Nearly 60% of homes with cats experience symptoms that could be cat stress or anxiety. That's over 40 million anxious cats in the United States alone!
Stress can be caused by:
Environmental factors like storms
Strangers or a lack of space
Emotional factors like loneliness or boredom
Physical factors like obesity, fleas, and ticks
Some amount of stress is inevitable for all social creatures, but when that stress is severe or persistent, it can lead to physical and psychological health problems.
Over at least the last 9,000 years, domestic cats have lived and evolved as companions with humans. Unfortunately, our human lifestyles have evolved too quickly over the past few generations for cats to keep up (and in some ways arguably too fast for us humans too!). How can you tell if your cat is one of the tens of millions of cats in the United States struggling with stress?
Veterinary Behaviorist Dr. Lisa Radosta says, “Cats have as much fear, anxiety, and stress as dogs.” However, cat parents often misinterpret many stress symptoms as "normal". For example, did you know that hiding is a very common symptom of anxiety? Just because a behavior is common doesn't mean its "normal" or healthy. It's important to recognize the signs of cat stress and anxiety so you can help them be calm.
Cats are unique! And while their uniqueness is one reason that millions of families love their fuzzy feline members, it also creates challenges.
Like all social animals (humans included!), cats have environmental and emotional needs that must be met if they are to be truly happy, healthy, and calm. Cats need space, some level of independence, feelings of safety, companionship, reliable routines, ownership of their litterbox, and fresh air.
Once we understand a cat's needs and recognize the common signs of stress or anxiety, we can take steps to help our cats.
Stress is not always harmful. For example, if your cat needs to escape a dangerous situation, stress hormones will help them get to safety. But constant stress is harmful to any animal and can result in a state of anxiety.
Each cat has a different tolerance level for stress that is determined by genetics, how well they were socialized as kittens, and many other factors. What may not be stressful for one cat, may be extremely stressful for another.
% of Cat Owners that ignored the following symptoms:
x% Urinating or defecating outside of litter box
x% Aggressive/territorial behavior (fighting with other cats in the household)
x% Scratching furniture, walls, & door frames
x% Hiding or trying to escape
x% Increased vocalization
What happens when your cat experiences persistent stress that leads to anxiety? The body releases stress hormones like adrenalin and cortisol. While helpful in times of need, these hormones are harmful if around too long or too often.
Some cats are genetically predisposed to experience more stress and to sense danger even when none exists. Due to their brain chemistry, some cats may not be able to recognize they are safe and the stress response continues. It’s important to understand that most anxious cats really struggle to cope with change, no matter how small that change might be.
Is your cat on constant alert? Fight or flight hormones, like adrenaline and cortisol, help your cat survive in the wild. These hormones enable your cat to quickly get out of harm’s way, putting a temporary pause on functions like digestion, and diverting blood supply towards critical functions that help them survive dangerous situations.
But those heightened hormone levels are not meant to be maintained for long periods of time. Modern cats that are under chronic stress are put under intense physiological strain when these hormone levels remain high.
When your cat is in a state of chronic stress and anxiety, their immune system can be damaged, making it more difficult for your cat to stay healthy. Sickness, infections, and even cancer become more likely.