Signs your cat is stressed (and what to do about it)

We all get stressed from time to time.

Sometimes it’s just one of those days, sometimes it’s work, a relationship or quite simply, life.

What you may not realise is that it’s the same for our cats.

They may not have a job to contend with, but that doesn’t mean they don’t struggle with stressful situations.

Much like with humans, if a cat is suffering from stress or anxiety it can lead to further emotional distress, or even illness.

When we welcome a cat into our home, we do so knowing their physical and mental wellbeing is now our responsibility.

And that’s why keeping them relaxed and calm is an essential part of being a pet parent.

Of course, looking after a cat can bring with it its own stresses.

Signs of feline stress to be aware of

It can be difficult to tell when a cat is stressed.

Some of the signs are subtle, so it’s vital we know what to look for.

Here are a few of the more common ones:


  • When felines are pacing back and forth, it’s a sign they can’t settle, possibly because something is causing them stress. If it’s just every now and then – or around mealtime – then it’s probably nothing to be too worried about. However, if their restlessness becomes more regular you will need to investigate further.
  • Loss of appetite. There are a number of reasons why a cat may lose their appetite. Illness or a change in food can leave them turning their nose up at mealtime, but so can stress. If you do think stress is the contributing factor, try moving his or her food bowl to somewhere quieter in the house. A change in environment could help them to relax. However, if your unsure always check with your vet.
  • Aggressive behaviour. Sudden aggression in cats can be quite a scary sight, especially if you’re used to a mild-mannered sofa companion. Cat aggression can manifest itself in a number of ways including growling, hissing, staring and stalking, and can be linked to chronic stress. Aggression in cats is a complex problem, with a number of potential triggers. It can also be part of normal cat behaviour, so pay attention to unexpected mood swings and how often they’re happening.
  • Incessant crying or meowing. Is that your cat you can hear crying at night? Excessive meowing or whining is a surefire sign that something is bothering them. A lot of cats can’t control their crying when they’re stressed; it’s actually more of an automatic response. Different pitches and sounds will mean different things, so you may have to probe a bit further in order to get to the bottom of the issue.
  • Lack of energy. If your full of life feline is suddenly sleeping even more than usual, or they’re no longer jumping about all over the place, they may be suffering from anxiety. Cats do spend a lot of their time sleeping – sometimes up to 20 hours – so this can be a tricky one to spot. Monitor their playtimes, and how often they’re going outside.This will give you an idea of their activity levels.
  • Diarrhoea/vomiting. Just like with humans, stress and anxiety in cats can result in stomach woes. It’s not unusual for a cat to vomit, but if it is happening regularly it could be a sign that something is amiss. Check with a vet. If a medical reason can’t be found, then it may be a stress warning.
  • Toilet habits. If your cat has suddenly started avoiding their litter box, it may be because they’re stressed. Have you recently moved? Has their daily routine changed? Have you brought home another pet? The box itself can even be a cause for stress with a lot of cats very particular about where they do their business. Place a number of litter boxes throughout the house to see which ones they are most comfortable with. This is also highly advisable if you have more than one cat.
  • When everything gets too much for us, shutting out the world often feels like the best thing to do. Cats hide to feel safe, to protect themselves from a potentially dangerous or stressful situation. If they’ve started avoiding you, or certain areas of the house, you need to try and find out what the reason is.
  • Over-grooming. Compulsive grooming is a form of stress relief for a lot of cats. Regularly check their legs and stomach for bald patches as these are the areas they will tend to excessively lick in order to try and relieve anxiety. If you think the over-grooming is linked to pain, contact your vet immediately.
  • Body language. Cats tend to let us know something is wrong through their body language. Worried cats may slink low to the ground, tuck their tails in close to them or point their ears upwards. Shaking, shivering and trembling could also be a sign your cat is feeling anxious. You know your cat better than anybody, so be alert to any changes in body language.


Even through the above signs can be because of stress, some of these signs could also be because of underlaying health issues. If you are unsure, please always check with your vet.

Common causes of stress in cats

No two cats are the same. Some may be highly sensitive, and prone to feeling stress easily; others may appear unflappable, seemingly unperturbed by the pressures of feline life.

Likewise, what worries one cat, may be water off a duck’s back for another.

There are a number of reasons your cat may be experiencing stress, and some of those reasons may be linked.

One of the most common causes of cat anxiety is moving home. Cats feel safe and secure when in familiar surroundings, so if they suddenly find themselves on the move, the upheaval can prove hugely upsetting. Similarly, too many animals in one household has the potential to be another big stressor, so think carefully before bringing home a new pet. Living in a neighbourhood with a lot of cats can also have an adverse effect on more fragile felines. Always try and keep intruder cats out of your home.

A rapid change in environment can lead to a rapid change of routine. Cats are not big fans of unpredictability, so if their schedule is suddenly turned upside down – whether it be their feeding time or even the time you get up in a morning – anxiety can arise.

Deterioration in health is another big factor when considering a cat’s stress levels. A recent physical trauma or surgery could leave mental scars as well as visible ones. This could also be exacerbated by continued trips to the vets, a frightening experience for many cats.

At the other end of the scale, boredom brought on by a lack of stimulation, can also trigger anxiety.

Lack of resources such as food, water and litter boxes will have a detrimental effect on any cat’s mental state, as well as their physical wellbeing, so ensure they have access to these basic necessities.


Cats can be very sensitive creatures, so feelings of stress and anxiety are never too far away from the surface.

With so many potential stressors out there, it can be extremely difficult for us to pinpoint exactly what may be upsetting our feline friend.

Ironically, this can be a huge stressor for pet parents. After all, we only want what’s best for our cats.

In a lot of cases, spending quality time with our cats will help you get to the root cause of any problems they may be having.

This simple act of intimacy can make a huge difference to a pet’s health, and may be all that’s needed to alleviate stress. Even if it doesn’t, it may enable you to spot certain environmental factors that are contributing to their anxiety.

If you do think it is stress they are struggling with – maybe they’re hiding more or acting in an aggressive manner – it can sometimes be a good idea not to add pressure. Don’t try petting or cuddling them all the time. Instead, let them come to you.

Once you have identified a stressor, you should try your best to remove it or find a solution.

These two blogs are certainly worth casting your eye over if you’re thinking about moving house  – How Do You Settle A Cat Into A New Home? and Travelling With Cats: What To Pack.

For those wanting a more general guide to cat happiness, you will find a lot of handy tips at Energy & Diet – Tips For A Happy Cat.

We highly recommend that if problems or changes in behaviour do persist, you should contact your vet immediately.

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