Signs of stress in cats are subtle and difficult to recognize. When their environmental needs are not being met then they experience stress. Stress increases their chance of developing certain diseases such as lower urinary tract disease and obesity. Obese cats are prone to diabetes and fatty liver syndrome. We also see an increase in abnormal behavior that is undesirable to the owner when environmental needs are not met. Unfortunately, this can escalate and lead to surrender or euthanasia of the pet. This week I will discuss ways to provide your cat with proper environmental enrichment to keep them healthy.
It’s critical that kittens between the age of two and seven weeks of age socialize and adapt to humans. Kittens should be handled by at least four different people during this time period for short periods at a time totaling an hour a day. This time period has long term developmental effects and kittens that are handled in this manner are typically friendlier and are able to cope with stress better and typically display less fear.
When cats are faced with stressful situations (household visitors, new cat in the neighborhood or house, veterinary visits or a household move) they respond by hiding. It’s very important to realize that when your cat is hiding it is stressed and possibly even ill! Another cat protective mechanism is to avoid showing signs that they are ill, weak or in pain. So the next time your cat is acting aloof don’t just think that your cat is being independent, it most likely is stressed or ill.
Here are the keys to providing your cat with a stress free, healthy home. I believe the key factor is providing multiple and separate areas for each of these environmental resources: food, water, litter boxes, scratching posts, play and resting areas for each cat in your household. It is recommended that food and water resources be separated from each other, especially in multi-cat households. Each cat should have separate feeding stations. Access to elevated areas and increasing your cat’s vertical space allows them to monitor their environment. By placing resources in different locations you are allowing your cats to avoid seeing other cats, minimizing competition for these resources, decrease bullying and decreasing stress. Cats display a strong behavior for predatory behavior so they should be provided the opportunity to engage in pseudo-predatory play and feeding behaviors. Lastly, cat benefit from social interaction with humans. However, do not force interaction with your cat. Let the cat initiate and choose when it wants contact. Cats prefer petting on the head, cheek and chin in favor of petting the abdomen and back. In fact, petting in these areas can lead to aggressive behavior.
Please e-mail me with your questions at ACoffin@aol.com and put “Ask Dr. Anna” in the subject line or mail your questions to 123 West Harrison Guthrie, OK 73044.
Spay and neuter your pets!
“The reason dogs have so many friends is because they wag their tails and not their tongues.” author unknown