Cat Stress: Causes and Solutions

Author: Christopher Pachel, DVM, DACVB, CABC

Published: June 7, 2014

Updated: August 2, 2021

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cat that is stressed and hidingJust like with humans, cats can experience stress that may cause them to act in unpredictable ways.

One of the most common causes of cat stress is when they perceive their environment to be unpredictable or unsafe. If the environment does not provide the cat what he needs, he reacts unfavorably.

Examples of perceived unpredictable or unsafe environments for cats include:

  • A new environment they don’t understand
  • A small space where they have to compete for use of a litter box or food dish
  • A room full of people

Early socialization can help a cat handle environmental changes throughout his lifetime. However, the best time to socialize a cat is between the ages of 2 to 7 weeks. Yes, weeks. So typically, by the time the cat is brought home, the stage has already been set for his socialization. Of course, there is always an opportunity to improve and provide additional socialization for the cat after adoption, but some cats may never adapt, which means you’ll have to make other changes to adapt to your cat, not the other way around.

Tips to Help Your Cat Deal with Stress:

  1. One of the most common causes of cat stress is when they perceive their environment to be unpredictable or unsafe.

  2. You may have to make changes to adapt to your cat, not the other way around.

  3. The best approach is to start by asking, “What does my cat tolerate best?” and not, “What do I want my cat to tolerate?”

The best approach is to start by asking, “What does my cat tolerate best?” and not, “What do I want my cat to tolerate?” This will help keep your cat’s best interests at heart and allow you to set the stage for small successes instead of failure.

For example, say you are hoping to get your cat to be comfortable with a major home renovation you are planning. You’ll have a dozen construction workers operating electric drills, buzz saws, and heavy machinery in your home.

Waiting until the construction starts and throwing your cat directly into the situation is more likely to cause the kitty version of PTSD than it is to socialize the cat to those triggers. Gradual exposure is a better and more successful avenue.

If you notice a difference in your cat’s behavior or think your cat may be stressed, the first step is to visit your veterinarian. There may be underlying medical issues that are causing your cat to feel stressed or “act out.” Once medical issues are ruled out, consider consulting a veterinary behaviorist. A behaviorist will help you determine what exactly you are dealing with, what would be a likely outcome, and how you can achieve it. With a little help, your cat may get to a point where they can tolerate that full-on house renovation you have planned, after all.

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