Is Your Cat Mad At You Or Is She Just "Stressed Out?”

Dr. Patty Khuly

stressed-cats

As a practicing veterinarian and vet blogger, I get this question in some form or another almost daily. Here’s one version:

“Why are my cats always mad at me when we come back from vacation? Since we retired we travel about one week a month, which is why I got two littermates. This way they could entertain each other while I’m gone. Unfortunately, they still act like angry cats and urinate on our things while we’re away. Our veterinarian says they’re stressed, but I promise you these cats have zero stress in their lives. Please help. My husband is ready to toss thm outside!”

It’s a common lament. Help or else my cats’ indoor privileges will be terminated! And that’s not a great option for cats who are truly stressed, not “angry,” per se. Here’s a typical response.

Cats are special creatures who can be highly sensitive to changes in lifestyle or schedule. Anyone who’s kept more than three cats at a time knows this well, as their level of sensitivity to all kinds of changes rises with even the simplest of territorial disputes. And urine is perhaps the most obvious sign of environmental sensitivity.

As to the word “stress:” Though I have no doubt your cats live in the lap of luxury, their inner lives are not as simplistic as you might imagine. Your home is their whole world after all, and your untimely departures probably create ripples in the fabric of their internal universe in ways you cannot imagine. Hence, stress.

In the veterinary sense, the word refers to a state of emotional, mental, or physical tension resulting from uncomfortable environmental circumstances. Though veterinarians hate to use the word “emotional” or “mental” to describe anything about their patients (long story), it’s my experience that cats who behave like yours aren’t angry. Rather, they’re suffering from the emotional and mental strain of separation.

In some cases, the stress of the separation is due directly to the absence of the human. In other cases, it’s related to either the subsequent change in relationship between the other cat(s) in the household or other alterations in how their resources (food, water, litter, etc.) are affected by this change.

For example, they may resent the temporary human that cares for them, the switch in food from wet to dry (a common concession when their humans travel), the reduction in litter scooping, schedule flip-flops, sleeping arrangements, or other changes.

In any case, anytime the delicate balance our sensitive felines enjoy is upset, urine marking can occur. In your case, I urge you to consider the following: a) see your veterinarian to rule out any physical problems related to their urination, b) adhere as faithfully as possible to their normal routines and schedules while you’re away, c) consider leaving them in the care of someone they’ll learn to adore or d) take them with you!

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