Just like us, cats can experience feelings of stress which can cause them to suffer severe internal turmoil. As owners, we should learn to recognize the signs and then alleviate the underlying cause, especially if the cause is a health issue. If a cat suffers from stress for any length of time it can have a serious effect on its overall health and wellbeing.
Cats are quite good at masking stress and some of the clues are quite subtle. So here are 14 signs that your cat might be stressed for you to watch out for and act upon, especially if they manifest suddenly.
1. Spraying or Eliminating Outside of The Litter Box
Stressed cats are known to avoid using their litter boxes. So if your cat who usually uses the box all of the time suddenly goes elsewhere then stress could well be the cause.
Spraying or urinating around your home is a sure sign that all is not well. If your cat hasn’t been neutered or spayed this might be the time to speak to your vet about having ‘the operation’. However, if your cat has already been fixed there will be some other cause of this unsociable habit. It may be feeling the urge to mark its territory because it’s noticed a strange cat through a window but on some occasions, it may have developed a UTI (urinary tract infection). So if it becomes more than a one-off occurrence, watch out for a visiting feline and also visit your vet for a check-up.
If your cat begins to defecate outside of its litter box this could be for a variety of reasons. In a multi-cat household, another cat using the box first can put the second cat off using it. Or it could be your cat is struggling to enter the box due to old age or an injury, or doesn’t like the position of the box. If you’ve recently moved it, move it back or try a different new position if necessary.
Keeping the Litter box as clean as possible really helps. Having at least two litter boxes in a multi-cat household is also a good idea.
Cats do love a quiet spot out of sight at times but if your cat is suddenly hiding a lot more and doesn’t emerge when you try to coax it out, stress could be a prime factor. If you have recently introduced a new pet into the household this could be the cause. Sometimes older cats hide because of an imagined danger brought on by the onset of Feline Cognitive Dysfunction (FCD). If the hiding carries on for more than one day, you should take your cat to the vet for an examination.
3. Excessive Grooming
Most cats groom themselves a few times a day but not to the point that they remove excessive amounts of fur. If your cat seems to be grooming non-stop and especially if bald spots start appearing then something is likely to be causing it to feel stressed. Sometimes it’s a new pet that is causing your cat to experience feelings of insecurity and you will have to work at settling your existing cat. Do this as soon as possible as your cat could get into an excessive grooming habit that’s had to break. Your cat could also have a medical condition causing a skin irritation so a trip to the vets may be necessary.
4. Excessive Shedding
If you notice a lot more of your cat’s fur shedding than you would expect for the time of year, stress could certainly be a contributing factor. Consider if something in your cat’s environment is causing it to fret and try to eliminate this trigger. Excessive shedding can also be caused by poor diet, an infection or an allergy so it’s advisable to seek the opinion of your vet.
5. Change in Sleeping Habits
Cats can quite happily sleep for up to 18 hours every day. This is not unusual behavior.
If your cat suddenly starts to sleep far more than usual, it could be a victim of stress. Loneliness and boredom might be the cause so try to play with and interact with your cat a lot more to alleviate these feelings. Provide it with plenty of toys and scratching posts to enrich its environment. I love this ultimate PetFusion scratching lounger. It has almost 6,0000 5-star reviews, looks stylish and is great value for money. You can even by a few and wall mount them to make a fun climbing and scratching wall that any cat would love. If play and interaction don’t change your cat’s lazy habits, take a trip to the vets for a health check.
If your cat is sleeping noticeably less than usual, this is also a stress signal. Restlessness and the inability to relax mean something could be worrying your cat.
6. Decreased Appetite or Loss of Appetite
It is worrying when cats stop eating because they can dehydrate so quickly due to the fact that they get a lot of their fluids from their food (assuming they aren’t on a dry–food-only diet). Just like we lose out appetites when we feel nervous about an exam or a driving test, cats can lose theirs when they feel stressed.
So if you notice your cat is barely eating or stops eating altogether ask yourself if anything in its environment could be making it feel stressed and try to eliminate the problem. This isn’t always easy, especially if the cause is a new household pet.
7. General Lethargy
If your cat becomes unusually lazy and reluctant to play or move about that much, then stress could be the culprit. Lethargy is a common stress symptom and boredom may be the issue. Again, an enriched environment and play is the key to curing this type of stress.
8. Excessive Vocalizing
If your cat meows, howls or ‘talks’ far more than usual, especially when it can’t see you, then take notice as something may be wrong. In older cat memory problems can bring about this type of behavior. Being alone in the dark can cause cats to feel disorientated and stressed. Consider using dawn till dusk night lights that plug into wall power sockets.
If your cat is vocalizing and seems in pain or ill, don’t take any chances and go straight to the vets. If excessive vocalization continues for a few days then even if there are no obvious symptoms of illness, take your cat for a general health check.
9. Increased Aggression
If your cat becomes aggressive or shows an increase in its usual aggression level towards people or other household pets, then stress may well be to blame. Quite often the aggression is not directed at the cause of the stress. Pain from an injury or an illness may be causing this unwanted behavior so don’t ignore it. Check your cat carefully for signs of an injury or anything unusual – a trip to the vets might be on the cards.
10. Skittish and Nervous Behavior
Stress can make a cat jumpy and nervous around people it is usually comfortable with. If your cat is suddenly more easily startled and runs a mile when you enter the room, then something is worrying it. As usual, try to eliminate the cause if it’s obvious – it might not be. A pet camera might be worth investing in as it will capture events that occur when you are away from the house – you might discover what is upsetting your cat.
11. High Heartrate
Stress can cause an elevated heart rate in cats. So if your cat’s heart rate is high (over 220 bpm when it’s resting) then stress or another medical condition could be the cause. You can measure your cat’s heartbeat by placing one hand over its left side, just behind its front leg. Count the number of beats in 15 seconds and multiply by four to get the heart rate in beats per minute (bpm). If your cat’s heart is over 220 bpm and resting doesn’t lower it, don’t take any chances – go straight to your vets.
12. Dilated Pupils
A cat’s pupils increase and decrease in size according to the amount of light. If your cat is in broad daylight yet its pupils are oversized, this is a sign it is feeling stressed and quite often this type of stress is caused by pain. Keep an eye on your cat and if its pupils don’t reduce fairly quickly you should really go to the vets.
13. Tail Tucked Down Between Legs
A confident and happy cat holds its tail high. A stressed cat often holds its tail down low, tucked between its legs.
14. Diarrhea or Constipation
Stress caused by a change in your cat’s environment can often cause changes to bowel movements. So if you notice your cat has diarrhea or constipation for more than a day there’s a chance your cat is feeling stressed. If you’ve just moved house or rearranged the furniture in your current home this could be the cause. If your cat doesn’t settle within a few days, speak to your vet for advice.
15. Excessive Scratching
Cats scratch if they have fleas or skin conditions but stress can also cause them to scratch excessively for no obvious reason. If your cat is free of fleas and has no other obvious skin complaint then it could be feeling stressed and you will need to determine why.
As you can see, stress can manifest itself in many ways in cats – some quite subtle and some far more obvious. Now you know what might be a symptom of stress the more difficult task you face is how to remove the cause.
Some easy thing to check are:
- Your cat’s environment. Make sure your cat has plenty of toys and stimulation. Boredom is high on the list of causes of stress.
- Company. Loneliness is a huge contributing factor to stress.
- Illness and general health. Poorly cats and cats in pain will show signs of stress.
- Household disharmony. Family arguments or new pets it doesn’t feel comfortable with can cause your cat to suddenly feel stressed in what is once considered its safe and happy home.