Look at your cat. No seriously, have a look at your cat right now. What’s she doing? Sleeping, most likely. It seems like a pretty good life. But what if I told you that underneath that relaxed exterior your cat may be a seething mass of jangled, frayed nerves? It’s kind of hard to believe, but a lot of our cats are extremely stressed out by their indoor lifestyles. “What?!” I hear some of you cry. “Ungrateful wretch! That cat doesn’t have to lift a finger! What’s there to be stressed out about?”. Quite a lot, actually.
Helping Your Cat Live a Stress Free Life
An indoor lifestyle, while great for keeping your cat safe and minimizing their contact with serious illnesses, is a great source of stress for some cats. It’s a very unnatural state of affairs for them, and when all of their daily needs are taken care of for them, it removes even more of their normal behaviour from the equation. I’m going to cover some signs that your cat may be stressed, and some easy changes you can make to your home to make it even more cat friendly.
How do you tell if a cat is stressed?
Cats by their nature are experts at hiding their illness, and stress is no exception. By the time your cat is showing obvious outward signs that they’re upset, the stress has been there for a long time.
Signs that a cat is stressed out may include:
- a change in eating habits
- a change in their sleeping patterns, including where they sleep and how often
- decreased grooming
- a change in their litter box activity, not using the litter box and even blood in their urine
- weight change of more than 10%, either up or down
What is my cat stressed out about?
Literally anything! Cats tend to be solitary creatures who like a routine, so anything that throws their routine out of whack can be upsetting. Visitors (including new people who never leave, like babies), new pets, new furniture can toss your cat into the deep end of an emotional spiral that ends with them peeing on everything in sight! Even rearranging your old furniture can be enough. Cats are from outer space and work on a different plane of reality than the rest of the world, so you can drive yourself just as crazy trying to figure out what might be upsetting them. If you can’t pinpoint a specific stressor I recommend focussing on your home environment and making it as cat friendly as possible.
Making Your Home Cat Friendly
Your cat should always have a space that is “hers”, a special refuge from the hustle and bustle of daily cat life. It should be room that they always have access to, so if something scary happens they know that they have a safe place to escape to. Provide access to food, water, a litter box and a comfortable place to sleep. This space should be off limits to anyone or anything that may stress your cat (visitors, children, vacuum cleaners, dogs etc).
You need to get a litter box that your cat is going to like. These days litter boxes have been getting smaller and smaller, while most cats are getting bigger and bigger! What we humans want in a litter box is small, discreet and out of the way. What your cat wants is a large, spacious, uncovered litter box, and preferably more than one. You should always have one litter box per cat, plus one. So if you’ve got one cat, you should have at least 2 litter boxes, in completely different areas of your home. Cats like to know that they’ve got some options for where to go, especially if they feel like they cannot access the one they regularly use. The boxes should be scooped daily (nobody likes to use a dirty bathroom!) with a deep cleaning once a week.
Scratching is normal cat behaviour, so it’s important for their mental wellbeing that you provide them with a healthy outlet. If your cat doesn’t like the scratching post that you’ve provided them pay attention to what they ARE scratching. Yes, it’s annoying when your cat is trashing your stuff, but they’re giving you good clues as to what they like to scratch. Are they destroying the wood frame of your kitchen door? Your cat wants a vertical scratching post made of wood. Are they clawing at the carpet? That’s a request for a horizontal scratching post covered in carpet! If they’re going for a leather chair, get a scrap of leather and cover a scratching post with it. You get the idea. You can also use food or cat nip as an enticement to use the post that you want them to.
Ever see one of those lovely pictures of a lion lounging on the branch of a tree while they survey the African plains, thinking their lion-y thoughts? Now replace the lion with a house cat. OK, now replace Africa with your living room and the tree with a perch. Cats love having a high perch (also known at cat trees) to hang out on. It makes them comfortable to be above your eye level. All the better to look down on the lowly humans and reinforce their natural superiority complexes. Most cats prefer a perch that is carpeted, with just enough space for a single cat to curl up in. If you don’t have room for a perch, make sure that you allow them high access to somewhere…even the top of the fridge will. Put a small bed or a towel up there to encourage them to use it. Finally, after all that work, it’s play time! Your cat basically has all her needs taken care of, so it’s easy for them to get fat and lazy.
Find some toys that your cat loves (something other than that box that she keeps trying to get into…) and spend a few minutes each day to stimulate her hunting instincts. If you’re tired of buying toys that your cat ignores (in favour of just sitting in the box they came in) try to figure out your cat’s prey preference. Does she like birds? Get feathery objects that dangle in the air that she can jump for. Does she prefer chasing rodents? Get something the is low to the ground and that you can make move erratically. Does she like your toes? Good luck sleeping!
As always, don’t change too many things at once, because that can stress your cat out. Introduce the changes slowly, and always leave out the “old” thing next to the “new” thing, so your cat feels like she has a choice. If you’re looking for more ways to improve your cat’s environment, check out the great site put together by the Ohio State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.