What? My cat is stressed? by Dr. Sarah Martin

It is difficult for some owners to see how their cat can be stressed. After all, the life of an indoor cat can seem pretty idyllic. In addition we may not perceive things in the way some cats do and certainly may not pick up on some changes as many cats would.  Consider that an average cat needs to eat 6-8 mice a day to survive – imagine the time involved in hunting!  Now place that cat inside with ‘nothing’ to do, there’s your stress!

Stress in our feline friends is linked to many inappropriate behaviours—the most common one we see is inappropriate urination (peeing outside the box). Some cats over groom (naked belly anyone?). Some cats are aggressive, some don’t eat, some binge eat, some hide, some avoid.

Of course, when there is urine outside the box we have to rule out medical causes such as diabetes, hyperthyroidism, kidney or liver disease, bladder stones or urinary tract infections.  Beyond the medical issues, social issues, environment, anxiety and stress have all been related to house soiling in cats.

Here is a quick, abbreviated checklist of factors to consider for feline stress:

  1. Litterbox information. One major confounding factor in elimination problems in cats is intercat aggression. Improving litter box cleanliness will help. Consider obstacles to good box access—there should be multiple escape routes. You need to provide enough litter boxes: one box per cat plus one in multiple locations. Research says clumping litter is preferred—but not all cats read our research (wink, wink)
  2. Enrichment and enhancing daily life and welfare. Cats like a variety of play items, especially those that are light and move easily. Try rotating toys. Spread out all resources—place food, resting spots, climbing towers in different locations. Food dispensing toys counteract inactivity, stress and obesity. Feliway (a facial pheromone—a marking smell) has been shown to reduce stress as well. Providing elevated perches by windows is often a great hit.
  3. Fighting between household cats. There are the obvious encounters—hissing, fighting, growling, chasing and then there are covert encounters like staring, blocking and stalking. Think—do you see all cats in all rooms? Do all the cats interact the same way with people in the house? How many food bowls are there? Are they all in one location?

Take a look at The Indoor Pet Initiative: http://indoorpet.osu.edu/

The morale of the story? There is often no one answer. Often we want a quick answer, often we look to medications. Unfortunately there is much, much more to house soiling issues!! If your cat has started to go outside the box please don’t delay – come and talk to us at Park Road. We can rule out medical issues, provide some comprehensive questionnaires to get us thinking about social issues and formulate a plan to keep every member in your home happy (and not smelly!!)