Have you ever wondered why cats have earned a reputation for being enigmatic or even ‘stand-offish? Simply put, it’s a survival strategy, and giving away emotion makes them vulnerable when it comes to encounters with cats and other predators. It is also because, although these days cats are capable of being very sociable in certain circumstances, they started their evolution as a non-social species with little social contact with other cats. So there was no need for them to have a huge repertoire of facial expressions. It is for this reason that they have far fewer facial muscles than dogs, who as a social species wear their hearts on their paws!
Although this may be a good survival strategy it makes it harder for us owners to interpret our cats’ emotions, and importantly to understand when they are going through periods of stress.
So if their faces give nothing away, what do we look for? The answer lies in analysing their patterns of behaviour so that we can identify what’s normal for our cat and what’s not. Here are some signs to look out for which could indicate that your cat is stressed:
Spending significantly more time indoors, irrespective of normal seasonal changes
Inhibition of feeding, grooming, urination and defecation or over-eating (dependent on personality type)
Increased resting and feigned sleep
Extreme vigilance and heightened startle response
Lack of play activity
Increased dependency or social withdrawal (dependent on personality type)
Defensive aggression towards people eg hissing
Defensive aggression towards other cats in the household
Inappropriate urination or defecation
If you notice your cat suddenly displaying any of these behaviours you should make an appointment with your vet. If no physical cause can be found, a referral to a Cat Behaviourist may be the next step.