Stress is a part of life, and pretty much everything and anything can stress some cats. Events, situations and ongoing conditions can all create some amount of stress. The reaction to stress varies greatly from one cat to another, with some felines being far more sensitive than others. However, extended exposure to significant stressors can overwhelm even the most resilient cat.
How can you tell if your cat is stressed out? How to tell when stress overload becomes a problem that needs to be addressed?
Stressed Cats: The Body Language
If you know cats well, and if you know your own cat well, you probably can tell a lot by her body language. Generally speaking, cats instinctively react to stressful events as they would to a potential threat.
In terms of body language, you will notice the cat becomes attentive and focused on the source of the perceived threat. The cat’s pupils are likely to become dilated and his or her tail may start wagging. You may even see the cat adopt a defensive or aggressive body position, perhaps even arching his back.
As long as this reaction is limited to the situation at hand, it’s perfectly normal. It only becomes an indication of too much stress if it’s repeated often, even when there is no obvious trigger. It’s as if the cat is constantly on the alert and ready to defend itself from an unseen foe.
Changes in Behavior
Sometimes, the cat’s body language does not provide the clues we need. This could be the case with cats that are less aggressive by nature, or possibly more introvert.
With these cats, stress overload can manifest itself in other ways. Any of the following changes in behavior can mean your cat is over-stressed –
- Excessive shedding
- Excessive Grooming
- Change in sleep patterns (too much or too little sleep)
- Change in appetite
- Elimination issues
- Excessive vocalization
- Pacing and general restlessness
Sometimes the more minute changes go unnoticed until, given time, they become full-blown behavior problems that are impossible to ignore. As owners, we should try to be aware of our cats’ behavioral patterns. If you notice any changes, don’t wait for it to become a problem. Try to address the situation before your cat develops a behavior problem.
Ruling out medical issues
I can’t stress enough (no pun intended) just how important a medical check-up is at this point. Stress is a tricky thing: Not only can it make your cat ill, its symptoms can also be a manifestation of existing medical problems. If your cat shows any of the symptoms of stress listed above, your vet must first rule out health problems. For example, excessive shedding and grooming could be the result of a skin problem; urinating outside the litter box can be the result of FLUTD (the feline form of UTI).
Trying to diagnose stress overload without a full medical check-up is futile. Trying to manage stress without treating potential underlying health problems can in fact cause more stress and add fuel to the fire.
How to assess stress in cats
Once medical issues are ruled out, it’s time to try and assess what might be stressing out your cat. Here’s an extensive list of common stressors in cats. Take a minute to go through it and ask yourself which of these may have affected your cat in the past months. A clean bill of health, changes in the cat’s demeanor and behavior and an accumulation of stressors in the cat’s history all mean you’re dealing with a stressed-out cat.
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