Is your pet suffering from stress?
This may sound like a silly question - how can my quiet little cat which sleeps most of the time possibly be stressed? However, several common conditions are associated with, or made worse by stress. Our hectic modern lifestyles are not always suited to our pets.
Examples of things which can cause stress to a cat include:
- Change in the members (human and otherwise) of the household
- Change in the household environment such as moving house or redecorating
- Change in the feline population in the local area such as a new cat (or dog) moving in next door
- A trip to the vets or a stay in the cattery
Cats in multi-cat households are particularly prone to stress because they have to compete for food and drink, and may be unable to find privacy for toileting.
Stress in cats often does not look like stress in humans and as a result stressed behaviour can be misinterpreted as bad behaviour. Signs of stress can include:
- Increased scratching behaviour (this is the cat marking his territory to reassure himself)
- Increased urine marking (also territory marking)
- Over-grooming (this can become a vice not unlike nail-biting in humans)
- Increased aggression
- Inactivity, and withdrawn, hiding behaviour
One very common illness which has strong association with stress is cystitis (feline idiopathic cystitis which is part of the complex feline lower urinary tract disease). Cats which are stressed for any or all of the reasons above are much more prone to developing cystitis. Having to compete for or share a litter tray is a particular factor. In a multicat household there should be one tray per cat plus a spare tray to try and reduce litter tray stress. If you think that your cat may have cystitis it is important to seek veterinary advice, particularly if your cat appears to be struggling to pass urine. Please note that urine sample collection kits are available from the RSPCA online shop.
There are several things which we can do as owners to reduce the stress in our cats. As well as the measures described above, any cat which appears to be suffering from stress can benefit from the use of pheromone sprays such as Feliway ®(Ceva) which can be used as a spray or as a plug-in device, placed where the cat spends most of his or her time. Feliway is a synthetic copy of the facial pheromone which cats use to mark their territory. It provides a familiar and reassuring scent which helps your cat to feel secure in their environment.
Dogs also suffer from stress, and as with cats, the behaviour they exhibit can be misinterpreted as naughty behaviour. Stressful situations for dogs can include:
- Visit to the vet
- Staying home alone
- Change in household (including new baby or new pet)
DAP® (Ceva) (which stands for Dog Appeasing Pheromone) is a product which is a synthetic copy of the natural appeasing pheromone which is naturally released by all lactating mammals to comfort and reassure their offspring. It works on adult dogs as well as puppies, is non-sedative, and can be used alongside all other types of medication. DAP is available as a spray, a diffuser and a collar so it suits all lifestyles. DAP helps in the stressful situations above, and can also help pups and adult dogs to settle in a new home, and help promote learning during training.
Zylkène is another product which can be useful to help our pets cope with stress. It is a powder which is provided in a capsule form. The powder can be sprinkled on food once a day. The active ingredient is made from a protein found in milk and has a calming effect (similar to that seen in babies after a milk feed). It is lactose free. Zylkène has not been associated with any side effects, including sedation or memory loss and is suitable for many pets. It can be effective when used a day or two before the anticipated stress (a journey, firework night, moving house or vet visit), and can be used long term if necessary.
Feliway, Zylkene and DAP can all be obtained through the RSPCA online shop.
Please note that if you have any concerns about your pet's health you should seek veterinary advice in the first instance. Your vet will tell you if there is a medical cause for the behaviour and may recommend further testing.