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Q&A: Should I Move My Cat Out of a Stressful Living Situation?

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Dr. Mark is a veterinarian. He works with dogs, cats, exotics, and livestock.

Living with bullies is extremely stressful for cats.

Living with bullies is extremely stressful for cats.

Is Moving My Cat More Stressful Than Her Living With Bullies?

"I currently live in my parent’s house with our 3 cats. Two of the cats are siblings (a male and female) and are 8 years old, and the other cat is male and 2 years old and VERY energetic. All of the cats are spayed/neutered.

Ever since we adopted the 2-year-old, he and the male 8-year-old have been bullying the female. While her sibling doesn’t always bully her, with the 2-year-old it’s constant. He stalks her, looks for her around the house, and does not care at all when she growls, hisses, and swats at him. Sometimes her brother likes to join in on the bullying and will sometimes start it too. It can get quite loud and fur goes everywhere sometimes.

We have tried separating the female from them, keeping her close to humans. She knows that when she’s being bullied if she runs to us we will protect her. We have tried yelling at, distracting, and using a spray bottle on the 2-year-old to get him to stop, but he is extremely persistent. We have even tried playing with him more often throughout the day to get out more energy, but it seems he has unlimited stores.

In a couple of months, I will be moving to my own apartment, and I want to take the female cat with me. We are very bonded and I am her favorite human in the house. She stays by me most of the day and sleeps with me every night. She seems less stressed when she’s around me and looks angry and tense basically the rest of the time. But she has never lived anywhere other than this house and has never been an "only cat" before, which she would be in my apartment.

I am wondering if, given the fact that she is stressed and generally miserable and constantly hiding at my house, and that we are bonded, moving with her would be a good idea. Would removing her from the only environment she's ever known be too stressful? Or do you think it could be good for her as it would lessen her stress and improve her quality of life in the long run without bullies in her living space?" —Maddy

Moving Is Definitely the Right Call

Living with bullies every day is hard on a cat, so taking her with you when moving is definitely the best option. Yes, it is going to be stressful, but there are a lot of things you can do to make it easier on her.

How to Minimize Your Cat's Stress When Moving

  • Use a Calming Collar to Reduce Stress: It is a good idea to get a pheromone calming collar, as studies have shown that it is easier to work with cats when they arrive since they are less stressed. (1)
  • Make the Move Itself as Calm as Possible: You should also keep her in the carrier when in the car, keep the loud music turned off, and keep her carrier covered with a towel so that she will feel less threatened.
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Here are some tips on making the move less stressful for your cat and helping them adjust to their new home.

How to Stop Your Cat From Being Bullied in the Meantime

I am concerned about the few months of her still living with the males, as the spray bottle does not seem to work. Have you tried Feliway, the cat-appeasing pheromone?

Feliway Pheromone Products

Even if she can handle the time you will still be in the house, my second concern is that the younger male will redirect his aggression towards the older male when the female is no longer present. Feliway might be a way to prevent that, as it does make them calmer.

This product does not have a scent to us, but cats can smell it and it has been proven to help in inter-cat aggression cases. (2)

If you decide to try the plug-in pheromone diffuser, it is not expensive (less than $30), and you can get more refills later if you find it helps. (It works on about 75% of cats.) Just plug it in where the males like to hang out. If they do not have a favorite room and are all over the house, you might need to use the pheromone collar instead.

Sources

  1. Argüelles J, Echaniz M, Bowen J, Fatjó J. The impact of a stress-reducing protocol on the quality of pre-anaesthesia in cats. Vet Rec. 2021 Jun;188(12):e138. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33645705/
  2. Vitale KR. Tools for Managing Feline Problem Behaviors: Pheromone therapy. J Feline Med Surg. 2018 Nov;20(11):1024-1032. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30375946/


This article is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from your veterinarian. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2022 Dr Mark

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