Cat Stress — The Signs to Look Out For

Author: Jason Nicholas, BVetMed

Published: July 24, 2016

Updated: September 30, 2021

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white cat with green eyes hiding

Do You Have A Stressed-Out Kitty?

The days are long. The weather’s warm. And the kids are out of school. The middle of summer is often a great time to break out of your old routine and burn off some of that pent-up stress. But for most of our feline friends, routine is everything.

And all these conditions that sound so ideal for you, can have quite the opposite effect on your cat. Heat, travel, and increased house traffic (especially younger children) can all lead to increasing their anxiety and stress levels. And a stressed cat can easily become an unhealthy cat.

How Do You Know When Your Cat Is Stressed?

Here are seven quick signs that could mean that you might have a stressed-out kitty.

Urination Issues. If your cat has suddenly decided that the litter box is no longer the proper venue to do its business, or you notice that your cat’s litter box is suspiciously lacking the pee clumps that regularly wait for you each day, this can be a sign of a serious stress-related illness. Urethral obstruction is a very serious medical emergency. As I’ve stated before, a cat that cannot pee is a cat that’s going to die, unless appropriate veterinary medical care is obtained immediately. To learn more about feline urethral obstruction, including how to recognize it and what you can do to prevent it, click here.

Decreased Appetite: One of the routines that cats seldom ever deviate from is their hunger and appetite. You’ll never see your cat suddenly adopt a new fad diet. So if your cat does go off script, and starts eating less (or even skipping meals altogether), this is an important sign – and one that can indicate stress, pain, or another serious problem.

Increased Vocalization: Many cats love to meow and even howl. But if you notice your cat expanding its vocabulary to long, extended “talking”, or even talking at different times – they just might be trying to tell you that something is wrong. Do them a favor and visit your vet to make sure everything is alright.

Unexpected Aggression: If your mild-mannered cat has suddenly (or even gradually) become more aggressive to you, your family or friends, or even to other animals – they might be feeling the effects of stress or an underlying health issue. If you see this occurring, it is best to have them looked at by a veterinarian. Ignore this sign at your (and their) peril.

Excessive Grooming. Sure, your cat is often making himself look all quaffed and handsome, that’s one of the things they do best. But if you see them going overboard on their appearance – even licking themselves to the point of creating a bald patch – that could easily indicate stress (it could also mean a flea allergy dermatitis, pain, or another medical problem, too).

cat hiding because of stressHiding. Sure, some cats can be solitary, anti-social creatures, but most aren’t. If your regularly interactive and affectionate cat suddenly becomes more removed, stress, pain, or another concerning condition is likely to blame. It can be a subtle sign, but one that you really shouldn’t miss or take a “wait-and-see” approach to. And for those cats that have always been “reserved,” there’s a distinct possibility that they’re suffering from chronic stress too. Again, a trip to your vet or consultation with a veterinary behaviorist is a good step to take.

Panting. While dogs pant routinely and for a variety of reasons, some normal, cats aren’t really normal panters. Panting in cats often means a problem, and one needing veterinary evaluation and attention.

It’s good to note that stress and your cat’s health can be a two-way “Cause and Effect” game. Just as with humans, stress can cause a wide variety of health issues in cats by compromising their immune system. And on the flip side, a health issue can be the primary cause of your cat’s stress. So remember: If you notice any difference in your cat’s behavior, or think your cat may be stressed, the first step to visit your veterinarian. Getting an early diagnosis can improve their health, and lower the stress for both you and your cat. Read more here about what you can do to help with your cat's stress.

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