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Emotional Stressors in Cats

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Cat Behavior & Training > Cat Behavior 101 > Stress and Anxiety in Cats

Emotional Stressors in Cats

Most of the environmental changes we discussed in the previous section resulted in emotional stress in cats. One way of understanding this is that environmental changes are the cause, and emotional stress the effect. Other emotional stress caused by environmental changes, include death of a family member, fear, and rivalry or jealousy. Let's study each of these a bit further:

Death of a Family Member

Humans who are grieving the loss of a family member, whether human or animal, sometimes forget that their cat may be grieving too. While animal behaviorists disagree on whether cats actually remember or grieve, there is enough anecdotal information to convince me that they do. My own experiences have confirmed this belief. When Shannon did not come home from his final trip to the veterinarian in July of 2001, Bubba went into a deep depression, and exhibited insecure and needy behavior.

It may help to provide the surviving cat with an article of human clothing, or the favorite "blankie" of the deceased cat, to help him understand that although they are gone, they are still with us in another way. Holding him and talking to him in reassuring tones will not only help your cat, but will also help you deal with your loss. For more help in coping with your own loss, see my article on Dealing with Loss.

Fear

Fear sometimes comes from sudden, outside sources. Fire, earthquake, hurricane, and tornado are classic examples of fear-resulting stressors. Although many of these environmental stressors cannot be predicted, it is still essential to have a plan for dealing with an emergency before it happens. Some helpful information is presented in Preparing Your Cats for Disaster.

Predictable fear-associated stressors, such as noisy festivities (Halloween, 4th of July, New Years Eve) can be planned for ahead of time. It's best to keep cats confined to an interior room on such occasions, with low lights and soft music playing. Or, ideally, hold the party somewhere else.

Fear also is sometimes exhibited when one cat is being "picked on" by another. A classic example of the factor is the cat that is "trapped" in a closely confined litter box by another cat. The end result, of course, is litter box avoidance. You can help ameliorate this situation by giving the "victim cat" her own uncovered litter box with plenty of opportunities of escape.

Rivalry or Jealousy

Rivalry and jealousy take place more often with the introduction of new cats to the household, which we discussed on page one. You may also see a certain amount of rivalry and jealousy as kittens grow into adulthood, and they sort out their "pecking order" in the household feline hierarchy. Often the best solution is just to leave them alone. Cats have a wonderful way of working things out, and once the alpha cat is established, peace will reign again. Sudden rivalry and jealousy between two previously friendly adult cats is another subject. It can be more often caused by some environmental change, which will take a bit of detective work on your part to discover.

Stress in the Older Cat

Stress is a big factor in managing the health of a senior cat, or any cat with a serious physical condition. Cats with weakened immune systems, such as FIV or FeLV patients do not thrive under stress. It is important that the caregiver keeps this in mind when caring for this kind of cat. It is too easy for the human to telegraph his or her own stress and anxiety over her cat's illness to the cat, which can only exacerbate the underlying condition. Older cats and cats with chronic and terminal disease do much better in a quiet setting, with a minimum of environmental changes. It would be very unwise to bring home a new kitten or a noisy dog under these circumstances. I don't suggest a hospital or hospice situation with tip-toeing and hushed voices, but loud noises and sudden movement should be avoided, if possible. If there are children in the house, a discussion might be in order, not only to enlist their help in reducing stress to the older feline patient, but also to help prepare them for what will inevitably come.

Natural Remedies for Stress

There are times when natural remedies such as herbs, flower essences, or homeopathic remedies may help in reducing cats' stress and anxiety. Introduce only one remedy at a time, and check with your veterinarian first before trying any of these products.

Helpful Books for Stress Reduction in Cats
The following are some books that include information that will help you reduce stress in your cats. I have included links to my reviews of these books, where applicable.

Remember, that one of the most important things you can do to minimize stress in your cat is to keep your own stress level down. A hot cup of herbal tea, a glass of wine, or maybe a drop or two of Rescue Remedy in a glass of water might be just the thing you need on some of those days when you find yourself "telegraphing" your own stress to your cat.

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