Many situations can make your cat feel stressed, potentially leading to significant health and behavioral issues that can negatively impact their quality of life. Our Bayview Animal Hospital team knows cats can be hard to read, and we provide valuable information about recognizing feline stress and how to address the problem.

Cat stressors

Cats dislike change, and disruptions to their environment can cause them anxiety. Stressors include:

  • Illness
  • A new baby or pet
  • A dirty litter box
  • Relocating to a new home
  • Daily routine changes
  • Construction inside or in close proximity to your home
  • Rearranging furniture
  • Unfamiliar cats, dogs, or other animals roaming your yard
  • Boredom

Cats who live in multi-cat households are more likely to be stressed. While cats can form friendships with other cats, they need alone time and their own resources to feel secure in their environment.

Cat stress signs

Cats often hide vulnerabilities, and they don’t advertise when they feel stressed. Signs indicating your cat feels anxious or threatened include:

  • Hiding — Cats are notoriously aloof, but they shouldn’t be hiding constantly. If your cat refuses to socialize, they may be stressed.
  • Urinating inappropriately — If your cat is urinating outside their litter box, they are likely trying to communicate that a problem exists. Don’t assume they are being spiteful.
  • Gastrointestinal (GI) upset — In some cases, stressed cats may experience diarrhea or constipation. These litter box abnormalities may indicate your cat is feeling stressed.
  • Decreased appetite — If your cat is stressed, they may refuse to eat or be unenthusiastic about their food. Appetite changes should always be investigated.
  • Excessive grooming — Many stressed cats groom themselves excessively, and in some cases, cause hair loss and skin abrasions. 
  • Scratching inappropriately — If your cat is stressed, they may start scratching your furniture or pulling at your carpet. Before scolding your cat, determine the reason behind the behavior.
  • Aggression — Aggression toward people or other pets in the house may indicate your cat is stressed.
  • Vocalization — Excessive vocalization, especially if your cat isn’t a big talker, may indicate stress. 

How to prevent your cat’s stress

Determining the cause of your cat’s anxiety is important to help alleviate the problem. Tips to help prevent cat stress include:

  • Schedule regular wellness exams — Cats tend to hide illness and pain, and regular veterinary wellness checks help our team detect health issues before they can stress out your cat. A veterinarian should see an adult cat about once a year, and a senior cat every six months.
  • Clean the litter box — Cats are fastidious, and they don’t appreciate a dirty litter box. Scoop the box at least twice per day, and change out the litter once per week.
  • Make introductions properly — When bringing home a new pet, take the time to introduce your current cat properly to their new housemate. This usually takes at least two to three weeks, during which time you gradually acclimate the pets to each other.
  • Provide enough resources — Each cat in your household should have their own scratching post, food and water bowls, toys, and hiding places. The rule of thumb for litter boxes is to have one for each cat plus one extra.
  • Place resources strategically — Place litter boxes in convenient, quiet areas where your cat won’t be disturbed. Ensure food and water bowls aren’t near the litter box, and place scratching posts in several locations throughout your home. 
  • Determine your cat’s scratching preference — Some cats like vertical scratchers, while others prefer horizontal scratchers. Provide multiple options to determine which scratching post type your cat prefers.
  • Provide vertical space — Cats are predator and prey animals, and they feel more secure when they can view their environment from an elevated position. Ensure your cat has access to vertical space. 
  • Create a safe zone — Designate a room in your home where your cat can hide if they feel threatened or stressed. Ensure they have a small enclosed area, such as a box, where they can feel safe.
  • Schedule playtime — Schedule about 15 minutes twice per day to play with your cat. They need mental stimulation and physical exercise to stay actively engaged. Laser pointers and wand-style toys are great to help them get the exercise they need.
  • Make mealtime interesting — Use a food puzzle toy to feed your cat, which encourages them to use their mind to access their food, making meal time more enjoyable. 
  • Turn on the television — Many videos made to entertain cats are available online. Find one that intrigues your cat, and let them have some screen time.
  • Close the curtains — If an unfamiliar pet or wild animal is upsetting your cat out in your yard, close the curtains and blinds so they can’t see the intruder.

If you think your cat is stressed, contact our Bayview Animal Hospital team so we can ensure that a medical condition isn’t contributing to the problem.