Friday, April 30, 2021

Is My Cat Stressed?

We've seen the research on how stress in humans can effect their physical, mental, and emotional health. There is much research on recognizing stress and providing strategies for relieving stress. Did you know your cats could also experience stress that may effect their health?

The last year has been very stressful due to COVID-19 with the resulting quarantines, health and mental issues, and dealing with finances. We've been home around our cats more in the last year on a daily basis than we've ever been and daily routines have changed. Our cats are very sensitive and share a deep bond with us and may be affected by stress in similar ways as we are . Dr. Lynn Bahr, DVM, owner of Dezi & Roo, states that "stress levels in our cats lowers their bodies' defenses, increases their chances of becoming ill, and negatively affects their physical and mental wellbeing." When cats experience stress, it not only manifests itself through physical illness, but may cause development of problems behaviors. There are two types of stress: acute and chronic.

Acute stress may be caused by an unexpected incident and is pretty easy to recognize in cats. Chronic stress is difficult to recognize because it develops over a longer period of time and the signs may be more subtle. 

Signs of Stress

Cats exhibit stress in a variety of ways. These signs may mirror some illnesses, so it's always important to take your cat to the veterinarian to rule out any medical issues. Possible clues your cat may be stressed are
  • Skin issues
  • Bladder and/or gastrointestinal issues
  • Urination outside the litter box
  • Excessive vocalization that may include growls and hisses
  • Aggressiveness towards people or animals
  • Grooming excessively
  • Eating non-food items
  • Poor appetite
  • Change in normal behavior
  • Crouching and looking tense indoors
  • Ears rotated backwards frequently or flattened
  • Wide open eyes with very dilated pupils
  • Hiding
Silver shaded Persian cat, Truffle, hiding under the chair
One of Truffle's favorite places to hide during thunderstorms

Causes of Stress

Cats do not like change in their environment or routine. Even moving a chair or a table will cause your cat to be cautious in the room because things are different. Some events that may trigger a stressful reaction are

  • Lack of key resources. 
  • New home environment or change in current environment
  • New pets in the home
  • Competition for resources in a multi-cat household
  • Unfamiliar cats outside the home
  • Inappropriate or unsuitable handling
  • Remodeling and/or construction
  • Storms and/or fireworks
  • Change in routine
  • Visitors in the home
  • Going to the veterinarian
Most of the causes of stress are predictable and you can prepare your cat for them through multiple preventative measures.

Prevention and Alleviating Stress

Try to keep your environment calm and consistent and learn to manage your own stress. Providing an appropriate number and type of resources for your cats within the home should be sufficient to satisfy her needs. Make sure there are an appropriate number of food and water bowls, litter trays, beds, hiding places, high perches, scratching posts, and toys to meet the daily needs of your cat. There are some specific methods recommended to help prevent or alleviate stress.
  • Minimize exposure to unpleasant situations
  • Consider a professional pet sitter instead of boarding your cat when you must be out of town
  • Add extra litter boxes (rule is 1 box per cat +1)
  • Separate feeding stations for multi-cat households
  • Provide vertical spaces so your cats can observe activities from a safe distance
  • Provide safe "hideaways" where your cat can feel safe
  • Offer calming treats
  • Use feline pheronomes (diffusers and/or sprays)
  • Obtain prescription medications from your veterinarian
  • Visit the veterinarian
silver shaded Persian cat, Truffle, sleeping in her red Sleepypod
Truffle feels safe in her Sleepypod® Mobile Pet Bed

Personal Experiences

Truffle and Brulee are Persian Cats who are usually pretty laid back and calm. However, several years ago, Truffle began reacting in a stressful manner to thunderstorms and fireworks. I would grab her and try to comfort her, but I read several articles from cat behaviorists that stated this had the opposite effect than I thought - I was reinforcing her fear! I began looking for other options. I do have feline pheromone diffusers in my home to help with a multi-cat household. I also have cat beds and trees that have a "cave" where they can climb inside and feel safe while being near me at the same time. I have several cat trees in every room where my cats can climb to the top to observe the world below them or climb inside to get away from stressful situations. I leave out our Sleepypod® Mobile Pet Beds and they love to rest inside them when I'm watching TV. 

When I was working fulltime and on the road overnight frequently, Truffle began to get sick. After several trips to the veterinarian, he suggested she may be getting stressed because I was out of town. Previously, I'd let my mom and dad come in once a day to check on them, but they didn't know how to play with or take care of a cat. I began using a professional pet sitter and Truffle hasn't been sick since (when I've been on overnight trips).

I live in the South, so we have frequent thunderstorms and fireworks are legal in neighborhoods. When I'm aware these events will happen, I will give the cats a calming chew and turn up the television a little to drown out the noises. If Truffle and Brulee decide to run for cover under the bed, I look under the bed and tell them it will be okay and leave them alone.

The one area I'm still working on is managing my own stress. I was diagnosed with a rare form of obsessive/compulsiveness/perfectionism with clinical depression over 30 years ago. I know Truffle and Brulee pick up on my emotions because of how they react when I'm having an anxiety attack or am depressed for a few days. Truffle is my emotional support kitty while Brulee is my physical health support kitty. 

What do you do when your cat is stressed?


 Royal Canin. 2021. How to recognize stress in cats. Royal Canin: Health and Wellbeing. https://www.royalcanin.com/us/cats/health-and-wellbeing/is-your-cat-stressed

 Battersea. 2021. Stressed Cat. Battersea: Cat Advice. https://www.battersea.org.uk/pet-advice/cat-care-advice/reducing-your-cats-stress

 International Cat Care. October 5, 2018. Stress in Cats. International Cat Care. https://icatcare.org/advice/stress-in-cats/

 King, Ingrid. April 1, 2019. Stressed? You Might Be Stressing Your Cat as Well. Fear Free Happy Homes. https://www.fearfreehappyhomes.com/stressed-you-might-be-stressing-your-cat-as-well/


Would you like to comment?

  1. It's so important to diffuse stress for cats! I'm so glad you wrote this.

  2. This is a good article!
    Often we humans so not realize how certain things and loud noises affect our cats.
    I often notice when there is a loud noise( like a Thunderstorm) that Julie will often look at me, no doubt judging my reaction. If I remain calm, so does she.
    We really do need to be aware of how things stress our cats and try to help keep them calm.

  3. Noelle hits the closet when there is any kind of loud noise. She's in there right now because the lawn peeps are here.

    The Florida Furkids

  4. Stress is so complicated and sadly the symptoms looks like so many other feline issues.

  5. Excellent post. My Sammy gets stressed by thunderstorms and hides under the bed, but luckily no one else does.

  6. Good information, cats are so very good at covering up problems, this article helps thanks.

  7. Olivia is a Siamese and a bit of a drama queen to begin with, but she gets stressed by the other cats. She over grooms her tail, which usually doesn't have much fur on it anymore. None of the calming treats, sprays or diffusers work for her. She does have her own room, food, water, litter & her favorite person is always home, but she is still anxious. Eventually her person will move into her own place and Olivia will get to be an only cat. I'm sure that will make her very happy.

  8. What a helpful article ! If course the stress we have all been under the last year is easily picked up by our pets.

  9. Excellent article! Our cats don't like thunder at all and always find hiding places during storms.

  10. I get stressed pretty easily so this information is very helpful. ~Ernie

  11. Great information! We get stressed on July 4th and when the dreaded carrier comes out.

  12. I firmly believe pets feel when we are stressed out and it does affect them, I really try to keep a stress free house as much as possible for Layla

  13. So important to realize that our pets can suffer from stress too. So many people just assume their being bratty or vindictive when they may be struggling. Good read!

  14. This is great information! We had a period of time at a previous house where we were going through some big life changes and it resulted in my husband and I being stressed - picking up on our emotions, our cats became incredibly stressed as well. We had to learn to manage our own stress better not only for our own health, but also for theirs. I think a lot of people overlook the impact that can have on our feline friends.

  15. Fantastic post. Many of the suggestions you list can also work for dogs. My Wolfie has had anxiety issues since he was a pup. I found pheromone sprays & diffusers worked well, too, when he first developed his anxieties. Thankfully, he is not stressed by storms, but his late sister was in her later years. Having just recently moved, I agree, very stressful on not only us, but on our pets! I never thought about how cats could be stressed since they always seem so laid back. Thanks for the great info, and I'm Pinning to share!

  16. People do not realise how stressed cats can get. They believe they are always calm. Cats pick up on your own agitation more than we realise so being calm at home is a big help, and keeping an eye on the potential causes you list is another.

  17. Great post, Paula. Very comprehensive causes of stress and solutions. My cat Maggie got very stressed when my husband moved in w/ us after we got engaged. She started urinating on his stuff! I guess she wasn't ready for marriage LOL!

  18. Thank you for sharing this wonderful post Paula. This was such a great read and very helpful for what to look out for if your cat is suffering from stress. And the different solutions to help if this happens. Have a great rest of your day and keep up the wonderful work.
    World of Animals Bensalem

  19. For years, I suspected that while Bear and I healed each other - we also were so attuned to each other that my/his stress was his/my stress. I hate how people assume cats can't be stressed.


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