levels are rising:
- Unhappy or stressed cats will often twitch the end of their tail, have dilated pupils or their ears turned out to the side or rotated back. However, it can be really subtle, as cats are excellent at hiding signs of stress.
- When cats feel unsafe or threatened, they often hide or crouch down to make themselves as small and inconspicuous as possible.
- Some stressed cats might have a change in their normal behaviour, such as hiding more than usual, over- or undereating, or over-grooming.
- A stressed cat may mark their territory by spraying urine. This is a normal behaviour when performed outside, however, it can often be a sign of stress when it happens around the house and it’s generally not near their litter tray. Watch out for your cat standing with their tail quivering in the air as a tell-tale sign of spraying!
How to cope with fireworks season
The weeks around Bonfire Night can be a scary time for cats as the loud and unpredictable noises from fireworks can make them feel stressed and scared. Help your cat cope with this time of year by using sound therapy to help them feel more comfortable around loud noises. Make sure you also create a safe space for them to retreat to and keep your cat indoors when you know local displays are planned.
Helping your cat stay calm
If you notice your cat seems stressed, follow these top tips to help them stay calm and content:
- Try to keep your cat’s routine as normal as possible. Feed them at the same time and interact with them when you usually would.
- If you’re home more than normal, you might be tempted to spend more time cuddling your cat. While some cats will enjoy this extra interaction, others may become anxious if they’re overhandled.
- If your cat shows signs of being overly attached to you, spend time training them and teaching them it is OK to be more independent by giving things to do (for example, puzzle feeders) while you are in the room with them.
- Make sure their environment includes lots of enrichment like scratching posts, places to hide and lots of toys.
- Make sure your cat always has a quiet and safe space where they can retreat to if they feel stressed. Their cat basket or a couple of boxes in a quiet corner will work. Some cats also prefer to be somewhere higher up – the darker and cosier the spot, the safer they will feel.
- Don’t crowd your cat or expect them to sit and cuddle with you when they’re feeling anxious. Instead, give them room to move away and do their own thing, then wait for them to come back on their terms when they’re ready.
- Food activity toys are a great way to offer your cat plenty of mental and physical stimulation. You could also try using a pheromone diffuser, or some specially composed cat music!
- Installing a cat flap is a great way to help your cat feel more in control, as they’ll be able to come and go as they want to. You could opt for a high-tech version that recognises your pet’s microchip (to prevent neighbourhood cats from coming for a visit, too!) or a lockable one if you’d prefer to keep your cat indoors at night.
When your cat seems less stressed, see if they’ll engage in some playtime. Stick to toys you can use from a distance, like a fishing rod or a ball. When your cat no longer feels like there’s danger looming, they’ll probably join in.
Each cat is different, and many factors can affect what they may find stressful. If you have multiple cats, one may find a specific scenario stressful and the other might not be bothered at all! Always approach situations that could be stressful according to your cat’s needs and personality.
If you’re worried about your cat’s stress levels, or their anxious behaviour persists even once the stressful situation is resolved, ask your vet for advice. They may also refer you to a qualified animal behaviourist such as a member of the Animal Behaviour and Training Council (www.abtc.org.uk) who will be able to help you come up with long-lasting solutions.
Do you have any practical tips for helping cats with anxiety issues? Tell us on social media using the tag #PethoodStories.