Signs of cats feeling stressed and what you can do about it
Just like humans, cats are prone to stress – although it might be tricky to tell if your cat is feeling unsettled.
Cats are subtle in their body language, so you’ll need to keep an eye on them to ensure they are happy.
If you notice any of the signs of cat stress or a change in their behaviour, first arrange a visit to the vet, so they can rule out any medical causes for your cat’s change in behaviour.
If stress is the problem, read on for our top five tips for reducing your cat’s stress, so you can make sure you’ve got a calm kitty.
Signs of cat stress
- becoming more withdrawn or hiding more than usual
- becoming less tolerant of people
- hesitating or becoming reluctant of using the litter tray, going through the cat flap, sitting on your lap
- eating or drinking less, or overeating
- scratching the furniture
- excessive meowing
- hissing or growling
- crouching and looking tense
- exaggerated swallowing or licking their nose
- vomiting or diarrhoea
- sleep disturbance
- pacing, circling or restlessness
- a scruffy or matted coat
- house soiling
For more tips on recognising signs of stress in your cat’s body language, watch our video.
How to reduce your cat’s stress
1. Make sure your cat has everything they need
It might seem obvious, but ensuring your cat has a litter tray, food and water bowls and even a scratching post can help reduce stress. Where you put these items can also have a surprising impact on your cat’s stress levels too. Keep litter trays away from eating areas, for example, and make sure your cat’s resources aren’t in an area with lots of noise or people.
2. Give your cat some space
Cats are solitary creatures, so they don’t like to be crowded by others – that counts for other cats, other pets and even children or other family members too. Ensuring your cat always has space to escape from the chaos is a good way to reduce their stress. A quiet spot, preferably somewhere high up, is ideal. Try a cardboard box on a sturdy shelf or our Hide & Sleep®, for example.
3. Try not to handle them if they’re not keen
While many cats like to be stroked for a long period of time, others are happier to enjoy their own company. Some cats might be quick to tell you that they’re unhappy while others are more subtle in their behaviour. Pay attention to their body language and always make sure they have the freedom to move away from you when they wish.
4. Avoid cat intruders
If your cat is stressed due to a neighbourhood cat invading their space (or your garden), it can be tricky to eradicate the issue. If you know who the cat belongs to, and you’re on good terms with the owner, you could try a friendly chat. Make the suggestion to ‘share the space’ by ensuring the cats explore outdoors at different times. Otherwise, ensure your cat has plenty of resources both indoors and outdoors (eg places to toilet, get up high, drink from) to give them everything they need in their own territory and potentially reduce competition with other local cats. It’s particularly important to have an entry point to the house that can only be accessed by your cat (eg a microchip activated cat flap) to prevent intruders.
5. Help them to handle changes before they happen
Cats are creatures of habit. Routine is important to them, so anything that disrupts this can leave them feeling stressed. Whether you’re planning to move house, have building work completed or welcome a new baby into your home, preparing your cat for the changes reduces the risk of stress.
If your cat is still showing signs of stress, you can contact a qualified cat behaviourist, such as a member of the Animal Behaviour and Training Council, for tailored advice about your cat’s specific situation. Find lots more general help and advice with our cat behaviour guides.