How to reduce fear, anxiety or stress in shelter cats

Rescue Expert Blog

Around the shelter things can be stressful. Not only for you, but also the cats in your care.

Let’s take a look at some common sources of anxiety and things you can do to help our feline friends feel Fear Free.

Common Sources and Signs of Anxiety

When cats sense the presence of uncontrollable threats, they can feel fear, anxiety, or stress.

Some signs of this occurring include changes in the cat’s vital signs, changes to the cat physically, an increase in withdrawal behaviors, defensive aggression, and a decrease in other behaviors.

How to Provide a Comfortable Environment for Shelter Cats

Since shelter cats spend most of their time confined, it’s important to provide a comfortable environment.

Here are some things to consider.

  • While inside the cage, every cat should have access to a litter box, food and water, a hiding spot, bedding, and toys. A hiding spot can be as simple as a cardboard box.
  • A large towel works great for bedding.
  • The litter box should be appropriately sized, with three inches of litter to allow for normal toileting behaviors.
    • Scoop the box twice a day and clean it with hot water or mild dish soap, and rinse thoroughly weekly.
  • If possible, provide separate areas for eating and elimination through the use of a portal.
  • For those cats who enjoy attention from people, provide enrichment through routine 1-on-1 time, ideally outside of the kennel in a different area such as an office space or a room with a view.

Ways to Minimize Stress for Shelter Cats

As important as it is to provide a comfortable environment, it’s just as important to minimize stressors.

  • This includes keep lighting consistent.
  • Avoid turning lights on and off each time someone enters and exits the room.
  • Avoiding sudden and unexpected noises. This includes housing barking dogs as far from cats as possible.
  • Avoiding odors from dogs, other cats, lotions and perfumes, cigarettes, and cleaning chemicals, including laundry detergent.
    • Instead, to disinfect, use an odorless disinfectant such as Rescue.
  • Thoroughly cleaning and disinfecting cages between occupants to ensure that no scent of the previous cat remains using an odorless, scentless disinfectant cleaner like accelerated hydrogen peroxide.
  • When cleaning using a spray bottle, be sure no animals are in close proximity, as the sound of spraying can elicit fear, anxiety, or stress in many animals.
  • Providing bedding that allows cats to get warm if they choose.
  • Cats prefer warm temperatures between 85-100 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Using Fear Free handling and positive reinforcement techniques when handling cats. Setting this groundwork early will also prove to be helpful in other situations where the cat will need to be handled later.
  • In these situations, have a familiar person handle the cat.
  • As you implement these changes, offer changes one at a time, and as a choice, by observing the cat’s reaction after the change.