Accommodating Your Cat’s Stress

lucy stress

After learning stress was making my cat act out, I realized I had to make some lifestyle changes to accommodate her needs.

I look at the beautiful calico sleeping peacefully on my mother’s bed. This surely can’t be the same She Devil who wakes me during the night with her insistent meowing, and takes severe vengeance on me if I dare ignore her demands.

The beautiful sleeping calico and the She Devil are, of course, the same cat. The beautiful sleeping calico is currently enjoying a month’s vacation at a luxurious spa (aka “Grandma’s” house) where she enjoys her favorite activities on a daily basis, including bird-watching from the windows, fine dining with meals served at specific times, excellent conversation, and being pampered to her heart’s content. As it turns out, vacationing at the spa is very different from sharing a one-bedroom condo with me.

I asked my mother what she did to bring about this miraculous transformation. The answer was simple and made perfect sense: “My life runs on a schedule, and I put Lucy on my schedule. She eats when I do, I make a fuss and play with her whenever we’re together, comb her several times a day, clean her litter box once or twice a day and talk to her all the time. She’s wonderful company, a perfect cat.” In other words, Lucy has been given what she needed most: a routine.

I adopted Lucy from the local shelter when she was three years old, and have had the honor and privilege of being her person and caregiver for the last five years. The shelter staff described her as extremely timid. She was afraid of strangers, easily stressed and hated loud noises. She did not enjoy living at the shelter and didn’t do well there.

Lucy is a sensitive, loving cat, and given her background and temperament, it makes sense that she would thrive in a home where the daily schedule does not change. Unfortunately, my own schedule varies from day to day because I work several different jobs and am also self-employed. Sometimes I work from my home office, while other times I’m gone most of the day.

The She Devil makes her appearance when I’ve been working long hours and my stress levels are up. She meows and cries when my mind is not focused on her during our time together. She knows when I’m thinking about something else. Usually, she’s been on her own all day and has spent most of the time sleeping. I can hear her meowing when I get off the elevator. She gets upset when I’m five or ten minutes late getting home.

On these days, I’m ready to go to bed and sleep because I’m tired and exhausted. But Lucy is wide awake and figures we are supposed to spend the entire evening and night playing…it’s our time! One brief play session isn’t enough. But I go to bed anyhow, and after amusing herself for maybe half an hour she starts meowing and demanding food. I say “no”, pet her and tell her to go to sleep. She starts to bite my electrical cords and on it goes. I’m frustrated and tired, and she’s bored and unhappy because I’m not spending enough quality time with her.

Lucy’s in excellent health and I want her to stay that way. Her transformation into the She Devil simply means her stress level has increase because her normal routine has been disrupted. She’s trying to tell me in the only way she knows how that something is wrong. Her behavior makes perfect sense to her, and her month at “the spa” being pampered and having a regular schedule has helped it make perfect sense to me too. I realized I need to change and adapt my lifestyle to accommodate Lucy more so her stress levels are kept to a minimum.

• I’ll be getting up earlier so I can give Lucy some quality time for at least half an hour before I leave for work. I’ll play with her and spend time brushing and combing her. My mind will be totally focused on Lucy and nothing else. I’m looking forward to having lots of one-on-one conversations with her. I hear from Mom she’s a wonderful listener!

• When I get home in the evening, my top priority will be to spend more quality time with Lucy. She wants to be fed the moment I get home, especially when I’ve been away most of the day and hasn’t eaten since early morning. A timed feeder may be an option on the nights I can’t avoid being late.

• To help reduce Lucy’s stress, after she has eaten, we now spend more time together. Because she usually spends most of the day sleeping when I’m not there, she has lots of excess energy. It’s important I help her get rid of this energy so I’m hoping she’ll be willing to chase catnip toys, go for walks in the halls of my condo, and play with me. Lucy needs and enjoys one-on-one time.

When my older cat Bob was diagnosed with feline diabetes, I changed my lifestyle to accommodate his needs because I loved him. After seeing how Lucy changed during her stay at Mom’s, I realized I have to make some changes for her too. After all, I love the beautiful sleeping calico, I love the She Devil – and I love Lucy!

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