Living with cats is a rewarding experience and a constant adventure. They provide us with affection, entertainment, and companionship. As cat owners, it is our job to take care of their physical and emotional needs. Creating a comfortable and secure environment for them is crucial for their well-being, especially in homes with multiple cats.
When cats don’t feel secure in their living area, they are likely to become anxious. This anxiety can lead to behavioral and medical issues. In the first part of this article, we looked at the concepts, terms, and signs of anxiety in cats in order to address it. In this second part, we will turn our attention to the causes of anxiety in cats.
While many factors can lead to anxiety, three of the most common causes are overcrowding, social competition, and adverse human interventions. These are situations that typically occur in multi-cat households, and they are hard to avoid. However, with a bit of ingenuity and some adjustments to the surroundings, it is possible to reduce your cats’ anxiety and help them feel more safe and secure.
Social groupings in cats
Some basic knowledge about how free-roaming cats organize themselves into social groups can be very instructive when dealing with anxious cats. Free-living domestic cats living in outdoor settings form social groups known as colonies. These colonies are organized around female relationships and can vary in size, density, and range.
Factors that play a role density and spatial organization of cat colonies include food availability, the reproductive status of the cats, and the season. The area over which cats regularly travel is known as their home range. For male cats, this area is usually about three times larger than it is for female cats.
Whether male or female, free-living cats have a home range that is significantly larger than that of a typical indoor cat. That means indoor cats, especially those living with other cats that aren’t part of their social group, might feel crowded and insecure. These sensations can lead to anxiety, but certain actions can be taken to help an anxious cat.
Since most multi-cat households combine cats from different social groups into one space, social competition is a common problem. Sometimes new cats or other pets are brought into these multi-cat households adding to the tension. When these combinations and additions occur, anxiety is a likely outcome.
Some cats can cope well with these changes and will develop harmonious relationships with other cats from outside their group over time. However, many cats find it difficult to accept cats from outside their group. They often feel that they are in competition with each other.
If you have cats from different social groups that don’t accept each other, you will need to be sure that they all have access to the resources that they need. Competition for resources can lead to inter-cat aggression, passive-aggressive behavior, and even physical fighting.
There isn’t always a clear victim and aggressor in these situations and the relationship can fluctuate over time. Yet, regardless of how it is expressed, the tension among unrelated cats sharing the same space and resources causes mixed emotions.
Overcrowding and “despot cats”
Overcrowding of unrelated cats in small spaces or the presence of a “despot cat” are particularly stressful situations for cats, especially for submissive cats. “Despot cats” are bullies that monopolize resources such as food bowls, water dishes, resting spots, and litter boxes. They intimidate other cats by blocking their pathways, attacking them, or sitting close to them and staring at them fixedly.
“Despot cats” can make it hard for anxious cats to get access to the resources that they need. Constant exposure to an aggressive cat can lead to physical and emotional damage when there is no way for the submissive cat to alleviate the stress. It is important for cats to feel that they have some control over their living situation.
There are several ways to increase space in the home in order to give submissive cats a place where they feel secure and safe from an aggressive one. Increasing vertical space with cat shelves is a great way to make more room for cats. This provides the victim with a place to escape to and also decreases the motivation for the aggressive behavior by reducing the need to compete.
Competing for resources
Competition for resources such as food, water, and litter boxes is another cause of anxiety in cats. To reduce competition, cats from more than one social group living together in one house should not be forced to share essential resources. Each social group should be provided with its own areas. Ideally, resources should be in rooms with more than one entry point so cats can’t get trapped inside.
Multiple food stations are particularly important because cats from different social groups oftentimes feel anxious eating next to each other. Many cat owners aren’t aware of this and provide just one feeding location for all of their cats. Although some cats tolerate eating together because food is crucial to survival, they are naturally solitary eaters and prefer eating alone.
Litter box placement is also important to consider and should also be done in a way to minimize competition and stress. When litter boxes are placed next to each other in one room, cats view them as one big litter box. Litter boxes placed in high traffic areas, near cat doors or flaps, or too few litter boxes can make cats weary of becoming trapped inside them.
To avoid competition for resources, feeding stations and litter boxes should be placed in quiet areas throughout your home. If you notice that confident cats are preventing anxious cats from access to essential resources, behavior modification and temporary separation of the social groups may be necessary.
Visual cues can also trigger anxiety in some cats. The way cats see their surroundings depends on a number of factors including genetics, life experience, and physiology. Cats that are used to living indoors are not exposed to as many variables and stimuli on a regular basis as cats living outside and may be more sensitive to physical changes to their environment.
As a result, they are less likely to cope well with new visual stimuli. They might have a tendency to fear new people and have a harder time coping with changes to their living area. Seeing people, cats, or other animals outside can make them feel insecure and vulnerable to intrusion.
To reduce visual insecurity, place food and water bowls away from windows or glass doors where outdoor animals might be seen. If it isn’t possible to move resources to another location, try blocking the windows or doors so they will feel more visibly secure while attending to their needs.
The presence of roaming outdoor cats at doors and windows is a common trigger for indoor cats. Cats living inside may fear that an outside cat is intruding on their territory. Putting up barriers in front of sliding doors can help to deter outside cats from sitting close to the house.
If you have a cat door, your cats might be fearful of an outside cat intruding in their space. Blocking and eliminating cat doors or using a microchip device that prevents a roaming cat from entering your home are good ways to reduce this cause of anxiety and make your cats feel safe.
Changes in environment
Cats are creatures of habit and generally don’t like change. Any changes or new situations in the home are likely to cause fear in anxious cats. Alterations in their environment, especially in the core area where they eat, sleep, and play, can cause stress.
Visitors, new pets, and new objects brought into your home carry in new odors that some cats find difficult to cope with. Nervous cats also might be fearful of loud noises and unfamiliar sounds.
Large territory size
A large core territory size has some advantages because it reduces crowding. However, it also increases the size of the space a cat must defend and can make cats feel anxious and insecure. This is especially the case for shy, elderly, and/or frail cats. Confining cats to a smaller area with plenty of places to hide can help cats feel safe.
Human behavior can be a major cause of anxiety for cats. Most cat owners have good intentions and never mean to make their cats to feel anxious. Yet, certain actions by cat owners inadvertently add to the stress. Litter box management is one area that needs special attention. Any adverse association with the litter box can lead to problems.
Behaviors to avoid include giving medicine in the litter box, putting the litter box in a noisy area, and allowing children or pets to trap cats in the litter box. Cats have a range of litter box preferences when it comes to size, shape, and material. Learning the preferences of your cats and providing for them is helpful. Maintaining litter boxes and keeping them clean is a must.
Providing a safe and comfortable home for multiple cats from different groups can be a challenge. Cats from different groups don’t always get along, and the feeling of competing for resources can be stressful for them. Understanding the causes of anxiety in cats is an important first step in bringing about a more calm and stress-free living situation for you and your feline companions.