By Dr. Carine Klimentidis
Often when I talk to clients about the fact that their cat might be stressed, I get a lot of funny looks or laughs – how could my cat possibly be stressed, he sleeps all day?! Well, cats perceive stress a lot differently than we do. They are both predators and prey and have evolved to always be on the lookout for safety and control. When cats feel in control of their environment, they feel safe and that decreases their stress.
Stress in cats can lead to many undesired behaviors and health issues from bladder inflammation (which leads to urinating outside the litter box), to fighting with other cats in the household, overeating, and hiding behaviors.
Over thousands of years, cats have been outdoor, somewhat solitary animals who spend 6-8 hours a day hunting for food and resting the rest of the day somewhere safe from other predators. Now that we have domesticated them, we put them in a house enclosed with four walls, no trees to climb and often make them live with their mortal enemy in the wild – a dog! We make them eat what and when we want and give them a small box to do their business in that is in a location of our choice, mostly for our convenience. They might live with several other cats in close proximity that they might not get along with but can’t get away from and have to figure out a way to get to their key resources (food, water, litter box) while dodging dogs, other cats and obstacles.
In order to give cats more control over their environment, there are many ways in which their environment can be modified. Also, remember those 6-8 hours a day cats spend hunting for food? With nothing to do, cats can sometimes go stir crazy! Try the tips below to help your cat feel less stressed and more in control, calm and happy.
- Give your cat places up high to hide, roam and rest – cats feel safe up high where they can survey their environment.
- Have one litter box per cat PLUS one more. Don’t have all the litter boxes lined up next to each other – for a cat, that’s the equivalent of one bathroom with three toilets!
- Set up food and water bowls in multiple places so they have options to eat where they feel safest and most comfortable. Do the same for the litter boxes.
- Put bird feeders near windows where cats can watch birds during the day to keep them occupied. Cats are natural hunters, it’s good for their brains to practice!
- Play relaxing music for your cat. (Try the Spotify station “Relax my cat”, or “Through a Cat’s Ear” on YouTube)
- Turn on Cat TV for your cat (on Amazon or you can buy a DVD) – basically a 4 hour loop of birds and squirrels to occupy your cat.
- Instead of putting all of their food in one bowl, use cat feeding toys and hide them around the house so they have to hunt for them during the day. This is helpful for overweight cats too so they get some exercise and really have to work for their food.
- Use Feliway calming pheromone diffusers to help relax them especially during times when their routine might be changing (you are going out of town, you’re having guests over). Feliway is a cat pheromone that helps to relax cats – you can use a plug in or a spray.