Cool Cats

By Sharon Mosley

April 24, 2014 6 min read

Some cats lie in the sun, blissed-out and peaceful, and others are more high-strung, jumpy or timid. If you've noticed that your cat has begun to misbehave or is suddenly not acting like himself or herself -- or if your cat has long been high-strung, unfriendly and difficult -- stress may be the cause.

Pam Johnson-Bennett, certified cat behavior consultant, author of "Think Like a Cat" and star of the Animal Planet and Nat Geo Wild television series "Psycho Kitty," says on her website, at http://www.catbehaviorassociates.com, that "cats don't all exhibit the same signs of stress." However, some of the most common signs your cat may be stressed out include:

--Loss of appetite.

--Excessive grooming (which can cause a cat to lose chunks of his or her fur).

--Elimination outside of the litter box.

--Hiding.

--Reduced interaction with family members and with other pets.

--Aggression.

--Spraying, or urine marking, around the house.

Yet before you attribute these behaviors to stress alone, it's important to get your veterinarian's input on these behaviors. "Don't assume that the cat's elimination problems or aggression toward a companion cat is due to stress until other health concerns have been looked into," says Johnson-Bennett. Loss of appetite, hair loss and other changes may be signs of a serious illness.

Once your veterinarian concludes that your cat's physical health is not at fault, it's wise to figure out the cause of your cat's stress to remedy her discomfort.

The Humane Society of America says, "Cats are very sensitive to change. Their senses are far more developed than ours, so even small differences in your home's sounds, smells and sights can be stressful." These might include:

--Repairs being done in the home.

--Loud music.

--Outside construction noises.

--The presence of houseguests.

--A change in food brand.

--A change in litter brand.

--New furniture.

--New smells in the house, such as aromatherapy candles, new laundry detergent or a new perfume.

Large life changes for humans, such as a new baby, an illness in the family, a divorce, or even a change in work schedule, also spell chaos for a cat experiencing a different vibe without understanding why.

Of course, bringing a new pet into the home is a major change for a cat that is used to ruling the roost. Likewise, the loss of a pet can deeply affect your cat's state of mind and behavior.

Sometimes it is something as simple as your cat preferring you to clean the litter box more often.

"Try to identify the cause of the stress," says Johnson-Bennett. "This isn't always an easy thing to do, but it can help if you remember the sensitivity level of a cat's senses. Your cat hears much better than you and her high-level hearing is especially sensitive. Imagine how ongoing loud music might affect her."

"When it comes to your cat's sense of touch, having a room carpeted or having the carpet removed and flooring put down could be disturbing not only from a noise and smell perspective but also from a textural point of view," Johnson-Bennett says.

To help soothe your cat, here are some tips:

--Make sure your cat has safe and quiet places to hide away and escape any noises or scents she doesn't like, as well as other pets or children.

--Teach children that when your cat is in her safe spot, she is not to be disturbed.

--Keep litter boxes clean and use a litter brand to which your cat responds well.

--Provide more vertical territory in your home. Johnson-Bennett says that cats naturally depend on elevated areas for security, so a cat tree is a welcome addition to your cat's environment.

--Keep changes in food brand or flavors to a minimum. If you must change food or treats, do it gradually so that your cat can adapt.

--Provide ways for your cat to stay entertained when you're not at home. Cat toys and cat entertainment DVDs can provide desired stimulation.

--Don't leave your cat home alone overnight. If you have to travel, have a friend or relative the cat is used to stay in the house while you're gone.

--Engage in playtime with your cat, since interaction can be soothing and inspire happiness. If your cat prefers not to play at this time, respect her wishes and try again later.

--If you have several cats, provide at least one litterbox per cat, and provide at least one food and water dish per cat.

--If a new baby or houseguests will be in your home, try to introduce them gradually, and instruct houseguests to let your cat adjust. Do not force interaction, which can lead to cat aggression.

The ASPCA says that even if you can't pinpoint your cat's stressors, or it they cannot be changed, you can reduce her stress with plenty of affection, interactive play, a safe environment and a reliable routine to make your cat feel more secure.

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