Monday, January 07, 2019

Is Your Cat Nervous?

Written by Dr. Gloria Ku

Anxiety in cats is not uncommon.  In nature, the instinct to be stealthy and able to react quickly is an advantage.  In domestic life, sometimes this can be a disadvantage.  Anxiety over changes in season, routine, dietary choices, litter preferences, and even sudden movements can make our kitty companions seem a bit jumpy sometimes. 

For the most part, cats can adjust their sensitivity to our lives by hiding and basically avoiding the “negative stimulus.”  When avoidance is not enough, some cats will express their anxiety in other ways.  Elimination issues are probably one of the most common ways that cats will express anxiety in the home, or perhaps it is the most noticeable as urinating on the rug or the toaster.  This will surely get our attention!
Just like with us, stress can actually create physiological responses in the body that alert us to a problem.  This can be increased acid production in the stomach, even to the point of creating inflammation and pain in the gut, vomiting or diarrhea.  Stress in cats in particular can cause inflammation in the bladder wall that can lead to something termed Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disorder (or “FLUTD”).  This inflammation can lead to increased urination and urgency or straining, often resulting in blood in the urine, and behavioral concerns that typically involve urinating outside the box, somewhere. 

Since our feline friends are not always as communicative as other species, subtle signs of stress can go undetected by their human companions until they reach a level of creating physical signs.  For example, Autumn is a common time for urinary problems to occur when indoor/outdoor cats feel the change in temperature and start to spend more time indoors.  Being indoors, they may have to adjust to litter boxes again. Cats may hold their urine longer because litter has a deodorizer in it they don’t like, or possibly another cat has also just used the litter box.  Because male cats in particular have a small urethra, they are often the ones that have the worst time with stress as the urethra also starts to swell, resulting in urine sediment or red blood cells (if there is accompanying bleeding due to inflammation) to have trouble passing.  This can cause the urethra to become plugged, not allowing urine to be eliminated, what is commonly referred to as a “blocked cat” and can result in an emergency situation.  If waste cannot be eliminated, the toxins will build up in the body, and the bladder could fill to the point of near rupture; the cat can become quite depressed and even unresponsive in a matter of hours.  This is an emergency situation and one needs to seek help as soon as possible or it can actually lead to death. 

Less critical but still very important stress responses can create chronic vomiting, diarrhea, or immunosuppression just like we experience.  Sometimes cats are forgiven for vomiting because we are expecting them to have hairballs.  But if you are consistently seeing vomit without hair, there is a clue that they may be vomiting for other reasons.
(Click here to read about cat hairballs:

If you think your cat is experiencing excessive stress, here are a few things you can try to help reduce stress for him or her:

  • Feliway is a spray or plug in diffuser with a pheromone that helps to calm cats.  It actually works pretty well.  (Feliway Website:
  • Often, knowing what the trigger is, helps us to know how best to counteract the stressor.  Occasionally, we also use oral medication to help with anxiety.  Once you recognize stress in your pet, it is often not too difficult to address their issues and it may help to avoid more serious health consequences later. 
Cats are sensitive but not always as obvious about their needs. As their human friends, it helps to be attentive to their clues.  Often they are subtle, until they aren’t! 😉