Stress in cats can be shown in a subtle of clear way. But why is it better to look for subtle stress than clear stress signals in your cat?
For the following reasons:
1. Clear stress signals are not difficult to recognize, everyone sees that immediately. Even if you didn't want to pay attention to it, you wouldn't be able to miss it, because a very stressed cat can show quite a drama queen level. Growling, hissing, fur all fluffed up, ears flat, you don't have to have studied cat behaviour to understand that you have to leave the cat alone now or help her because she might be in pain.
2. Subtle stress is a bit more difficult to observe from your intuition, and for this you need some extra information from science.
You really want to pay attention to this. You watch the position of the whiskers, you watch if the tail is curled up or hanging low, you watch the tongue and the rhythm of the grooming, you watch certain movements in the coat and the position of her eyes. Someone who doesn't know about this often sees nothing at all. And no, the ears, you can't get a lot of information out of them, because they record sound in the first place.
3. If you only pay attention to the clear stress signals of the cat, then you miss a large part of the daily communication of the cat. It is at those moments that we can make a clear difference to our cat by reacting in the right way.
What do we do when our cat shows subtle stress?
1. Remotely observe what's going on. What just happened? What's happening or what's going to happen? That way we can better understand why your cat behaves like this.
2. Always look at subtle stress first as a signal that your cat is not feeling well or is in pain. Pay attention to sudden changes, and quickly contact your vet about it! Even if you are in doubt, even if the vet says to wait another day, just call and be sure! Cats are such masters at hiding pain. The slightest change in behaviour can sometimes indicate a major problem. Don't stress about it, just take action. Believe me, I have dozens of examples of clients who, at my insistence, went to the vet more quickly and a serious problem was identified.
3. Are you sure it's not a medical problem? Then leave your cat completely alone (no talking, no looking, no touching, no walking, nothing!), she's not feeling well for a while. She may have heard something she doesn't trust, she just smelled something new or met the other cat in the house, or she hasn’t been frightened by anything. These are all moments she has to 'process'. If you are now going to 'bother' her with your attention, you may make this stressful moment worse. Now, don't feel bad about this. Just watch it and let her process. When her subtle stress signals are gone, you can reconnect with her.
4. Can you see she's been stuck in this stress moment too long? Then distract her WITHOUT her realising it's you. E.g. by throwing a toy mouse to the other side of the room (of course not on the cat :)), or by playing with the fishing rod toy, without looking at her or talking to her.
5. Always work on prevention or be aware of it. Now that the stress moment has passed, what can you change in the house to prevent this from happening again?