Friday, May 22, 2015

Do You Have a Stressed Cat?: Recognizing the Signs of Feline Stress

As humans, we face stressful situations everyday, whether it's with our finances, an appliance breaking in our homes, a disagreement with someone we care about, illness or injury, or problems at work.  Sometimes we get so wrapped up in trying to sort out our own problems that we don't recognize that stress is also affecting our furry companions.  Stress can lead to stress-related illnesses, make certain health conditions worse, lead to undesirable behaviors, and reduce a cat's quality of life.  Thus, it's important for us, as pet owners, to be able to recognize the signs of stress in our companions so that we can address it efficiently and effectively.

Causes of Cat Stress

Any change, big or small, in a cat's environment or body can cause her stress.  As with humans, some kitties are more sensitive to stress than others.  More sensitive cats may be affected by very small stress triggers while a less sensitive cat may only be affected by major stress triggers.  Your cat may be affected by physical, environmental, or emotional stress.  
  • Physical: When your cat experiences changes or trauma to his body, he is dealing with physical stress.  Physical stressors include surgical procedures, physical abuse, neglect, starvation, injury, illness, obesity, and having fleas or ticks.
  • Emotional: Changes that affect a kitty's psychological state can also be stressful.  Lack of mental stimulation (boredom), death of an animal companion or human living within the home, the addition of a companion or human to the home, and the prolonged absence of a pet or human are all examples of psychological stressors.  

  • Environmental: Environmental stress occurs when a cat is faced with a change in his surroundings.  A change in litter or food brand, having only one feeding station or litter box in a multi-cat household, visitors, loud music, home renovations, seeing another cat in his territory, hearing a barking dog, and natural disasters are examples of environmental stress.  Cats may also be stressed by moving, going to the veterinarian, new furniture, rearranging existing furniture, and being denied access to hiding places.  
Symptoms of Stress

The symptoms of stress you observe in your cat will depend on whether your cat is experiencing acute or chronic stress.  

Acute Stress: Acute stress occurs when an unexpected (short-term) change or threat occurs.  It is usually pretty easy to tell if your kitty is experiencing acute stress.  

Signs that your companion is experiencing acute stress include:

  • Immobility.
  • Being crouched down on all fours with the tail close to the body.
  • Shaking.
  • Fully dilated pupils, ears flattened against the head, and whiskers back.
  • Hissing or growling.
  • May be aggressive if approached. 
  • Involuntary defecation or urination.

Chronic stress can be more difficult to identify.  Chronic stress occurs when a kitty faces a long-term threat or challenge.  The signs of chronic stress are often more subtle and behavioral in nature.  

Signs that your cat is experiencing chronic stress include:

  • Excessive grooming, which may result in psychogenic alopecia, or undergrooming, which may result in dirty or matted fur.
  • Changes in appetite.
  • Increased sleepiness. 
  • Urinating or defecating outside the litter box.
  • Less interaction with family members or increased attention-seeking behavior.  Clingy behavior. 
  • Changes in relationships with the other companion animals in the home.
  • Hiding.
  • Excessive vocalization.
  • Aggression.

Remember that cats are unique, and the way your cat shows stress may be different than the way another cat exhibits stress.  

If you notice any of these symptoms in your cat, please take her to your veterinarian for a thorough physical examination to rule out medical problems.  If no medical cause can be found, your cat may be experiencing stress.  Please join us next Friday as we explore ways to reduce and relieve your cat's stress.

How can you tell when your cat is stressed?



  1. Yep, I'd say those sound about right! Great info!

  2. It is always good to know the more subtle signs. Thanks for sharing!

  3. This is important info for ALL cat lovers to know. Great info, thanks for sharing.

  4. That's a sad list of symptoms but good information.
    I just think of the cats in shelters- unfamiliar surroundings, strange people, new food, the sound of dogs barking.

  5. You might want to look at the video at my blog today as perfect example of stress.

  6. It's so important for us to stay tuned into our pets so we can easily question if they are being affected adversely by stress so we can address it with our veterinarians. Thank you for all the great information you shared to make cat parents aware that their cats could be affected by stress and what to look for.

  7. Lots of great info here to keep our kitties happy. I had a cat that would get stressed very easily. I always was fretting about her!

  8. This is great info - when we go out of town, my human is always on the lookout for any signs I might be stressed. Of course, it's always important to look out for it at home too!

  9. Yep, stress is a major issue to watch out for. We have to take good care of our Mom, she tends to be on the anxious side - which isn't good for us either.

  10. Great post, that's a lot of information ! Purrs

  11. Stress can be a real problem! I can tell when Cinco is stressed because he runs and hides. Sometimes he will growl too. Manna doesn't get stressed too often, but when she does she does a lot of vocalizing.

  12. I feel so bad when my cats are stressed! We have 2 who were born feral and when they get upset they regress to hiding and running very low to the ground. Doesn't happen often thankfully!

  13. Thanks for this great information. There are four Farm cats and so far they are all very happy

  14. Great post! When our cats are stressed, they usually hide.

  15. good things to be aware of, especially if you're stressed yourself, you may miss that your pet is also stressed.

  16. Yup, Minko is fur sure a stressed kitty, at least under the right circumstances.
    Pipo is more relaxed in general.

  17. Important info for understanding your cat. I notice that what stresses a cat are common to humans also. If we are stressed it may be that our pet is too.

  18. Excellent post. I have 15 cats and some hide when stressed, one chases her tail.


  19. Thanks so much for the detailed info about stressing out... Feliway dispensers are so helpful in calming kitties down. Many of the vets here in Kansas use them in the cat exam rooms too.

  20. Fantastic post! A lot of pet parents misread stress. Definitely a must share.

  21. Excellent article! The rearranging furniture part is so true. Recently we inherited some extra furniture, which we stored in our house for a short time before we put it up for sale. Of our 3 cats, one (Trouble) seemed particularly stressed and was very nervous, jumpy, and agitated for about a week until he got used to it being around. The other 2 were totally fine. Very interesting how some stressors really affect certain kitties!