Cats are easily stressed, and it makes a lot of sense. I mean... they are tiny, highly edible creatures with a passion for routine. In a big, bad world, plenty of things can seem scary. Stress in cats can be the result of a lot of different things, and can manifest in a lot of different ways, so it's important to be able to identify how to calm a stressed cat. After all, none of us want our little buddies to worry, right? Today, we'll discuss a few simple ways to help diffuse nerve-racking situations and keep your kitties cool.
How to Identify Stress in Cats
Cats are very sensitive creatures, but unfortunately, they also tend to be a bit on the mysterious side. For instance, a hurt or injured cat is unlikely to show signs of distress - after all, they're prey to a lot of large animals, and as far as they're concerned, we are some pretty massive animals. That said, signs of stress may not be immediately identifiable. One of the more obvious signs is if your typically social kitty disappears. Many felines will try to find a safe spot to hide, like under the bed, behind the refrigerator, pretty much any place that is away from the stressor. Litter box issues may also be a good indicator of disquiet. Sometimes this means urinating outside of the box. In other cases, your cat may still use the box, but may be displaying signs of digestive upset, like diarrhea or constipation.
Compulsive behaviors can also mean stress. These symptoms usually manifest as excessive grooming - to the point of licking themselves bald or raw. Scratching also falls under this category. In this case, despite the pre-existing anxiety, it's important to get your kitty to the vet. Compulsive grooming can lead to other complications, like skin infections, so getting a handle on things is essential.
Other symptoms of stress can include unusual aggression towards fellow pets or people, changes in sleeping patterns or increased fatigue, a decrease or complete loss of appetite, and excessive or prolonged bouts of vocalization. As with compulsive grooming, if your kitty is showing any of these symptoms, you might want to check in with your vet. Just like with people, symptoms aren't always a clear indicator of one specific thing. Stress may very well be the issue; however, all of these symptoms alone, or even in different combinations, may be the result of any number of other things.
Reasons for Stress in Cats
Stressors can pop up in all sorts of places. Some are obvious - a trip to the vet, an over-full litter box, unfamiliar people in the house. Others may take you by surprise. For instance, certain scents can really freak out a cat. The sense of smell of a domesticated cat is roughly fourteen times stronger than a human's. This means that perfumes, oils, and soaps, as well as strong chemical cleaners, may be pleasant to you, but will likely be pretty intense for your kitty.
Certain types of interactions may also be worrisome for some cats. No doubt you've seen your furry little buddy cringe when you dive in for a friendly pat. You may have also noticed that he's none too thrilled by your fond hugs. Don't be offended! As I mentioned earlier, cats tend to be prey, and even though your housebound friend may have never stepped foot in a dangerous outdoors location, the sense of self preservation is pretty well ingrained. Once or twice, this probably won't cause your cat a lot of distress; however, if he's exposed to it fairly frequently - say, if you have an exceedingly affectionate child or friends who don't know when to quit - then stress is likely to pop up.
Other common stresses can include introducing new animals into the fold, especially other cats; excessive, loud, or high-frequency noises, including fireworks, thunder, and fluorescent light bulbs; and frequent, unproductive discipline, like yelling or smacking.
How to Calm a Stressed Cat
Play serves an essential role in your cat's life: it keeps him active, keeps him sharp, and keeps him entertained. Fortunately, the benefits don't stop there. If you're trying to calm a stressed cat, play time can do wonders. We'll start with the obvious part: distraction. If something major, loud, or just generally unsettling is happening in the house, play can draw your cat's attention away from whatever is upsetting him. Next, it burns off any excess energy, creating a general sense of calm. Finally, and this is a big one, the physicality of play releases endorphins. Endorphins are associated with a sensation of pleasure, helps reduce pain, and promote a feeling of "bliss." This euphoric sensation will absolutely have a calming effect on your frazzled little friend.
All right, all right... I know some of you are skeptical over the curative properties of herbs. I get it. And perhaps you don't want to try them for yourself, but when it comes to calming a stressed out cat, I want you to suspend disbelief for just a moment and consider the magical quality of catnip. Now, I grant you, not every cat is affected by this particular herb, but no doubt you've seen a couple of internet videos floating around showcasing the reaction some felines have to it.
Catnip can be used, pre-stressful event, as a means to drive him a little crazy, then wear him out. But this particular herb isn't calming in and of itself. Better options include chamomile, which serves to sooth similar parts of the nervous system and brain as anti-anxiety medications, as well as hops, and Valerian - though, Valerian may make your kitty a little crazy before it makes him sleepy. Although these herbs come in a variety of mediums, it is best to give them dried. You don't really want your cat to eat them, though. Instead, sew them into a piece of cloth or tie them into a sock, then let your kitty play with his new, calming toy. Also, be sure to speak with your vet prior to trying out herbs.
Create a Routine for Your Cat
Your kitty is a creature of habit. Uncertainty can lead to all sorts of stress. So in order to keep things calm, it's a good idea to create a basic routine and a little bit of stability. This is actually pretty simple: Try to keep meal times at roughly the same hours every day. Be consistent with playtime. Allow him plenty of quiet time for napping at around the same time every day. Furthermore, if you're something of an interior decorator and regularly like to switch things up in your home, make sure there is a space for your cat that remains relatively unchanged. Creating a sort of "safe zone" can relieve some tension in an otherwise constantly-changing environment.
As with people, long term stress can create a whole host of secondary problems in cats. If stressors are chronic or if your cat simply isn't responding to more holistic methods, it may be time to seek out the advice of a medical professional. In extreme cases, vets may prescribe anxiety medications. Common medications for cats include benzodiazepines. These drugs are fairly fast-acting and help to reduce the fear response that is driving your cat's stress. SSRIs, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, are another option. These take a little longer to work, but may be a more long-term choice. Unfortunately, these may cause side effects, so it's important to ask as many questions as possible before you give them to your fuzzy little pal.
Knowing how to calm a stressed cat is essential when those moments of anxiety strike. Thankfully, in most cases, the task is a lot simpler than it seems. With a bit of patience and care, your kitty can be back to his confident, and dare I say cocky, self again in no time!
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