Cats can be affected by stress for many reasons. They are fairly sensitive creatures that would historically have been very good at hiding signs of stress to avoid becoming an easy target for predators. But it’s important to keep a close eye on your cat if you think they may be suffering as prolonged stress can potentially have quite serious effects on their physical or mental wellbeing.
Many things can trigger stress in your cat. It could be a large event or change in circumstances, such as an international house move or arrival of a baby or new pet. Or it could be something much less obvious, such as guests being in the house, too many other cats in and around the garden or even a change in your own routine, such as leaving the house earlier for work.
Cats can display symptoms of stress in many different ways, both physically and mentally and it’s important that you know what to look out for. Physical symptoms can include excessive grooming, loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhoea and the consumption of plastic or wool or other non-food items, also known as ‘pica’. Behavioural symptoms may be things like aggressive behaviour, withdrawal and frequent hiding, pacing, reluctance to enter or leave the house and toileting in unusual places. Cats may also take on little ‘quirks’ that seem harmless but might be masking their stress such as staring at the floor, flattened ears, wide dilated eyes or head shaking.
Tips to reduce stress in your cat include the use of Feliway (a pheromone spray used to alleviate stress in cats) and more simple things like making sure your cat has a quiet area to take refuge in (a separate room for example). With the correct amount of time and care many cats will soon start to settle into a new routine after a big move. It is recommended to keep your cats in for at least 2 weeks after a move to ensure they don’t get lost or run off.
There may be some scenarios where you can anticipate your cat becoming stressed and take steps in advance to reduce or avoid the effects it may have on them. But otherwise, if you are concerned about your cat’s behaviour, either speak to your vet or consult a professional, qualified cat behaviour specialist who will be able to help you further.