Cat stress can lead to self-destructive behavior

Cat stress can lead to self-destructive behavior

In the presence of the bouncy, nonstop energetic little kitten recovering from a broken leg, my 18-year-old wife exhibited stressful behavior. While stress behavior often manifests as fight or flight, hers did not. Instead, her stress presented itself as licking: displacement behavior. In other words, over-shaping.

As you can imagine, grooming can be soothing and calming for your cat. But when stress is involved, this behavior can go to extremes. What is usually normal behavior can become repetitive, persistent, and ultimately self-destructive. Skiki licked his belly and hind legs baldly. If she continues to lick those specific spots, she can break down the skin and cause an infection (not to mention she’ll create a problem with hairballs in her gut).

What I had to do was give her her own space for part of the day. This is a room that is quiet and away from the other adult cat, the kitten, and any other cats. I used the guest bathroom.

During this time, she can be left alone for a while to enjoy the peace and quiet (of course, she has all her essentials: litter tray, water, food and bed). But mostly I’m there giving her my undivided attention.

First we play. I use toys that she doesn’t associate with other cats – making them hers only. The “toy” can be something as simple as a box, a paper bag, or a long piece of sisal. Our time together is both stimulating and distracting. After each 20-minute play therapy session, I soothe her with brushing and petting.

By the time she’s back in the master bedroom with the other senior cat and the kitten, she’s calmer, feeling that (1) she’s getting the special attention she deserves and (2) she has a “panic room” she can escape to during those kitten-induced stressful times.

When you have nowhere else to take your cat with excessive licking problems, you can look for ways to give them extra tender and loving care in their current environment. This can be a little difficult because you don’t want to make the other senior cat jealous or be ignored.

Remember: While dealing with your cat’s stressful behavior, you also need to determine what is causing the stress. It may or may not be obvious. Either way, you’ll want to remove or moderate it to help ease your cat’s distress response. I see using medication as a last resort after you’ve tried behavioral methods. Also, patience and persistence are absolutely necessary. It took your cat some time to get used to this stressful behavior and it will take some time to replace the negative habit with a positive one.

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