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Is Your Cat Stressed Out?

Apr 9, 2013 · Updated May 23, 2015 · ·
  1. Anne
    Stress is a part of life, and pretty much everything and anything can stress some cats. Events, situations and ongoing conditions can all create some amount of stress. The reaction to stress varies greatly from one cat to another, with some felines being far more sensitive than others. However, extended exposure to significant stressors can overwhelm even the most resilient cat.

    How can you tell if your cat is stressed out? How to tell when stress overload becomes a problem that needs to be addressed?

    Stressed Cats: The Body Language

    If you know cats well, and if you know your own cat well, you probably can tell a lot by her body language. Generally speaking, cats instinctively react to stressful events as they would to a potential threat.

    In terms of body language, you will notice the cat becomes attentive and focused on the source of the perceived threat. The cat’s pupils are likely to become dilated and his or her tail may start wagging. You may even see the cat adopt a defensive or aggressive body position, perhaps even arching his back.

    As long as this reaction is limited to the situation at hand, it’s perfectly normal. It only becomes an indication of too much stress if it’s repeated often, even when there is no obvious trigger. It’s as if the cat is constantly on the alert and ready to defend itself from an unseen foe.

    Changes in Behavior

    Sometimes, the cat’s body language does not provide the clues we need. This could be the case with cats that are less aggressive by nature, or possibly more introvert.

    With these cats, stress overload can manifest itself in other ways. Any of the following changes in behavior can mean your cat is over-stressed -
    • Excessive shedding
    • Excessive Grooming
    • Change in sleep patterns (too much or too little sleep)
    • Hiding
    • Change in appetite
    • Aggression
    • Elimination issues
    • Spraying
    • Excessive vocalization
    • Pacing and general restlessness
    Sometimes the more minute changes go unnoticed until, given time, they become full-blown behavior problems that are impossible to ignore. As owners, we should try to be aware of our cats' behavioral patterns. If you notice any changes, don’t wait for it to become a problem. Try to address the situation before your cat develops a behavior problem.

    Ruling out medical issues

    I can’t stress enough (no pun intended) just how important a medical check-up is at this point. Stress is a tricky thing: Not only can it make your cat ill, its symptoms can also be a manifestation of existing medical problems. If your cat shows any of the symptoms of stress listed above, your vet must first rule out health problems. For example, excessive shedding and grooming could be the result of a skin problem; urinating outside the litter box can be the result of FLUTD (the feline form of UTI).

    Trying to diagnose stress overload without a full medical check-up is futile. Trying to manage stress without treating potential underlying health problems can in fact cause more stress and add fuel to the fire.

    How to assess stress in cats

    Once medical issues are ruled out, it’s time to try and assess what might be stressing out your cat. Here’s an extensive list of common stressors in cats. Take a minute to go through it and ask yourself which of these may have affected your cat in the past months. A clean bill of health, changes in the cat’s demeanor and behavior and an accumulation of stressors in the cat’s history all mean you’re dealing with a stressed-out cat.

    Comments? Leave them using the form below. Questions? Please use the cat forums for those!

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  1. Babypaws
    I hope I am posting this in the right place. I have several rescue indoor cats. They are all spayed/neutered. They were all getting along until a few months ago when one male cat (10 months old) became aggressive to a female cat (14 months old). She would get nervous and try to hide from him. I have no place to separate them since I have 2 older cats in a different part of the house. But the past few weeks when I get up in the morning I’m finding pee on the floor and even worse on my furniture. It doesn’t happen everyday but often enough it’s disturbing. I’m pretty sure it’s the female. I don’t know if she’s holding it in all day and goes at night because it seems like a lot of pee. I don’t know how to stop her and protect my furniture. I’m afraid she’s going to pee on top of my wood furniture. Any suggests?
    1. Furballsmom
      Hi @Babypaws! Hopefully you've had a chance to repost this, as is mentioned at the end of the article, in this forum Cat Behavior The forums are where your posts will be seen by members, and you'll receive advice and support. Thanks!
  2. dhruska211
    my two year old female has decided to poop on the carpet instead of in her box. I have an aggressive 8 year old female "Mabel" who does not like anyone - including most people. (I adopted the cat and previous owner did not socialize her.) My two year old "TT" likes to play, and stayed away most of the time from the 8 year old. Now that TT has matured she is wanting to be dominate cat. Mabel 8 year old hisses each time she sees her, but has never tried to bite her. I also have 2 - one year olds that play with TT, but recently because of the pooping have been staying away from her. (Currently, I am out of town and my son isolated TT to the bathroom). I have no idea what to do.....my son said to put Mabel down. I need to do something - as I have walked thru poop twice which is two times too many. I have never been in this situation ......Help!
  3. sunnydi
    Where's the extensive list of stressors?
  4. Kanani
    I don't see the "extensive list of common stressors in cats" anywhere.
      mollysmom and meto purraised this.
  5. hellogatsby
    Is it just me but i dont see the list of stressors for a cat? 
    Im very concerned about my gatsby. Hes a lovely boy but lately hes been rough housing too much, biting hand and feet. at night time hes overly vocal. Usually when im about to go to bed he'll come to sleep with me 20 mintes later but last night he woke me up at 1am because he decided to just purr in my ear for a good 30 minutes and if i slightly ignored him he would nip at my hands. 
    Hes going to turn 5 months and has yet to be neutered so im wondering if thats the solution. 
    i just want him to be happy :( 
  6. tarasgirl06
    Knowing that cats' hearing is so acute, I can imagine a lot of cats react poorly to loud, high-pitched or threatening (like barking) noises; I keep our radio on almost all the time, tuned to a non-commercial Classical station, which is not only great for me while I work, it also provides a "white noise" like barrier against the noisy neighbors and their dog next door, as well as construction, tree-trimming, gardening, etc., noise in the neighborhood.  
  7. Anne
    Please remember that the forums are the right place to post questions. The comment section here is less likely to generate a discussion on one's particular issues with one's cat. Thank you!
  8. mein kat
    GrooveRite, this may sound obvious, but have your cats been neutered? An unneutered male is always going to spray. Plus, it may add to the unwanted cat population. And: if you live in a house, maybe there are cats around the neighborhood which your guys are picking up on, and they are marking their territory, stating, in effect, stay the heck out.
  9. mein kat
    What we mistook for getting creaky and crotchety in her old age we later found out was cancer--our little cat, 17 yrs old then, had been more finicky with food, and was more sensitive to being cuddled. Yet she still seemed content. When she began throwing up more than the usual hairball frequency, we took her in, got her an ultrasound--her insides were riddled with cancer. She lived only a few more months. If your cat is behaving quite differently from usual, do take it in for a checkup.
  10. nanci0813
    Have you tried Rescue Remedy yet? Its an herbal liquid that you can put on your cat's food or in the water. It really helped with my cats and their stress issues. I purchased mine on Amazon.
  11. grooverite
    I currently have 3 stressed out cats! The vet came this morning to my house and pretty much ruled out UTI. I need to get another litter box (have 2 right now) because my 2 males are urinating outside the box on the couch and kitchen sink. EVERY single issue posted in this article my cats have! WOW!! Sometimes, I'll come home from work and find patches and patches of hair all over my apartment. I used to think it was because they fight but now I'm wondering that its most likely been stress related. I have A LOT of work to do, *sigh*........
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