Pet Connections

Stress in Cats

by April Minech

Stress is something we deal with in our everyday lives…money, kids, our jobs, even what to eat for dinner can cause our minds to frazzle. Our animals are no different, and often they silently deal with their own stressors without the benefit of a spa day or beverage with friends. For shelter cats, that stress can mean life or death. Cats are especially sensitive to things that are part of everyday living in a shelter: smells, noises, change of environment, confinement and even boredom. Shannon O’Neill, shelter manager at Beaver County Humane Society, says “You need to use a less-is-more approach, but still be smart about cleaning and interaction. Smells and noises are especially stressing, so you can use a soft voice and be careful about closing the cages quietly.” She also believes that staying in one shelter area, whether you are working or volunteering, can help reduce stress. “Sanitizing between each cat helps cut down on transferring germs, but also removes the smell of the cat you just worked with,” says O’Neill.

Cats in a shelter can be very susceptible to respiratory infections, or other health related issues that they would normally be able to fight off. Once a cat is sick, it needs to be isolated, which causes more stress. “Some cats take longer to recover, so we do our best to keep everyone from getting sick by trying to reduce the stress on the front end,” says Shannon.

Cat enrichment gives the animals a chance to use their brains, and cuddling cats can help soothe them. “Shy cats can be cuddled within their own cage, and you can limit eye contact or blink a lot to put them at ease. More adventurous cats can be taken to a private room for enrichment. Some love to play with cat nip toys or cardboard tubes, milk rings, or whatever people have donated or made for them,” Shannon explains. “My favorite is working with grumpy cats.” What is a grumpy cat, you ask? “Grumpy cats are shy, nervous, hissing or growling, and need a little extra care,” she says with a smile. “They may need a few extra days of talking softly, or going slow, but after some time, they usually come around. For extra hard cases, we try to reach out to other organizations to help. But we are able to fix grumpiest here, and Beaver County has increased its adoptions of difficult cats because of the work we are doing.”

All of the toys at the Beaver County shelter come from generous supporters in the community, or are handmade by volunteers. What can they use most? “Feliway,” says Ms. O’Neill. Easily available on, Feliway is a synthetic pheromone that cats use to mark their territory as safe and secure. In simple terms, it helps shelter cages feel more like home.

Beaver County also has a wish list on their site: where you can see all the products they are in need of. If you are interested in helping the cats in person, you can find out more information about fostering on their web site or general volunteering by emailing


December 14, 2023
December 14, 2023


November 22, 2023