Cats can be very sensitive creatures and may often become anxious or frustrated by things going on around them, or by the way people interact with them. Here is our advice on how to help your stressed cat.

Evolving from a largely independent and solitary species (called the African or Near Eastern wildcat), the domestic cat can be very good at hiding signs that they are stressed or in pain, because in the wild this would make them an easier target for predators.

It is important that you manage and reduce stress in your cat as much as you can because if your cat is stressed, they can become both emotionally and physically unwell and may develop physical illnesses as well as display problem behaviour. Often owners may only notice something is ‘not quite right’ with their cats when they have already been stressed for some time. Cats may lose their appetite or be sick occasionally or behave in a way that owners have never seen before, such as spraying urine against the wall indoors or behaving aggressively.

The sooner you realise that your cat could be experiencing stress, the sooner you can resolve the problem. This means you need to keep a close eye on your cat’s physical health as well as their behaviour so that anything ‘odd’ or ‘out of character’ that could be a sign of stress is quickly identified.

HOW CAN I TELL IF MY CAT IS STRESSED?

There are some common signs of a stressed cat, both physical and behavioural.

PHYSICAL SYMPTOMS

  • Diarrhoea
  • Vomiting
  • Large bald patches or sores on the coat caused by over grooming
  • Runny nose and eyes (e.g. cat ‘flu’)
  • Symptoms get worse in cats with chronic health conditions or recovery from illness is slow (stress can affect a cat’s immune system and ability to fight disease)
  • Eating non-food items such as plastic or wool (this is called ‘pica’)
  • Poor appetite or eating less than normal
  • Looking lethargic and sleeping more than usual
  • Excessive eating and/or drinking
  • Sudden weight loss or weight gain
  • A poor coat condition
  • Not going to the toilet as often as usual (faeces and/or urine)
  • Frequent squatting, painful urination with blood in it (e.g. cystitis).

BEHAVIOURAL SYMPTOMS

  • Any noticeable change in your cat’s usual patterns of behaviour and routines
  • Toileting outside of the litter tray (e.g. behind the sofa, under the bed, on the bed etc.)
  • Spraying urine on furniture and other items around the home
  • Scratching excessively on the furniture
  • Aggressive behaviour directed towards you, your family or visitors
  • Aggressive behaviour directed towards other pets in the home
  • Excessive meowing
  • An increased dependency on you or your family, constantly wanting to interact
  • Withdrawal from you and the family, no longer interested in interacting with you
  • Unresponsiveness to things going on around her (she doesn’t jump or get startled by loud noises or quick movements)
  • Constant vigilance and jumps at every sudden sound or movement
  • Frequent hiding when in the home (e.g. under a sofa or bed, on top of a wardrobe)
  • Reluctance to play – having previously been very playful
  • Reluctance to come into the home
  • Reluctance to go outside
  • Excessive grooming
  • Repeated pacing when in the home, often accompanied by loud meowing.

OTHER SIGNS OF A STRESSED CAT

You may notice your cat sits differently, her facial expression changes or she does odd little things.

  • Often crouching and looking tense indoors (see image 1)
  • Ears rotate backwards frequently (see image 2) or flatten downwards (see image 3)
  • Wide open eyes with very dilated pupils which makes her eyes look black (see image 4)
  • Staring at the floor with a fixed, glazed expression
  • Rapid frequent grooming that usually lasts around five seconds, starting and stopping quite suddenly
  • Frequent head shaking
  • Rippling, twitching skin on her back
  • Exaggerated swallowing and quick flicks of her tongue onto her nose
Signs of stress - crouching
Signs of stress - rotated ears
Signs of stress - flattened ears
Signs of stress - wide open eyes

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One of the best ways to protect your cat against possible stress is to try to anticipate the sorts of things that might cause them stress in the first place (such as moving to a new home or the addition of a new cat to the household). Once you have identified possible sources of stress, you can then manage the situation or environment in a way that helps reduce the chances of your cat suffering.

WHAT CAN CAUSE MY CAT STRESS AND HOW CAN I REDUCE THIS?

Every cat is an individual. Whilst some cats may generally appear very laid-back and seemingly ‘unflappable’, other cats can be much more sensitive and find many things around them stressful.

The following are common examples of situations that may be stressful for cats.