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How can I reduce my cat’s stress?

Cats exhibit stress in different ways. Find out how to read the signs and how to reduce stress in cats.

Cats are secretive by nature, so it can be tricky to tell when they’re feeling stressed. The first visible signs of cat anxiety can often be a medical or behavioural problem.

All cats are different, and some will be more chilled out than others. Anxiety in cats can stem from both environmental and genetic factors – for example, lack of socialisation as a kitten will often result in a more timid cat.
There are two types of stress that may affect your cat:

1. Acute stress

 Acute stress in cats is relatively easy to recognise. It’s often caused by a threatening situation, such as a trip to the vets.
Signs of acute stress include:
  • Crouching and not moving
  • Holding the tail close to the body
  • Wide eyes with dilated pupils
  • Ears flattened to the head
  • Yowling or growling
  • Drooling
  • Involuntary urination or defecation
  • Aggression

2. Chronic stress

This is more difficult to detect and tends to develop over a longer period of time. This type of stress can often lead to behavioural or medical problems. It can occur as a result of the cat’s interaction with its environment, with other cats, and also with its owner.
Signs of chronic stress include:
  • Hiding under or behind furniture
  • Soiling or wetting in the house
  • Spending more time hiding or resting than interacting
  • Refusing to eat, groom, or use the litter tray
  • Defensive aggression
  • Excessive grooming, particularly of the tummy area
  • Jumping at small noises
Reducing your cat’s stress 
Owners can inadvertently be responsible for increasing their cat’s stress levels. Timid cats that want to hide should be left to their own devices – forced attention will only exacerbate the problem.
If your cat has access to the outside, they should be allowed to choose when they go out. For example, they may only go out when there are no other cats around. After all, being forced to confront your archenemy can be very stressful!
Environment is key when it comes to reducing stress in cats. Things like having the litter tray in the right place, and providing the right kind of food bowl and hiding places can make the difference between a stressed out cat and a chilled out moggy.
Here are a few ways to make your home more cat friendly:
  • Make sure other cats can’t get through the cat flap. Cats are very territorial and another cat encroaching on their territory and eating their food can be very stressful. If this is an issue, think about using a microchip-activated cat flap, or dispense with the flap altogether.
  • Cats can be notoriously fussy about water – some don’t like the smell of chlorine in tap water, and some will only drink directly from the tap. Try experimenting with different bowls and locations to see what you cat prefers. If your cat only likes water from the tap, try purchasing a pet water fountain.
  • Cats can also be fussy about the bowl they eat from – some won’t eat out of plastic bowls, as they don’t like the smell. Others will only eat out of a saucer. Again, experiment with different bowls to find out what your cat prefers. Make sure you don’t feed them near their litter tray – they don’t like eating where they poo!
  • Make sure your cat has access to high resting places, and if they’re old and arthritic, make sure they are able to get up and down. Experiment with cardboard boxes in different places and see where your cat prefers to go.
  • Litter trays should be placed in a discreet corner, away from busy thoroughfares, food, and water. As a general rule, you should provide one litter tray per cat, and one extra in a different location. It’s also important to make sure they’re cleaned every day.  
  • Provide your cat with a scratching post. Since most cats like to stand on their hind legs to scratch, the post should be nice and tall.
  • House cats should be provided with different stimuli every now and then, otherwise life may become a little dull. Alternating toys and cardboard boxes, and even providing some kitty grass, can help.  
  • Cats produce facial pheromones, important signals for security and familiarity. Feliway for cats is a synthetic version of these pheromones and can help your cat adjust to a new situation, such as moving house, decorating, or introducing another cat. You can use a Feliway plug in or a spray.  
  • Cats like routines. Try and keep their environment as familiar and predictable as possible to reduce your cat’s stress.