When you think about it, a behaviour change
is the first thing that gives you a clue that all is not well with
your feline friend.
A limp, not eating, fussier, quieter. Or becoming clingier or more
distant. All these are behavioural signs, and your cat uses them
to indicate what or where the problem is. Sometimes there is an
obvious swelling, or painful area. Or a change in urine, faeces
or vomiting. However, cats most often indicate a problem by doing
something different to usual. That is, by unusual behaviour.
have changed cats’ environments substantially over the last
5,000 years since they domesticated us, and they have adapted by
changing a great deal of their instinctive behaviour.
Wild cats avoid humans, totally, and the true wild cats
(Felis sylvestris sylvestris) cannot be tamed just by raising them
in a human household.
Our moggies have self-selected over the generations to tolerate,
and now even seek out, human company. However, when something goes
wrong for a cat, its ‘default emotion’ is fear. And
if you fear something that might happen (i.e. a future event), that
is the definition of anxiety. Cats are smart enough to need anti-depressants
(I prefer to call it anti-anxiety medication), so it is not surprising
to find that in this pretty feline-unfriendly world that cats find
themselves in (no mice, no desert sand, too many cats and way too
much noise), that many get stressed and anxious. And their behaviour
One of the most noticeable
changes is when a cat ‘internalises’ it fears and ends
up with cystitis. "I call it the feline migrane."
Felines are a very conservative species – they conserve
water well (make very strong urine), conserve energy (that is why
they sleep – they are not just being bone idle! And why it
is so hard to get them to lose weight!).
Cats use pheromones and fatty acids in their urine to give other
cats information, mainly about their time of arrival or departure,
and sexual status. Cat urine actually DOES SMELL WORSE the longer it is outside of the cat – the amino acids breakdown
to make the urine smellier (and the fatty acids make it very sticky)
at a constant rate. This then acts as a time marker, and the message
is usually – I was here at 4 pm today and I don’t want
to meet another cat here tomorrow. This is very effective where
there are few cats in a large area like a desert.
However, in the crowded urban environment, it may prevent another
cat from peeing at their appointed time and location.
Cats are creatures of habit,
and to disrupt that routine is very stressful – so a cat’s
bladder may go into spasm, sometimes badly enough to rupture small
blood vessels and bleed into the urine, making it red.
For the cat, this is a bit like the ‘stress headaches’
we get we get fraught and overwrought. The stress can also prevent
the bladder from filling, so the cat is going to urinate more frequently,
and in different places, desperately looking for somewhere that
it finds comfortable to urinate. After all, to a cat’s mind,
urine cannot itself hurt, so it must be the place they are peeing
that is causing the hurt – so they look for another place
to pee. This is often the start of the difficult syndrome of a cat
‘peeing everywhere around the house’. To solve the owner’s
problem, however, we are going to have to understand the problem
from the cat’s point of view and make some changes to the
coping mechanisms for cats include hiding, running from aggressors
(especially cats), chasing other animals (humans, dogs and other
cats again), yowling for attention, hissing to prevent unwanted
attention. Remember, these are coping mechanisms. It does not mean
the cat is comfortable in its environment. The underlying triggers
for any of these behaviours are as varied as the personalities of
the cats and the environments their owners put them in. But they
are nearly all based in anxiety. If your cat is showing stress by
using any of these coping mechanisms, the two things to remember
are: it is unlikely that the cat will solve the problem on its own
so it will get worse, and the earlier the intervention, the more
likely the treatment will resolve the problem. Once the activity
is a habit, it will take much longer and need much more medication
and behavioural intervention to resolve it.
Act fast and restore your kitty to emotional
Article by Dr Kim Kendall B.V.Sc., M.A.C.V.Sc.
(feline medicine & animal behaviour)