Symptoms of Stress in Cats

Last Updated on February 14, 2021

It can be a bit puzzling when you know something is wrong with your cat yet their tests come back perfectly healthy. Just like in humans, cats can show signs and symptoms of health issues that aren’t directly related to an actual medical condition but rather stress. If you have taken your cat to the vet and have tried all the tests available to rule out any medical conditions yet on paper, your cat is perfectly healthy, you may want to consider stress being the main culprit.

What Can Stress Do?

Both mental and emotional stress can cause the body to be put under physical stress. It is easier to pinpoint this in humans but not quite so easy with cats. Because cats can’t tell us how they are feeling or what is bothering them, we have to rule out all possibilities and try to figure out what would be causing them mental or emotional stress in order for the body to heal. Here are some common causes of mental/emotional stress in cats that can lead the physical issues:

  • Rehoming to a new family
  • Moving to a new home
  • Adopting a new pet (dog or cat)
  • Too many cats in one household
  • New household member (partner, friend, or baby)
  • Mental diagnosis (depression, anxiety, bipolar)
  • New medication
  • Uncleaned/Not enough litter boxes
  • Frequent loud noises
  • Household members arguing/being under stress
  • New object causing fear (noisy appliances)
  • Changing diet too drastically
  • Scolding/Yelling at your cat
  • Physical abuse
  • Feeling trapped (not having free range in the house)
  • Boredom

Is My Cat Stressed Out?

Cats are creatures of habit and typically prefer things to remain the way they are accustomed to. Even a minor change can put your cat under temporary or long term stress. In order to know if your cat is stressed or not, you will have to compare their “normal behavior” to what is happening right now. Not all cats are the same but most cat owners have a general sense of their own cat’s personality so it is important to look for any changes, even minor ones. In most cases, you will notice at least one symptom of stress pop up in your cat’s day to day routine.

Symptoms of Stress in Cats

Cats commonly show very similar symptoms when it comes to stress. Your cat may have one or several of these symptoms and if the stress gets worse, their symptoms become worse. From poor litter box habits to crying at night, these are the most common symptoms of stress in cats:

  • Peeing outside the litter box
  • Spraying around the house
  • Frequent trips to the litter box (see Stress Cystitis)
  • Diarrhea/IBS/Constipation
  • Loss of appetite
  • Drinking more or less
  • Destructive behavior
  • Stress-induced seizure
  • Vocalized distress (crying at night)
  • Unkempt coat
  • Moody or aggressive behavior
  • Restlessness
  • Sleeping more than usual
  • Itching or visible skin irritation
  • Hair pulling and/or hair loss

How Can I Manage My Cat’s Stress?

There are only two options when it comes to treating stress in cats; Medication or removing the stressor. Medication should only ever be used in severe cases as the side-effects tend to be bad for your cat’s health. You can opt for natural stress reduction through vitamin supplementation or sprays but these will not work with every cat. The best way to go about treating stress is removing what is causing the stress. This can be a long process but if you can pinpoint what is causing the issue and remedy it, your cat’s symptoms will disappear shortly after. In some cases, the actual stressor might not be removable such as having a newborn in your home. In these cases, you want to focus on enriching your cat’s life with food, play, and general affection.

Making Sure Your Cat Is Happy

Cats are fairly simple creatures who don’t require much to be happy and content within their lives. While not every cat is the same most want the same thing and that is good food, a clean spacious litter box, a place to enjoy nature, playtime, and a peaceful environment. You can enrich your cat’s life in many different ways that will effectively reduce the stress or quite possibly eliminate it altogether.

Enrich Your Cat’s Life

If you are stumped on where to begin, start with simple things. Set aside 30 minutes every day to play with your cat one on one. Use their favorite toy or buy a new interactive toy such as a feather wand. Looks for ways around your house to let your cat have more access to window space without drastically making any big changes. This will allow them to sunbathe and watch what is going on outside. A lot of cats enjoy seeing birds, squirrels, and other creatures, some even enjoy people watching! A few more suggestions are below. Whatever you decide, it is important to start today so your kitty and you can have the best life together.

New toys – Check out our top 5 toy recommendations for cats!

An outdoor enclosure – Building or buying a pre-buit enclosure will not only keep your cat safe but allow them more freedom to enjoy nature.

A new litter box – Investing in a litter box your cat will enjoy is a great stress reducer.

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