Stressed Out Cats

sketch of two cats wrestling, vine charcoal, compressed charcoal, white charcoal, black and white conté
“Clash of Titans”, vine charcoal, compressed charcoal, white charcoal, black and white conté, 11″ x 8″ © Bernadette E.Kazmarski

Nearly all the behavioral webinars and other sessions I’ve been attending have, well, “stressed” the prevalence of feline “stress” in observing and interpreting their behavior. It’s one of the things I suspected before we even recognized the effects of stress in people, while managing a house full of rescued cats of all different ages and conditions. A cat is confident one moment and the next is acting defensive or fearful. A normally friendly and happy cat is suddenly happily beating the crap out of a housemate. I’d done the careful introductions, we all slept together and ate together, many paired up for naps or all slept in the same space, like on the bed. What changed the dynamic? And did that change ongoing relationships?

Remembering those days, and many times when people have asked me to help them find a new home for their cat, or with help for their cat’s behavior, I can now see that stress—cat stress, not human stress, meaning things that don’t stress us but do stress cats—are very often the culprit. Cats are very close to their original biology and react to their indoor life through the eyes of a cat living outdoors without all the accouterments we give them, which is one of the things that makes figuring them out so difficult. I’ve been formulating a few articles using examples of the dynamics around here and what I’ve done to ease the stress of 10 cats sharing this small space.

This week Dr. Marci L. Koski, Certified Feline Behavior & Training Consultant, who has advised me on several articles here on The Creative Cat, created and shared two very informational graphics that help to identify everyday things that cause cats stress, and a few things we can do to help alleviate it. I asked her if I could share the graphics and her comments here and she gave me permission.

The sources of stress have been discovered and confirmed with behavioral studies of cats. It’s surprising to see some of the things that are stressful for cats when they are daily activities we thought they were fine with. But remember, also, that not only do cats hide pain as a biological response to preserving their own safety, they also hide stress and fear, so you may never know these things are a problem until your cat starts up with some odd or destructive behavioral issues. And it’s not just one stressor but often several stressors that create behavioral issues, the same in cats as it is in people.

cat stress graphic by Dr. Marci Koski
Putting things into your cat’s stress bucket!

Here’s what Dr. Koski said about the graphics:

I thought I’d share these graphics I put together a while back about how stress can contribute to cat behavior issues. If you think about your cats as having a “stress bucket”, stress can go into the bucket via various ways: something about the litterbox the cat doesn’t like, boredom, fear of someone in the household, breakfast was late, etc. (these things depend on the cat). When the stress bucket overflows, that’s when problems start cropping up. You can let stress out of the bucket by turning down the faucet letting things in (correcting/reducing the stressors themselves) or turn on a spigot to let stress out (through play, etc.). Keep in mind that the size of the stress bucket is variable for different cats – older cats typically have smaller stress buckets, for example. What types of stressors go into your cats’ stress buckets, and how do you alleviate that stress?

cat stress graphic by Dr. Marci Koski
Letting some stress out of the bucket.

And again, the stress relief is often common everyday activity too, as you see above. Matching up the best relief activity for the stress can take some tinkering, but it all starts with observation. Watch your cats closely at any time, not just when they have behavioral issues. Get a baseline on how they act when they are confident, and when they act out, start with looking at what is different about the situation.

You can also ask for purrfessional help for your kitties by talking to someone like Dr. Koski. No, she and I don’t have a deal—I appreciate her approach and how she explains things, so I like to share her advice. She has a Facebook group where members can ask questions and discuss issues, and she also has a monthly “Ask the Cat Behaviorist” column on The Conscious Cat where she answers readers’ questions. Many other certified animal behaviorists do as well, and it’s not a bad idea to find one before you need one, in part because just reading others’ questions and a certified behaviorist’s answers is just plain interesting as well as educational, and you may use the information someday for yourself or others.

I hope this information helps you if you have a behavior issue with any of your fine felines, or that you just find it interesting, and something to tuck into the memory for a day when it comes in handy.

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This information is part of what’s available in Great Rescues Day Book!

Each month features one of my commissioned portraits of a feline or felines and their rescue story along with a kitty quote on the left page, and on the right page the month name with enough lines for all possible dates, with standard holidays and animal-themed observances and events. Great Rescues also includes a mini cat-care book illustrated with my drawings including information on finding strays or orphaned kittens, adopting for the first time or caring for a geriatric cat, a list of household toxins and toxic plants, or helping stray and feral cats and beginning with TNR.

Each book includes also 10 sheets of my “22 Cats” decorative notepaper with a collage of all the portraits in black and white so you can make your own notes or write special notes to friends.

The portraits in this book, collected as a series, won both a Certificate of Excellence and a Muse Medallion in the 2011 Cat Writers’ Association Annual Communication Contest, as well as the 22 Cats Notepaper mentioned below.

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From health and welfare to rescue and adoption stories, advocacy and art, factual articles and fictional stories, "The Creative Cat" offers both visual and verbal education and entertainment about cats for people who love cats, pets and animals of all species.

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