It’s a little known fact that stress can be a contributing factor in cats with urinary tract disease. In cases of urinary tract disease where there is no obvious cause, it is thought that stress can play a role in causing inflammation of the bladder in cats.
Management of stress in cats has been shown to reduce recurrent episodes of urinary tract disease. Stress for your cat can be caused by a number of things - especially changes in your cat’s environment and routine.
Here are some tips to help create a cat-friendly household and ensure your favourite feline is in good health and remains a calm, cool cat.
How to know if your cat is stressed
Cats can be very stoic creatures and they may hide the fact they are stressed. In some cases, the signs may be subtle. Any change in the behaviour of your cat should be taken seriously. Here are some common signs:
- Hiding: Stressed cats will seek out hiding places to feel safe (e.g. hiding under the bed or couch). In extreme cases, food cannot tempt them from their safe spot.
- Changes in toileting habits: Any changes in your cat’s toileting habits can be a sign of stress; this includes urination and defaecation. Urinary signs are more common. Some signs include discomfort when urinating, urinating outside of the tray, blood in the urine and increased frequency of urination. Be sure to speak with your veterinarian if any changes in toileting habits are noted. Stressed cats are also more likely to spray urine and mark their territory. Inappropriate soiling around the house is considered a sign of stress.
- Over-grooming: Cats are known for being fastidious groomers however they may groom more than usual when they are stressed. Cats that are over-grooming may have patches of hair loss, red raw skin, ulcers on their lips from over-grooming or may be suffering from more hair balls. Compulsive licking and scratching may also be caused by stress.
- Diarrhoea or constipation: Stomach upsets may be caused by stress and can result in diarrhoea or constipation. Again if it persists be sure to get your cat checked out by your vet to find out what’s causing the issue.
- Meowing: If your cat is more vocal than usual or seeking more attention from you, it could be a sign of stress.
- Aggression or irritability: This change in behaviour may be towards other animals in the house or people. If this is out of character for your cat, it may be a sign of stress.
- Reduced appetite: Cats should eat regularly and with a healthy appetite. A decrease in appetite may be a sign of stress. As other conditions can cause a decrease in appetite, it is best to speak with your veterinarian if you notice this change.
Creating a Cat Friendly Home
- Try to have a routine and to stick as close to it as possible (e.g. keep to a regular feeding time for your cat).
- Ensure to keep the litter box in a quiet place that is not a thoroughfare. Do not change the litter type or move the litter box as this can really deter some cats and cause them to soil in the house. Heavily fragranced litter boxes or the use of strong smelling detergents can deter your cat from using the tray. Ensure the litter tray is big enough for your cat to get into and cleaned daily.
- Have a set and consistent location for your cat’s food bowl and water bowl. Ensure this area is not in a noisy thoroughfare and is kept clean.
- Manage the introductions of your cat to new family members. Ensure all introductions are slow, with the creation of safe zones for your cat to escape to if need be.
- Devote time each day to playing and grooming your cat.
- Prevent boredom by giving your cat toys to play with and mix it up by introducing new things for your cat to explore like scratching posts, cat trees and even cardboard boxes.
Management of Multi-Cat Households
Cats are territorial creatures and conflicts can often arise in multi-cat households if boundaries are crossed. You can reduce conflict between your cats by keeping your feeding areas, sleeping areas and litter trays in separate locations. Essentially you are ensuring there is enough space and resources for everyone. Here are some tips to managing a multi-cat household:
Introductions of Cats: Ensure that introductions are done slowly and with boundaries in place. Throwing two cats together to “work it out” could lead to fights and increase anxiety for all parties involved.
Cat Feeding Areas: Ensure that all cats have access to one bowl of food in any given feeding area. It is not ideal to have cats competing over a food bowl; it often means that one cat misses out. As well as having multiple bowls in a feeding area, consider also having multiple feeding areas where bullied cats can escape to eat.
Litter Boxes: The rule with litter boxes is that there should be the same number of litter boxes in the house as there are cats, plus one extra. Ensure they are located throughout the house and not just in one room. Ensure all litter boxes are in quiet areas of the house. Cats need to feel comfortable to use the litter tray.
Beds: Ensure there are plenty cosy napping areas for the cats in the home so they are not left competing for the one chair or bed. A combination of hidden beds and exposed beds can help to accommodate cats with different preferences.
Perches: By providing tall scratching posts and perches for the cats in the home, you are increasing their territory vertically. This helps cats feel secure and gives them an opportunity to assess a possible threat at a safe distance (e.g. another pet in the home).
Talk to your vet
Your vet can help you identify stressors that may be affecting your cat - whether they are physical, environmental or psychological. Reducing stress by providing a safe and stable environment is good first step in maintaining your cat’s health.