Why do cats suffer with Stress and associated behaviours??

Throughout the hundreds of cats relinquished to Sunny Harbour every year there are very clear patterns to the core reasons why cats are relinquished.  Many of these include reasons such as a house move, new baby, aggression or unpredictable behaviour and even inappropriate urination possibly as a result of said house move or new arrival.

Whilst there are variables between each case one key element across most of these cases which is the same is stress.  Yes these are stressful times for you and your family. But have you stopped for 1 moment to consider the effect your stress or change in situation is having on your pets? in particular your cat?

Cats are complex beings who whilst yes, can think independently, they are also very intuitive and can sense how you are feeling. They will often know something is wrong before you do.

I know from personal experience that an old boy we had, JoJo (who happens to appear on the front cover of this years Calendar), knew several weeks before me that I was pregnant and would follow me everywhere and want to constantly lay on me, very out of character for JoJo.

There are many studies and many points of view with regards to stress in cats. Some accept their ability to feel stres, others not so much. Certainly from experience we know only too well that stress plays a vital role in why cats come INTO rescue.  It is not simply due to stress but the behaviour that the stress manifests as these cats become more and more anxious.
A large proportion of the cats we see arrive at Sunny Harbour Cat Rescue under these circumstances fall into 2 clear categories. Fear Aggressive & Stress Related Behaviours.

Our findings are that cats are not naturally outwardly aggressive. Certainly they will take flee over fight any chance they can. So what causes cats to become aggressive, distant and often erratic in their behaviours? 1 word Stress.
Sunny Harbour Cat Rescue specialise in caring for these unwanted souls because we feel they are essentially misunderstood. They have fed the information to their owners that they are fearful or unhappy and going un noticed  and therefore un treated for so long the cats anxieties increase and begin to manifest in behavioural or physical changes. The longer this continues, generally the worse the behaviour will become, until eventually owners see the cat as a problem and so rather than look for ways to help their pet they often see them as a lost cause and either put them to sleep, abandon them or give them to rescue.

We would like to see owners begin to see their cats as individuals and when you notice changes in behaviour take note, not dismiss.  Changes in behaviour especially drastic changes can also signal health issues and you should have your cat seen and assessed by your veterinary practice as soon as possible.

Based on the cases we have dealt with we feel 1 key element in a cats ability to cope with change well is often related to the age they were separated from their mother and siblings. Those taken below 10 – 12 weeks are more susceptible and even more so, are those taken too young to live as a single cat.

The reason?

Kittens only start to develop social skills and learn how to deal with exposure to new sights, sounds, etc from around 7 weeks when their fundamental senses such as hearing and eyesight is more developed. Between 8 and 12 weeks kittens learn how to develop their natural skills of socialising, hunting, psychological development and ability to adapt to change and new surroundings through play and reassurance from their siblings. 

Without the ability to learn from their siblings kittens lack the basic skills they need to develop into confident, well socialized adult cats.  It is predominantly these very cats that will find themselves in rescue for their unacceptable behaviour and really for no fault of their own.  Humans chose to remove them from their learning environment too soon because they have not taken the time to establish a cats basic developmental needs and the future impact their actions will cause. They have considered only that they want them as young, cute and fluffy as possible.

Think of it as taking your child out of school in nursery with no contact with other children or school education and expecting them to know how to read, write, and communicate with their peers. They would struggle vs those who continued to go to school wouldn’t they?

We really want the public to see more clearly the effects their choices can have and the misery it can cause for the cats but also for the owners. We want to see owners understand their cats needs more fully so that they can spot warning signs and take steps to help your cat before anxiety sends them into despair and they lash out or leave a deposit on your bed telling you they can’t cope.

What should you do?

Ask for advice from your vet, call your local rescue for advice, Sunny Harbour offer an advice service, or utilise your pet insurance and ask your vet to refer you to a local cat behaviouralist for help.

Pets don’t ask for much other than love, food, a warm place to sleep and most of all to feel safe in their home.  Consider them part of your family as they consider you part of theirs.

Please remember your cat feels fear, hurt, upset, anxiety as well as happiness. 

Next time you dismiss their behaviour consider how you would feel if you asked for help and it fell on deaf ears?

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One Response to Why do cats suffer with Stress and associated behaviours??

  1. Elle says:

    Really good article. I have just taken on a cat to foster who’s previous fosterer only had him a week and couldn’t cope with his spraying. He’d been neutered a few weeks ago so the smell was pretty much still bad. Anyway, he’s hardly done it in my house at all, I have 2 other cats which he is starting to get a long ok with, but the key element was I have given him his own room, whenever he came downstairs and I caught him about to do it or just wee’d on the floor, I took him back up to his room and settled him in quietness and let him calm down. He’s only doing it from stress so I take him out of the stressful situations and he’s now acting like the place is his own after only a few days. He sprayed constantly at the other persons house and it’s gone from 5 times, down to once yesterday and none at all today so far. 🙂

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