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Potential Stressors In Cats - The Ultimate Checklist

Apr 4, 2013 · Updated May 23, 2015 · ·
  1. Anne
    Does your cat have behavioral or health problems? Could they be due to stress? Litterbox issues, aggression, skin disease and bowel conditions - as well as many other health and behavior problems - can all be triggered or exacerbated by stress. As cat owners, we should always be aware of the potential causes of stress in our cats' lives and work to eliminate them as much as possible. Read on to see what might be stressing your cat out.

    What is Stress anyway?

    Stress is a word we often use in our daily lives, usually meaning a sense of being worried about something, sometimes to the point of feeling overwhelmed. We worry about our health, our loved ones, money issues, getting stuck in traffic... it’s a long list indeed. But what about our cats? What stresses out our cats and how does that stress affect them?

    Stress is closely associated with change. All living beings aim at achieving a stable existence where its needs are provided. This is called homeostasis - a state of equilibrium. Various pressures, either from the outside world, or from within our own body or mind, can all interfere with this sense of balance and produce stress.

    The effects of stress can be both physical and psychological. Change is always threatening at some level. Even positive change. It triggers the body’s fight-or-flight mechanism, causing the release of adrenal hormones.

    What Causes Stress?

    Stressors, or causes of stress, can be tricky to identify. It is the perception of threat, rather than an objective level of threat, that causes stress. Therefore, something may cause stress in one individual, human or feline, and not in another. Some cats are just more prone to stress, being more sensitive to changes and disturbances in their environment. These cats tend to see potential threats everywhere.

    Psychologists have lists of potential causes of stress in people. Generally speaking, these lists include two types of stressors -

    1. Events - either positive ones such as engagement and marriage, the birth of a child, or moving to a new home, or negative events such as getting a divorce, losing one’s job or a death in the family.

    2. Chronic stressors - things you have to deal with on a regular basis. Dealing with a difficult boss, teenage kids, or a noisy environment can create a constant level of stress that can eventually take its toll.

    The Effects of Stress

    All living beings are affected by stress and cats are no exception. In the long term, constant elevated stress levels can be harmful. In humans, they are associated with depression, a weaker immune system and even cancer. It’s likely that stress has a similar effect on cats. Reports indicate that stress can trigger or exacerbate medical conditions such as FLUTD, asthma, skin allergies, stomatitis, pancreatitis, inflammatory bowel disease, liver inflammation and even FIP.

    Behavioral problems are a common result of increased stress levels. They can be fairly quick responses to acute stress, or develop over time. Practically any change in the cat’s behavior, and any reported behavior problem, can have its roots in increased stress levels. This is why a cat behaviorist’s detective work includes figuring out the stressors in a cat’s life.

    Causes of Stress in Cats

    Stress patterns can be complex. For example, a disease can be caused, at least in part, by elevated stress levels, but it can also be a stressor in its own right.

    When evaluating the condition of a cat, especially when dealing with behavioral problems, it’s important to go over the list of potential stressors and identify the ones that may be at the root of the problem. Only by addressing these stressors, can we achieve a long-term solution to the problem. Just remember to look into potential medical problems first.

    Here’s a list of potential stressors in a cat’s life. Some of these are unavoidable; others may be changes with a long-term positive outcome. Either way, they cause stress to your cat and you should be aware of that. Even if your cat is relatively “stress-resistant”, stressors can add up and create a stress overload, eventually bringing on behavioral and health problems.

    1. A visit to the vet or being hospitalized at the veterinary clinic
    2. Physical trauma
    3. An illness
    4. Parasites
    5. Surgery
    6. De-clawing
    7. New medication (physiological effects)
    8. Vision and/or hearing loss (sometimes gradual)
    9. Flea/tick treatments
    10. De-worming
    11. Wearing an E-collar (the “cone”)
    12. Chronic or acute pain
    13. Going into heat
    14. Pregnancy
    15. Lactating
    16. Being medicated (aversion to being pilled)
    17. Getting a bath
    18. Getting a haircut
    1. Change in type of food
    2. Weight loss diet and limiting food
    3. Nutritional deficiencies or an unbalanced diet
    4. Thirst or hunger
    Litter boxes
    1. Not enough Litter boxes (having to “wait”)
    2. Dirty litter box
    3. A change in type of litter
    4. A change in litter box type
    5. A change in the location of the litter box
    1. Moving to a new home
    2. Renovating or remodeling the house, changing the decor
    3. Loud noises like thunderstorms, fireworks, construction, dogs barking
    4. Strong odors
    5. Starting to wear a collar
    6. Being adopted
    7. Living in a shelter
    8. Traveling
    9. Being boarded
    10. Getting lost
    11. Change in daily routine
    12. Change in seasons and Daylight Saving Time
    13. Limiting access to rooms in the house
    14. Confinement to a single room or crates and carriers
    15. House too hot or too cold
    16. Loud music or television
    17. Surprises and “booby traps”
    18. Scary cat toys
    19. Earthquakes
    20. Extreme weather conditions.
    21. Not enough physical activity.
    22. Sudden change in levels of physical activity
    23. Boredom and lack of stimuli
    24. Not enough options to climb
    25. Harassment and/or attacks by a dog or another pet
    26. New pet in the household
    27. Participating in a cat show
    Relationship with People
    1. New baby in the house
    2. A death in the family
    3. Guests in the house
    4. New roomates or roomates leaving
    5. Owner starting a new job
    6. New spouse
    7. Family member leaving the household (going to college etc)
    8. Physical abuse by children or adults
    9. Being shouted at
    10. Being punished in any way
    11. Aggressive play with human
    12. Stress in humans
    13. Training of any kind (harness, use of toilet etc).
    14. Excessive petting or attention
    15. Too little attention
    Relationship with Other Cats
    1. Introduction to new cat (especially when not done right)
    2. Food rivalry - having to compete with other cats during mealtime
    3. General rivalry with other cats in same household
    4. Sounds of cat fighting/howling
    5. Harassment and attacks by another cat or cats, especially when using the litter box
    6. Unknown cats showing up near the home
    7. Smell of another cat’s territorial urine marking

    Comments? Leave them using the form below. Questions? Please use the cat forums for those!

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  1. djcally
    We adopted two female kittens 9 months ago; They were 8 and 10 months old at that time. We love them, but don't understand why they still seem afraid of us. They both seem to follow me around and want to be around me especially; will sleep on my bed sometimes, nap in the room I am in, etc. Cally lets me brush her and seems to love it, but it's usually at arms length.... Maggie tends to run away more to sounds or movement. They are both comfortable in our home and play, eat, comes to us for treats, and use litter box with no issues. But we are unable to pick them up, trim their nails without fear they will hurt us. This is the only time I feel afraid of them. They do not scratch us and not sure they would deliberately. Our big concern now, and honestly don't know why we didn't think this through before adoption--We go away for up to 6 weeks in the winter, we are retired and snowbirds. What were we thinking? What do we do with them. My daughter with two younger children (8 and 5 years old) who the cats have met them once (we live out of State from our children), has agreed to take them while we are gone. Cally and Maggie do not interact with any visitors, they hide, Maggie will occasionally come down to "see" who is there, but won't come close Cally is not seen. I am so worried about their stress level and actually asking myself if they are better off in another home, as this will be a yearly event. We don't like this option. We cannot take them, we wish we could, as we won't be staying in a home we own. We feel awful, in fact, we probably will miss them as much as they will miss their home. Does anyone else have to leave their cats in an unfamiliar home and how did they do? Would it be better to have a house sitter come to our home a couple times a day. We have had this when we go away for a week or a couple of days. The sitter hardly sees them because they stay away. Help please
    1. tarasgirl06
      You can hire a cat-sitter. Make sure they are bonded and licensed and have references. Personally, I would not take trips of that duration -- in fact, I do not travel at all. My choice. But if you must, a good cat-sitter would be a possibility.
      NewKitty2019 purraised this.
  2. auntdawny
    this was an absolutely amazing an extremely informative article
  3. Babypaws
    I need some advice regarding finding a new home for a kitten. My mother cat recently had three kittens (first litter) they are indoors with mommy and are only five weeks old so they are too young to be taken from the mother. But I am thinking down the road when it’s time to take one away and give to someone. I’m worried about the mother cat being stressed and trying to find her missing kitten. Is there anything I can do to make it less stressful for both kitten and mother?
    1. tarasgirl06
      Just seeing this now, @Babypaws, and wondering how the kittens are. Your post should probably have gone on another thread. If they are still with you, you can find lots of great suggestions here: www.bestfriends.org/resources Please let us know how and where they are, won't you?
    2. Babypaws
      Everything turned out okay. I ended up keeping all 3 kittens from her first litter. She had another litter in August. She was pregnant when I brought her inside There were 6 in the second litter. I was able to find a home for 3 of them and kept the other 3. I think it was harder on me than mommy when the 3 were given away. I waited until they were about 10 weeks old. I would not give them to a shelter, there are too many poor animals there now. I found someone I knew and didn’t have to worry if they would be treated okay. On the morning after, mommy did seem like she was looking for her missing kittens but it didn’t lasted long. I think caring for her remaining kittens helped.I now have mommy, 3 kittens from first litter and 3 from second litter. All have been inside and will remain indoor cats. Mommy and her oldest kittens ( 7months) are all spayed/neutered.
      The youngest have just finished getting their last series of shots and will be spayed/neutered within the next few months.
  4. tarasgirl06
    Just finding this article and thanking you for it -- another excellent educational article that should be of great help to many just sharing life with cats along with many who may be more familiar with them!
  5. guslizsid
    very handy. you know what i haven't been doing as a shelter/rescue volunteer is recommending this site to new especially first time cat adopters! i will start doing that immediately, i don't think there is anything you won't find on this site :)
      tarasgirl06 purraised this.
  6. rezbaby
    yes I would say he is avoiding the cats outside as well then the other rooms If it were my cat I would give him something vertical in the other rooms to call his own. Only my thought , Each situation has its own formula. I just had an animal behaviorist to my home I have 9 inside my home. and 3 ferals ive been feeding for a few years.This will also stop the attraction to my home of any more ferals.   lol I HOPE.  :- ]  I have one cat who cannot manage anything thing around my home and has taken to spraying all night around my windows,  The conclusion he will be on medicine a very short time. while I completely clean the home with CO2 cleaners. I had to throw many many pieces of furniture away ..Im putting a fence called Purrfect fence around my home to keep all the wildlife away from my house  and I will be bringing in the 3 cats outside . this will be done very slowly and carefully under the advisement of the animal behavorist and my wonderful supportive vet 
    1. tarasgirl06
      Hey @rezbaby! You HAVE gotten him neutered, right? And yes, a lot of cats do get stressed by other cats being around outside. Experts suggest you cover the area of the windows where the outside cats come around, so your cat will not see them and get stressed. My folks' cat used to get stressed that way. GOOD plan you have, and thanks for doing it the right way! (Curious about your screenname. R u ndn 2?
  7. sadiegirl
    My Kitty Boy has a room all to himself with a large kitty condo to climb on and many toys to play with.But I worry he is depressed because he rarely plays anymore.We try to get him moving around for exercise by trying to play with him.The only thing he seems to get excited about is when it is time to go to bed.He loves when we go to bed and gets all excited when we say does Kitty Boy want to go night night.He runs to the bed and jumps up on his own pillow .I see the difference in him when we are not happy about something he knows and feels that something is wrong.So we never talk to loud to keep him from stressing out.He is allowed in all of the rooms in the house however he stays in the Florida room most of the time where his kitty condo and toys are so I hope he is not stressed out by us feeding the outdoor cats.
  8. shandi
    When we are stressed, it shows up in our behavior.  When I feel stressed, I have less patience with my cat's desire for attention.  If I'm depressed, I may not notice my cat's basic needs, like food and a clean litter box, or her flea problem.
    These things can lead to health issues.  So, our cats and other animals are definitely affected by our stress.
  9. cats--always
    How does stress in humans cause stress in cats?
  10. matts mom
    I always thought the food thing was a stressor...sometimes the new kitten will nose into Matt's bowl, and he always looks at me, as though to tattle on the little one. He doesn't deal with it on his own, but looks very thankful when I remove the offender from his bowl so that he can go back to his meal, with purrs.
  11. Anne
  12. zootandemo
    How am I to get my cat out of the spare room and into the general life of the household?
    He's loved, fussed-over, well fed, cared for, but always retires to 'his room'. A house guest is due and I don't know how to expand his horizons, as it were. Any ideas on how to re-position his tray and food?
  13. therese
    Don't forget changes in the home environment like new furniture, etc.  I re-did my home office, with all new stuff and paint and rugs, etc.  and my cat got very stressed out with the men putting furniture together , painting and all the new smells.  She  started peeing under the D/R table on the rug due to  a flare-up of her idiopathic cystitis, due to stress.  That is when we discovered Feliway plug ins and spray and eventually she calmed down.  I had no idea what a rumpus I raised with new furniture.  
  14. chenxiaoshuai
    Question is how we define stress -- If it includes minor emotional ups and downs then no cats can live a peaceful life. 
    Out of the whole list of triggers, which ones are the most threatening and concern worthy in terms of health impact? how are they correlated?  Without that being answered I wouldn't think this article worth anyone's while. 
  15. janesy
    I wish there was a way to bring your cat to the vet without stressing them out... It's bad enough when they need to go, but for the trip to stress out a sick kitty is even worse.
      Jill loves Geno purraised this.
    1. MiniPiemar
      There is no easy way to make them comfortable in the vet's office itself, but the car ride can be a lot less stressful. Try taking your cat out into the car more often, not just for stressful events. For example, take them out in the car, drive around for five minutes, then bring them home. Eventually they learn that the car doesn't always mean bad things are going to happen. I've tried this and it's worked wonders. Also, put a blanket over their cage, and avoid putting the radio on too loud. Loud sounds are scary.
  16. alphonse
    All this will be good to know when we finally move into our new home :) Thanks for the info!
  17. cwit enzel
    never thought that my kitty could be stressed because of bathing. thanks for the useful info
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