If you suspect your cat is over-stressed, please refer to this article first: How to tell if your cat is stressed out.
Please note that your veterinarian must first rule out, or treat, any medical problems. You can still implement the stress-reducing strategies listed in this article, but untreated medical conditions can cancel out your efforts and leave your cat sick... and still stressed out.
1. Dealing with Potential StressorsTake a minute to read our extensive List of Stressors in Cats. Can you recognize any that may be affecting your cat?
Your first step is to identify specific potential stressors and to try and address them. For example, if your cat suffers from lack of stimuli, invest in cat furniture and toys, and introduce interactive playtime to your daily schedule. If your cat has to fight over its food, make sure cats have separate food dishes and consider feeding in different areas.
If you’re not sure how to eliminate a specific potential stressor, post a question about it in our Cat Behavior forums and we’ll try to help. Some stressors simply cannot be eliminated, in which case you may need to work on ways to reduce stress in general, so keep on reading.
2. A Safe HavenAn easily-accessible safe area can do wonders for an over-stressed cat. It needs to be a place free of harassment by other cats, pets or children. Your cat's safe haven can be in a separate room, or it can be more compact, like a private shelf or cat tree, high enough to be out of reach for dogs and small humans.
Try to create a space that's free from things which are stressful to your cat. If your cat is sensitive to loud noises, it should be a quiet room, with insulated windows. If there are external visual cues, such as the sight of a strange cat in the backyard, block that line of vision with drapes. There are no hard set rules for this - you need to identify your cat's specific stressors and work to eliminate them from the safe zone.
3. Reducing Stress in “the Humans”Cats are sensitive and can often pick up on our own stress. If you’re under a lot of stress yourself, you may need to deal with your own stress overload first. Reducing your own stress levels will do you a world of good, and will improve your cat’s quality of life as well.
Even if you can’t reduce stress levels for yourself, or for other family members, make an effort not to let it out on the cat. It’s always a good idea not to shout at your cat or punish her in any way. It’s absolutely crucial when dealing with an over-stressed feline.
4. Playtime TherapyPlaytime, and more specifically interactive playtime, can be nothing short of therapeutic Regardless of the cause of stress, most cats enjoy a good session of interactive playtime, where their human operates a fishing-rod-like toy to simulate an active mouse or bird around the house. It’s actually a good way for humans to de-stress as well, so you get a two-for-one deal in the stress-fighting department!
Interactive playtime provides your cat with exercise, a positive interaction with their favorite person, and the opportunity to release pent-up aggression with simulated hunting. It’s a great way to de-stress most cats.
A word of caution: Make sure to introduce playtime gradually. Observe your cat’s reactions and don’t overwhelm him or her with a new playtime routine all at once. If your cat is afraid of the toy, put it aside and try to get something lighter and less intimidating. Once you set your playtime routine, stick to it, at regular hours.
Read more: Playing With Your Cat 10 Things You Need To Know
5. FeliwayYou've probably seen your cat rubbing its body, and more specifically head and neck, against doorways, wall corners, furniture and even your legs. When cats do that, they actually smear pheromones secreted from special glands on their neck and head. Odorless to us, but remarkably noticeable to cats, these pheromones are used to mark the cat’s territory as being safe.
Feliway is a synthetic version of these pheromones, sold in the form of a spray or diffuser. It creates a sense of security and safety in your cat’s environment. Feliway is especially useful when dealing with territorial stress. You may consider giving it a try if you think your cat’s stress is related to a change in environment, such as moving to a new house, or having a new cat or pet in the household. It can also be effective in multi-cat households and specifically in cases of spraying.
Check out: Comfort Zone With Feliway Diffuser For Cats
6. Anti-anxiety DrugsIf you can’t control the stressors, or for any other reason can’t deal with your cat’s stress-induced symptoms or behaviors, your vet may suggest drug therapy. With an array of anti-anxiety meds, your vet may try more than one treatment before you come up with one that effectively deals with the cat’s stress.
Remember, stress can be tricky. It can be difficult to pinpoint the sources of your cat’s stress and to find the right coping mechanisms. Sometimes, a good cat behaviorist, preferably one who can visit your home and see you and your cat, may be of help.
And as always, you’re welcome to share your situation and seek advice in our cat behavior forums.
Comments? Leave them using the form below. Questions? Please use the cat forums for those!