The anxiety and fear associated with stress affects your cat similar to the way it affects people, though cats tend to hide it well. Even worse, chronic stress "suppresses the immune response, causing a broad range of illnesses," says Patricia B. McConnell, Ph.D., a certified applied animal behaviorist.
Here are five common signs of stress in cats to help you identify it and seek help quickly.
1. Urinating Outside the Litter Box
Your initial reaction to a "potty accident" may be to yell and scream. Don't! Cats that urinate outside the litter box are trying to tell us something. He or she may be stressed due to rearranged furniture, loud noises, an unclean litter box, or several other factors. Your cat may also have an underlying health issue causing the inappropriate urination. Consult your veterinarian or a veterinary behaviorist to help find the problem.
2. Decrease in Appetite
Cats don't go on fasts or diets like we do so it's important to consult a veterinarian if your pet suddenly loses interest in food or stops eating altogether. It could be due to stress or to an underlying health condition.
Cats are often mischaracterized as aloof animals that avoid interaction with other pets and people. This just isn't the case for most cats. In fact, constant isolation is a common sign of stress or pain. Go to your veterinarian to help identify the cause of this strange behavior.
4. Excessive Grooming
There's a difference between fastidious grooming and licking a spot raw or bald. The latter is a clear sign of distress, and one that warrants a visit to the vet.
5. Aggression Toward People or Other Animals
Aggressive actions toward animals or people can be a sign of a stressed or sick cat. Consult your veterinarian or a veterinary behaviorist before the problems get worse.
How to Help a Stressed Out Cat?
If your cat’s behavior changes suddenly in any way, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian. He or she can rule out any underlying medical issues as well as make recommendations to help lower your cat's stress level. Here are some tips for helping to alleviate stress in your cat:
- Play/exercise with your cat regularly – Physical activities like a game of "chase the mouse" or "follow the feather" are a great stress reducer for cats.
- Create a safe zone – Set apart an area or secret hiding spot in your home for your cat to escape high-stress events like thunderstorms and parties. In a multi-cat household, blocking the line of sight between cats with a solid barrier can be useful, especially when one cat tends to bully or aggravate the other.
- Choose a high quality cat food – Your cat's diet is an integral part of his health and wellbeing. Providing your cat with a diet that is not properly balanced for his or her life stage and lifestyle may cause unforeseen repercussions that may lead to anxiety and stress.