Cats don’t have to pay the rent, drive in rush hour traffic, or decide what’s for dinner, but that doesn’t mean they don’t suffer from stress. Stress is a naturally occurring state that occurs when animals have to make adaptive changes in their bodies or behavior to cope with internal or external environment changes. Much like ourselves, a cat’s prolonged exposure to real or perceived stress can lead to negative, long-term changes in their health, wellbeing, and longevity.

Take the Aberdeen Veterinary Clinics’ cat stress test to learn more about your feline’s feelings. Answer “Yes” or “No” to the statements below.

Yes or No: My cat is overgrooming or neglecting their grooming 

Cats are naturally fastidious and prefer to keep themselves clean. But, because grooming is self-soothing, stressed cats may groom more frequently and intensely than normal in an attempt to relieve their anxious emotional state. Such overgrooming (i.e., psychogenic alopecia) can lead to self-trauma or secondary skin problems, as well as hair thinning and baldness. If overgrooming is caused by underlying pain, cats may focus their attention on the affected area (e.g., the abdomen, a specific joint).

Some cats respond to stress by completely neglecting their personal hygiene, resulting in a matted, greasy, or disheveled appearance. 

Y or N: My cat’s litter box habits are unpredictable

House soiling is the most commonly reported feline behavior issue and the most frustrating for owners if they cannot determine the cause. Stress can be a natural response to urinary tract health issues that make urination difficult or uncomfortable. Cats who are physically uncomfortable while urinating or when entering or exiting the box (e.g., arthritic senior cats) can develop an aversion or negative emotional association toward their litter box and may eliminate in inappropriate locations. Also, litter box factors, including location, design, cleanliness, changes in litter type or brand, and resource guarding by other cats, can trigger stress.

Y or N: My cat has frequent urinary issues

Stress is a known contributor to feline idiopathic cystitis (FIC), an inflammatory condition that affects the cat’s bladder and causes irritation, difficulty, and discomfort during urination. FIC can resemble a urinary tract infection, but affected cats do not have bacteria in their urine and the condition can resolve on its own. However, recurrence is common if the stressor is not identified and removed.

Because many other urinary problems (e.g., urinary crystals or bladder stones, infection) may be at play, cats with recurring urinary issues should receive a complete evaluation, including a physical exam, blood work, urinalysis, and ultrasound imaging.

Y or N: My cat demonstrates obsessive-compulsive behaviors

Repetitive, exaggerated, or seemingly purposeless behaviors can be a natural response for cats whose stress is the result of changes in their environment, confinement (e.g., boredom, depression), or disruptions in their normal routine that make them feel unsafe.

Behaviors may include overgrooming, hair-pulling, fabric chewing or sucking, pacing, and excessive vocalization. 

Y or N: My cat is withdrawn and frequently isolates themselves

Cats who are experiencing internal physical or emotional conflict, including stress, illness, and pain, commonly isolate themselves. If your previously social cat no longer seeks attention or intentionally avoids human contact, schedule an appointment at Aberdeen Veterinary Clinic.

Y or N: My cat is behaving aggressively

Stressed cats may physically lash out at their owners, other pets, or unfamiliar visitors. Aggression is a complicated and nuanced condition that is best addressed by your veterinarian or a certified veterinary behaviorist who can help identify the cause of your cat’s behavior. Never ignore, dismiss, or punish aggression, because that can worsen and intensify the underlying condition and behaviors.

Common stress causes in cats 

Identifying your cat’s stressors can help you and your Aberdeen Veterinary Clinic veterinarian develop a plan to restore your cat’s health and happiness. Common stress triggers include:

  • Pain and illness
  • Unfamiliar people or pets
  • Changes in routine, diet, or litter 
  • Inadequate resources (e.g., litter boxes, toys, food bowls)
  • External threats (e.g., seeing outdoor or stray cats through the window)
  • Novel environmental objects
  • Travel (e.g., veterinary or grooming appointments)
  • Excessive handling or petting
  • Boredom or lack of enrichment

Your cat’s stress scorecard

Although a little stress is normal and natural, any stress that disrupts your cat’s health or behavior is cause for concern. If you answered “Yes” to any of the stress statements above, schedule an appointment at Aberdeen Veterinary Clinic. Our knowledgeable and compassionate teams will evaluate your cat’s physical and behavioral health and provide targeted, effective relief.