By Pamela Merritt / 05.20.2016
We might not realize how fragile our cat’s nervous system really is.
Yes, they are magnificent predators with talon-like claws, lots of sharp and pointy teeth, with incredible reflexes.
It’s those incredible reflexes.
Cats are energy storage devices. If that energy builds up too far, there will be trouble.
How it works
When our cat is studying and waiting and plotting their ambush, they are also gearing up one of the most incredible attack sequences in the animal kingdom.
They will explode into action when the time is right; a hunting machine which can resequence on the fly, change strategies as the environment demands, and perform amazing feats to get into, and out of, trouble.
Cats vary in their capacity and energy cycles, depending on Cat Type, age, and intellectual interest. As they get older, they can substitute mental activities for physical ones, but will always need some kind of workout.
How it gets stuck
Cats need to explode into some kind of action. Otherwise, that magnificent machinery becomes a source of constant stress.
We might have seen our cat “work themselves up” to create some pretext for wildly running around or racing up and down their cat tree. This is the same as someone going to the gym or booking a rafting weekend to get rid of a period of stress.
Our stress-handling system lags behind the sources of stress we tend to have in the modern world. It is designed to help us run from a snake or evade a falling tree. It shuts down our digestive and immune systems, it tells our blood to clot faster, and it tells our muscles to run faster.
Back in the day, it was always a short-term stress. Either way, the stress was over.
Like us, our cats have a similar system that would resolve the stress chemicals, and reset the system, by a period of intense activity.
The activity, and the stresses, need to be in balance.
Flooding the system
However, by living with us, our cats have taken on our tendency toward chronic stress situations.
Home renovation or repair, an illness, noisy neighbors; these cause the humans great stress, which is passed on to the cats. Cat conflicts, an unavoidable food change, a moved litter box; these can cause the cat to feel considerable anxiety.
If our cat has a background of trauma, this is even more magnified, as the tricky situation creates insecurity. Our cat is less likely to give a being or situation the benefit of the doubt. This uncertainty leads to more stress.
It can be more than mere exercise can handle.
Solutions to stress
Seeing our cat as a storage battery helps us understand why we shouldn’t get too rowdy with our cat, or let them be teased. Such behavior can overstimulate them, and they can become aggressive, or panic.
If we don’t realize our cat is over-stressed, we can become part of the problem. Cats who hide, don’t use the litter box, and fight with the other cats are often expressing a terrible overflow of their nervous energy.
We should address the stress issue directly. If the upsetting incident has passed, show the cat that the sink has been fixed, the workers have left, the noisy neighbors have moved away. We need to acknowledge their distress and explain, with happy tones in our voice, that they don’t have to worry about it any more. This can do wonders.
Make sure our ways of playing release stress instead of building it up. Make it a wand toy instead of wrestling, some laser pointer play instead of teasing them with our physical presence.
We might not realize how intimidating our size is when our cat is feeling vulnerable. So practice special cat affection moves which let our cat know they are loved.
That can be the most effective stress-reducer of them all.