Stress isn’t simply a state of mind. Few emotions impact the body and spirit as heavily as stress, even on our feline friends. While stress itself isn’t likely to kill your cat, it very well can trigger other health conditions that can be potentially life-threatening if not addressed quickly. Let’s learn more in this article.
How Serious Is Stress?
Anxiety and depression may suppress your cat’s appetite. Conversely, they may binge eat if their stressors are food-related, such as territorial issues with a fellow house cat. Cats who withdraw from eating are in immediate danger of starving themselves. Eating too much food won’t have as much of an immediate effect as starvation. However, this behavior can lead to obesity, which significantly lowers your cat’s quality of life and average lifespan. Being overweight subjects your cat to elevated risks of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and kidney disease—all of which are among the most common causes of sudden death in cats.
Stress also puts, well, stress, on your cat’s cardiovascular system. Heart disease is a leading cause of death in cats, and unfortunately, it’s one of the most silent killers. Stress can trigger strokes and heart attacks, especially in cats who are already sick.
Thus, though indirectly, stress can absolutely be a life-threatening condition. At the very least, it steals from your cat’s quality of life, which can then in turn negatively impact their health.
Stress Can Cause Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease
Anxiety is a holistic issue that wreaks havoc on your cat’s internal organs. Did you know that stress even negatively impacts your cat’s ability to pee? Chronically anxious cats are at a high risk of developing Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD). This disorder is a blanket term for multiple urinary conditions, including feline idiopathic cystitis (FIC), which is one of the most common conditions in the group.
When your cat stresses out, inflammation floods their body. The inflammation tends to concentrate in their urinary tract, affecting the lining of the bladder, and causing it to swell. When this happens, your cat may struggle to urinate, and may relieve themselves outside of their litter box, often accompanied by loud yowling. You should always immediately take your cat to the vet if they fail to urinate, as FIC can cause a life-threatening urinary obstruction.
The 6 Ways to Tell If Your Cat Is Stressed
While we wish cats could tell all of their problems to us in English, thankfully, it isn’t too difficult to sense when your cat is stressed. Chances are, they’ll try to tell you in their own way.
Some cats are more prone to vocalizing than others. However, if your cat has recently begun singing a different tune—or your quiet kitty suddenly speaks up—they’re probably trying to tell you something is wrong.
2. Urinating or Defecating Outside of the Litter Box
If your cat is completely litter box trained, it should be unusual for you to spot soiling in other places in the house. A dirty or inadequate litter box might be the reason, as well as adopting a new cat who shares the box. Ideally, each cat should have their own litter box with one to spare to prevent territorial issues from arising.
3. Excessive Grooming
Cats do spend several hours a day licking themselves, so this one might be difficult to notice. However, you shouldn’t see your cat excessively grooming for hours on end, or engaging in destructive behaviors such as picking at their nails or biting their tail.
4. Not Eating or Drinking
Appetites fluctuate, but it’s probably not a good sign if your cat hasn’t eaten for 24 hours or more. If your cat hasn’t drank any water in the last 12 hours, or shows other signs of illness, you should take them to the vet so they don’t dehydrate.
5. Binge Eating
Cats who feel like they must compete for attention and resources may resort to gorging themselves when they do find food. If they’re depleting the food much faster than usual, consider investing in a slow feeder and serving your cats separately if you have more than one. If the behavior continues for longer than a few days, you might want to take your cat to the vet. Overeating can be a sign of purely physical problems that will need to be medically addressed, such as hyperthyroidism.
When cats don’t feel their best, they like to find a secluded place to recover. You should provide a safe and stable place for your cat to rest where they won’t be bothered by other animals. It may significantly increase their mental wellbeing to simply take a break.
When Should You Take Your Cat to the Vet
Unfortunately, stress can cause and exacerbate physical issues. Anxiety can also masquerade as purely physical issues. For example, if your cat suddenly yowls and strains to urinate, they could have a bladder stone, especially if you have an older feline. Since the physical and mental attributes of your cat are so closely intertwined, you should always take your cat to see the vet if you notice any of these signs:
Even if you don’t notice any of these more serious signs, you should still consider taking your kitty to the clinic if the issue persists for a week or more. Untreated anxiety can lead to worse problems, such as Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD).
Top 3 Tips to Help Alleviate Cat Stress
Figuring out what’s ailing your cat should be the first step you take, unless you feel compelled to take your cat to the vet immediately. Timing can be crucial, as it can lead you to the cause. For example, did it start when new neighbors moved in next door with their barking Beagle and screeching children? Was your cat acting anxious when your best friend came to visit last weekend? Once you can pinpoint where the problem started, you can begin implementing changes like these to your cat’s lifestyle to compensate for the stress.
1. Give Them a Place to Rest
Creating a quiet, sunny oasis with some hiding holes for your cat can essentially act as therapy for them, especially if they share a house with other animals or children. Your cat should have a spot that’s completely theirs, even if it’s only a corner of a room or the top shelf of a closet.
2. Switch Their Food, If Necessary
You may want to discuss this option with your vet first before making your decision. If your vet determines that your cat has Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD), they may recommend that you change their formula to a recipe that complements the urinary tract. This is usually in the form of a prescription diet that’s pH balanced for urinary complications, or simply switching to a wet food since dry kibble is more difficult to process and has a slightly dehydrating effect.
3. Take Your Time with Them
Cats crave your attention. It’s important to carve time out of your day to simply be with them, especially if you’ve just experienced a big life change, such as moving houses. Fun fact, science shows that petting your cat reduces your stress, too. A mere 10-minute petting session decreases cortisol, a hormone that’s responsible for expressing stress. Even if you have a busy day ahead, you can incorporate mini sessions with your cat, such as stroking them while the coffee’s brewing.
Stress isn’t a definable illness like diabetes. However, it is indirectly responsible for pet deaths because of its impact on the body as a whole. You should always seek to alleviate stressors as soon as you notice your cat acting anxious. Chronic stress can cause problems with your cat’s urinary tract and give aid to the most common enemies waging war against your cat’s health—cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. Maintaining beneficial habits for you both, such as extra quality time, can make both of you less stressed and improve your health overall.