Is Your Cat Stressed? Causes, Signs, and Treatment

Picture of a stressed cat

Stress can have a severe negative impact on cats’ health, and it can also affect their behaviour. Although they might seem perfectly independent and self-sufficient, our feline friends can suffer from stress and anxiety just as much as we can.

In today’s article, we are looking at the causes of stress in cats, how you might be able to tell that your pet is stressed, and what you can do to fix the issue.

Causes of stress in cats

There are heaps of factors that can influence your cat’s stress levels. The environment where the cat resides and any changes related to it is one of the most important such factors.

If your cat has to compete with another for food and water or even the use of a litter box, sooner or later, she is going to become stressed. The same happens to outdoor cats that live in an area where there are many other animals, so they have to compete for territory.

As you might know by now, cats are used to doing what they please, so pet guardians who will try to establish set schedules or expect certain behaviours from their furry friends, such as interacting whenever they want (not the cats), will inadvertently stress their cats.

Staying cooped up indoors if they are used to exploring the great outdoors all day long can also be stressful for some animals. Taking your feline companion to the vet can be another stressful experience, one that leads to both physical and behavioural modifications. Instantaneous hair loss can occur in some cats, in this case.

Last, but certainly not least, cats tend to get bored like people and many other animals (including pigs). If they don’t have any means of consuming the energy that they’ve accumulated during a day, if you don’t socialise with them, or they have nothing to play with, they’ll suffer from boredom and stress.

Signs your cat is stressed

First of all, cats can suffer from acute and chronic stress, and these two don’t come with the same symptoms. Also in terms of signs, there are several differences, in that some cats might show actual physical signs while others might show behavioural changes. There are also cats that might exhibit both types.

Cats that are experiencing a stress episode, which usually happens when they are handled by unknown people or when they are taken to the vet clinic, can show a mix of stress and aggression. Some become immobile, keep their tails close to their bodies, their eyes fully open with dilated pupils, and keep their whiskers and ears flattened back.

Other cats can be quite vocal when going through a stressful event, so they might yowl or growl, hiss, or begin to drool uncontrollably while they meow. Some pets can be so stressed that they might urinate or defecate or become very aggressive when someone tries to approach them.

Chronic stress has other manifestations, and they are extremely varied. Some cats show physical symptoms such as lethargy, they might rest for too long during the day, they might have no appetite for food or water or they might not ‘go to the bathroom’ at all. There is, of course, the possibility of some animals beginning to over-mark their territory, especially if a new cat was introduced in their environment.

In terms of behavioural changes, they can be either too calm or become aggressive or they might show a combination of the two.

Some cats can become overly affectionate. Others might spend too much time outdoors if there have been any changes in their indoor living arrangements; there are also cats that will spend more time indoors if there is an exterior stress-inducing factor.

Atopical dermatitis can show up in cats that tend to over-groom themselves in order to calm themselves down.

Treatment

The best piece of advice that we can give you is to take your feline friend to the veterinarian if you come to see any of the symptoms that we have previously showcased. It’s important for all of the medical causes to be ruled out. Once that situation is taken care of, you can make some changes.

If they see that there is no pathology causing the issues, the vet will certainly ask you a number of questions that will help you understand the cause of your cat’s stress and anxiety. You could also ask the vet to recommend a good cat behavioural specialist that can come up with a complete solution.

If there are several cats in your household, making sure that you have enough food and water bowls and litter boxes for each can be key to maintaining a low stress level in all of your feline friends. Furthermore, there should be enough scratching posts and toys in the house for them to be entertained while you’re at work.

While some pet parents might not agree with this, if you’re planning a home remodelling and there will be strangers working in your home and a lot of noise, it might be a better idea to relocate your cat for a while to a calm place such as with a friend that she’s spent time with in the past.

Of course, it will take some amount of time for the animal to adjust to the new setting, but it’s better for this to happen rather than forcing your cat to live in a noisy, disorganised, and messy environment. There have been numerous cases of cats that escaped and never came back because they were feeling too stressed in their homes.

If the source of your cat’s stress is still not apparent, you can use calm music to lower your pet’s anxiety levels. There are some cat calming products that might work, too, especially in cases where the stress-inducing factors aren’t that powerful, such as sprays, diffusers, and even treats.

If everything fails, your veterinarian could prescribe anti-anxiety medication, at least until your cat’s behaviour returns to normal.

Are some cats more prone to being stressed?

Cats that have poor eyesight or those that are deaf can have a much harder time coping with changes in their living environment, which is why they can be a lot more stressed than others.

The same goes for senior cats since they usually have medical conditions associated with their age or chronic pathologies that can become more severe due to them being stressed. In general, sick cats can become stressed easier than perfectly healthy ones.

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Cristina Vulpe PhD

Cristina Vulpe PhD

With a PhD in Veterinary Oncology, Dr. Cristina Vulpe loves researching and writing about the things that she’s passionate about. These range from animal nutrition and welfare to pet behavior, infectious diseases, and parasitology. In her spare time, she’s always in the company of her cat and a good book.

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