Ways People Cause Their Cats Stress

People can unknowingly stress their cats.

As cat owners, we all want our kitties to be happy, healthy, and stress-free. But we're a different species from our cats, and sometimes we don't realize we're inadvertently causing them anxiety, fear, or extra stress. In fact, people often don't know that cats suffer from stress or what types of things stress them out. Here, we share some of the common ways people accidentally cause their cats stress so you can avoid doing them.

Using Punishment Like Yelling, Chasing, or Hitting

If you are punishing your cat for something you don't want him to do, especially if that punishment does not coincide with the unwanted behavior, you are causing your cat stress. Though you might think your cat understands why you're freaking out, he doesn't. He only knows that you sometimes lose your cool and punish him. That makes you an unreliable, scary person to him, and the result is anxiety because he doesn't know when you might explode and hit, chase, or yell at him.

A much more effective and less stressful way to handle things is through positive reinforcement. So, rather than punishing your cat when he does something you don't like, show him the behavior you want and praise him when he does it.

So instead of yelling when your cat scratches your couch, give him an excellent, sturdy scratching post covered in sisal fabric—a favored scratching surface among cats—and praise him and give him treats for using it. You can also make the sofa unattractive as a spot to scratch by covering it with heavy fabric or aluminum foil or spraying it with citrus spray or Feliway after you've checked an inconspicuous spot for color-fastness. Learn more about the specifics of teaching a cat where to scratch here: "Train Your Cat to Stop Scratching Your Couch in 7 Days or Less."

That is the same theory you should use whenever your cat is doing something you don't like. Make it difficult for him to do that thing and very attractive to do the thing you want him to engage in instead. Give praise and treats when he complies.

Letting Dogs or Children Harass Him

If someone in your home is allowed to chase or otherwise bother your kitty, he will feel stressed and anxious. While people can sometimes find it funny to watch a dog "play with" a cat by chasing him, it's anything but funny to the cat. It's extremely stressful.

Likewise, doing anything yourself to scare your kitty, like clapping your hands when he's engrossed in something else or putting a cucumber behind him when he's not looking causes stress.

Not Playing with Him Enough

Boredom is stressful for cats. In the wild, they're predators who must stalk and capture prey to live. When cats live indoors with us and don't need to hunt, they can sleep too much, become bored, and feel stressed. Interactive play is a critical part of keeping your cat happy and his stress low. This type of game, where you use a toy to mimic the behavior of a bird or rodent to let your kitty act like a predator, is extremely stress-relieving for cats. You can add even more stress-relieving enrichment to your cat's life by using puzzle toys or automatic toys to keep him busy when you can't play with him.

Why Should You Worry About Your Cat's Stress?

As in humans, chronic stress in cats damages health. Many medical conditions are caused or worsened by stress. Additionally, a stressed cat will engage in activities that humans dislike, such as inappropriate urination and scratching unwanted items.

Additionally, if a cat is stressed because of something going on in a particular spot in the house, he may avoid that area. That can lead to problems if the food, water, or litter box are in those spots.

Signs of Stress in Cats

Stress in cats can manifest in different behaviors, including:

  • Inappropriate urination
  • Inappropriate scratching
  • Hiding
  • Decreased appetite
  • Increased vocalizations
  • Excessive self-grooming to the point of skin trauma
  • Chewing on items in the house

Other Stress-Inducers for Cats

Cats can also be stressed by other things, including remodeling of the home, changes in a housemate's schedule, a new housemate or one who leaves, and traveling. Some of those aren't avoidable, but the others in this article can and should be avoided.

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