Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Stressing out

I suppose it should be expected for a cat to experience some level of anxiety after a traumatic experience like having her leg snapped in two by a dog. Since her accident, Bella has been exhibiting a number of stress-related behaviors that weren't present pre-amputation.

1. Constant licking Luckily Bella isn't licking herself all the time - she can't afford to lose any more fur than she already has. Instead, she licks Jason and me whenever we are within tongue's reach. If we're petting her, we're getting our hands licked. If we're lying on the bed with her, it's our faces. If we let her, she would probably lick us for hours. This new trait is highly adorable and relatively harmless, so we just let her lick away.

2. Sudden fear/hatred of random objects Objects that Bella has never been afraid of before are suddenly her worst enemies. She went from playing happily with her toy mousies one day to hissing at them and running away from them the next. For a while, she was furious at her brother Neko for no reason. She hissed at a blanket he had been sleeping on long after he had left to go outside. This one is a little more troubling, but we just try to help her avoid the object that is distressing her until she gets over it. Luckily, she seems to like her brother again now. The jury is still out on the mousies.

3. Shoe anxiety Bella pays special attention to our shoes now. If we're wearing shoes in the house, she won't take her eyes off them when we're walking. She really freaks out if one of us changes into a different pair of shoes during the course of the day. She'll keep looking back and forth between shoes and face until she's established that we're the same person who was wearing other shoes earlier. We've been trying to wear shoes as little as possible while we're inside.

4. Loud noises Big trucks, noisy kids walking down the street, and of course dogs barking. Not only does she jump when she hears them, her pupils dilate to the size of saucers. We just give her lots of extra pets and tell her she's safe.

We're getting off relatively easy - other symptoms of anxiety in cats include refusal to use the litter box, aggression and depression. As a former feral kitten, Bella has always been pretty wary of any people besides Jason and me. We haven't had any company over to the house since Bella's accident so that we could keep her stress to a minimum. We can't keep that up forever, though, so I think it's about time to start having some of our quieter friends over to hang out with us. I hope she can adapt to some other people so that we aren't the only ones who get to see what a sweet, loving cat she is!

Bella during a stress-free moment...

1 comment:

  1. When Larky first arrived in our house, we noticed she had an obsession with licking even trying to suckle us. We thought it was down to weaning and she'd grow out of it. 2 years later she still licks and suckles my inner elbow.

    I've looked it up in a number of books (since I work in a library!) and the only reference I found to constant licking made a lot of sense, and sounds like it could be related to Bella and stress.

    They said that licking is linked to endomorphines in cats and it can produce a drug-like pleasure if they over-lick. And, once used to it, they will continue to do so. So it may be she's using the licking to override fear and stress, but that it may stick with her. No idea if it's true, but it at least someway explained that Larky is doing it for some weird reason completely unassociated with weaning (since we know she was weaned fully when we got her, and raised in a happy family group!)

    As long as I keep Larky's claws trim I can bear the licking, it's the milk treading that gets me every time!