Do Cats Gets Stressed?  You Bet!

We get asked a lot of questions about cat behavior -- especially urinating outside the litter box and biting. Here's our question today, and it's a good one because it addresses these behaviors and the answer will give you some insight into why these behaviors occur:

Dear Cat,

I have a real serious problem with my female cat Gabby. She has started to urinate just outside the litter box...not every day but every now and then, and mostly when I've just returned from out of town. I have an excellent cat sitter who keeps the litter sparkling clean, and also plays with her when I'm gone although only for an hour or so a day. I'm not out of town a lot, but there are times I must go, for business and the occasional pleasure trip. But now I'm getting anxious each time I have to go out of town, and my cat sitter is starting to complain, and HELP! How can I stop this urinating? Please answer asap.

signed:   Litter-ally Not Happy in Maryland

Like many domestic animals -- including you human-folk -- cats can become stressed when their daily routines or living environments are disrupted; also like humans, what conditions cause stress and how your cat reacts to it, depend a lot on her personality.

High-strung cats may be more "stress-prone" than cats with a quieter disposition; older cats -- "set in their ways," so to speak -- are also more susceptible to stress. However, there are several situations that seem to be common stress-producers in many cats. At the top of the list are the following: the introduction of a new baby to the home, bringing home a new pet (including a new cat or kitten), moving, drastic changes in the owners schedule, long-term live-in guests and long absences of one or more family member. Too much stimulation -- such as excessive noise or new people or odors -- also produces stress and the consequent unwanted behavior.

If your cat is stressed, she could behave in a variety of ways: An observant human will notice changes in her pet, but may not understand what has provoked these changes:

The most common signal of a stressed cat is urinating or soiling areas outside the litter box, and if your cat is introverted, she will try to relieve her stress by taking it out on herself -- chewing, biting or licking herself until she is raw. Your cat may become so distressed that she stops eating or vomits or has diarrhea. If she is more outgoing and aggressive, she may take her stress out on you or your home and furniture by scratching, biting or chewing on various items in the house or on you (ouch). Other signs of stress include general restlessness, hyperactivity or (the other extreme) listlessness; your cat may choose to hide from the stimulus and relieve her stress in that way.

Cats love routine, and frankly, we can't get enough of it....we live it, know it, love it.

Although many changes may be unavoidable in your cat's life, you can reduce the potential for stress by working to keep the routine and environment as similar as possible: When moving to a new home, keep your cats dishes, litter box and favorite food and toys, and keep the same routines and locations for your cats areas, whenever possible. For example, if the food dishes have always been kept in the kitchen next to the sink, locate them there in the new home -- the fewer changes you introduce to your cat, the less stress she will experience. Many solutions depend on the cause for the stress Pin down the cause, and the solutions are easy to find.

As a last resort, your veterinarian can prescribe tranquilizers or low dosages of hormones to calm down your stressed cat on a temporary basis -- and as I said in the beginning, it is wise to visit the veterinarian first to rule out any medical reasons for stress. At that time, the veterinarian may have some suggestions of his/her own.

He or she may also recommend medication, such as Valium and Buspar for stress-related aggression or Prozac and Elavil for depression. These should only be used for short periods of time, and if you have trouble giving Gabby a pill, may I suggest you get your medication in liquid form that you can quickly "shoot" into her mouth. The stress of giving your cat a pill can bring on more stress than it's trying to help!

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