When the owners of Bosky informed me that he was licking himself to the point of developing bald patches, I realised the cat was under stress. The owners didn’t seem convinced, and they had no idea the stress came from having to share his home with their second cat, Gabriel.
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Cats are enigmatic creatures, so it’s not surprising that pet parents frequently don’t understand what might be stressing out their kitty. We frequently anthropomorphise our pets, so we presume they will exhibit stress in ways similar to ours. When we give our cats the best care, love, affection, and the healthiest diet, it is natural to question what could be stressing them out.
Another cat is one of the main sources of stress in a multi-cat home. Cats are private creatures who like their personal space. Parents who have more than one cat frequently respond, “No Doctor, the two of them get along wonderfully well,” when I tell them this. And they most likely do. Although numerous cats may seem to get along in a small space like an apartment, there is a lot of passive hostile behaviour bubbling under the surface. Cats tend to protect their resources. And it’s not done with big catfights you may be able to see. It is subtle; one cat can merely deter the other from using a litter tray by keeping watch over it.
Stress is brought on by the ongoing anxiety they experience when they feel compelled to share.
For a cat, a litter box is a precious place. They can get stressed if it is not exactly the way they want it. A cat’s litter box needs to be in an area that is both convenient and private so that it can be used without being observed. They must like the type of litter material used, and it must be cleaned frequently. In a home with more than one cat, one litter tray more than the number of cats should be placed in separate locations so that these are accessible to all.
As they are creatures of routine and habit, cats can become anxious at the slightest change. My cat, Catbury, didn’t want to pass by the living room when I got a new armchair. This also implies that any alterations to your routine or the introduction of strangers into their domain runs the risk of upsetting them.
Cats prefer human physical affection that they can control. They can get stressed if handled and coddled excessively. Fleas can make them anxious too, as can the absence of enough places to use their natural climbing, stalking and hunting tendencies.
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Stress not only hits psychological well-being, it also leads to genuine medical ailments. It can lower immunity, which can make an existing illness worse. FLUTD (feline lower urinary tract disease), which affects male cats and causes bladder inflammation, is the most serious ailment stress can lead to, leaving cats either unable to urinate or experiencing pain while attempting to do so. Some respond to medication, others may need a life-changing surgical procedure. Consult a vet if you notice that your cat hasn’t urinated in more than 24 hours.
It is crucial to recognise when your cat may be stressed. Cats under stress frequently sleep more than they would regularly. They might exhibit behaviours we would consider problematic, such as urinating and pooping outside the litter box. A trip to the vet is a must if a cat is constantly grooming itself. Some cats could hide or stop eating.
Such red flags need to be acknowledged and acted upon before they develop into something serious. To avoid stress, every cat owner must make sure the home is filled with activities that challenge the cat’s mind and body. Cat trees, windows, scratching posts and playtime are all necessities. Environmental modifications should be undertaken only gradually. Remember to maintain proper litter tray hygiene, establish a regular schedule for the cat, and keep the number of cats in a home to a minimum.
Dr Nameeta Nadkarni is a practising veterinary soft tissue surgeon and pet blogger from Mumbai, who loves to play the piano in her free time and is ruled by her whimsical cat, Catbury, at home.
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