With yoga, salt caves, and float tanks getting more popular, you could say we live in a stress induced culture. We are always being told to lower the stress level in our lives so that we don’t make ourselves sick. We have our pets in part because they lower our stress level. But have you ever thought that your pet, especially your cat, may be stressed out as well? Stress in cats is very common.
It is actually true that indoor cats are prone to stress related illnesses, such as urinary tract problems or inflammatory bowel disease. Of course you look at your cat and think, “What could my cat be stressed about? She always has food available for her (and very expensive food no less), filtered water, and as many cat beds as one cat could desire!”
In the wild, cats hunt all day long. They need around 8-10 small meals per day and it takes about 10 hunts to have success. What this means is that they are hunting 80 times every day. The life of a predator is an incredibly active one. Now fast forward to the domesticated indoor cat. They sleep about 18 hours per day and their food is handed to them without them having to do any work. Rather than this being a luxury for some cats, they find their lives stressful because they are not doing what they were born and built to do.
So how do we combat stress in cats? We enrich their environment. This includes how we set up their basic needs and how we create play for them. Have various interactive and non-interactive toys for them. Create a “hunting” game by to taking a small plastic water bottle, cutting holes in it that are just big enough for treats to fit into, and let your cat use problem solving strategies to figure out how to get the treats out . (Initially you may have to put out some treats next to the bottle so your cat learns that there is a reward attached to the bottle.) You can hide some of these throughout the house.
Cats in nature have a need to nap high up rather than on the ground, to avoid predators. You can purchase a cat tree so your cat can be “out of sight.” You can provide visual stimulation with an outside bird feeder. Provide a scratching post. Cats are meant to scratch. It is good for their nails, but it’s also how they communicate to others in the wild (so they are programmed to be doing this), and stretch their muscles.
Go to https://indoorpet.osu.edu/cats for an in depth look at the basic needs of the indoor cat and what you can do to enrich their environment. It will help reduce stress in cats, including their anxiety, and you may prevent or stop unwanted behaviors or even prevent disease!