Stressed Cat? 6 Signs Of Cat Stress, And How To Help
Here's what vets recommend for cat stress relief.
Does it seem like your cat’s totally stressing out (even though it seems super random)?
Cats have a tendency to freak out at basically any change to their daily routine, but luckily you can take some steps to help ease her nerves when she’s in a particularly stressed out mood.
The Dodo reached out to Dr. Chyrle Bonk, a veterinarian working with Excited Cats, to find out more about what stress looks like in cats and how to help yours feel more relaxed.
Signs of stress in cats
Although stress in cats can show up in a few of the same ways that it does in people, every cat will experience stress differently and have their own unique symptoms.
“Signs of stress can also be very contradictory and confusing, so be on the lookout for any strange behavior,” Dr. Bonk told The Dodo.
This means that the best way to identify stress in your cat is by recognizing when she’s acting out of the ordinary since that’s usually a telltale sign.
Here are some changes in your cat’s behavior to look out for that might indicate she’s feeling stressed:
Changes in mood
If you notice an overall change in your cat's mood or how she interacts with you, this could be a sign that she’s stressed out.
“Some stressed cats may become more withdrawn, or some may become more clingy to their human family,” Dr. Bonks said.
Changes in appetite
Just like with people, a common sign of stress can be seen in your cat’s eating and drinking habits, Dr. Bonk said. While one person might overeat when they’re stressed, someone else might totally lose their appetite. The same idea is true for cats.
Changes in sleep habits
Any abnormal sleeping behavior is also an indication that your cat’s stressed.
“[Some cats] will have trouble sleeping and become listless or restless, while [others] may sleep more,” Dr. Bonk said.
“Stressed kitties may also urinate or defecate outside of their litter box,” Dr. Bonk said. “This may also be a sign of urinary health issues.”
So if your cat’s peeing on the bed or another inappropriate spot, reach out to your veterinarian to rule out a urinary health issue.
Notice thinning hair or bald spots on your cat? According to Dr. Bonk, some cats may start to groom themselves excessively when stressed, which can damage their coats and cause them to lose fur.
If your usually cool, calm and collected cat is suddenly acting out towards you, your family or another furry family member, this could be a sign of stress.
“[Some cats] may act aggressively toward people or other critters,” Dr. Bonk said.
Why is my cat stressed?
When trying to figure out why your cat might be stressed, know that a major source of stress for a cat lies in their interactions with other animals — or you.
These are some of the most common reasons why your cat might be stressed:
She doesn’t like sharing resources
Your cat just might not be a sharer. “Some cats just don’t like to share their resources, which can include food, water and space,” Dr. Bonk said.
This means that if you have two cats in one household and are expecting them to share a bed or even eat close together, one cat might hate the idea and get totally stressed about it.
She doesn’t like seeing feral cats
Can your cat see some feral cats living their best lives right outside her window spot? She might hate everything about that.
“[Some] cats get upset if there are feral cats around outside, even if they’re strictly living indoors,” Dr. Bonk said.
She doesn’t like being forced into things
“Cats can even get stressed out by you if you’re trying to force interactions on them when they’re not in the mood for it,” Dr. Bonk said.
This means if you’re trying to introduce her to a new cat before she’s ready, she might show signs of stress.
She’s missing a resource
“Other sources of stress include a lack of resources,” Dr. Bonk said. “Not having enough food, water or a clean litter box can send some cats spiraling.”
How to help a stressed cat
The sooner you can figure out the source of your cat’s stress, the easier it’s going to be to help her out.
“However, since most of us aren’t cat psychologists, that might not always be feasible,” Dr. Bonk said. “With that mind, you can check to be sure your cat’s needs are met.”
Ask yourself some of these questions:
- Does my cat have enough food and water?
- Does my cat have a clean litter box?
- Does my cat have a safe place to use the bathroom?
- Does my cat have to compete with other cats?
Depending on what’s causing stress for your cat, there are a few changes you can make that should address the root of her issues.
Change up feeding
If your cat doesn’t like eating next to her brothers or sisters, Dr. Bonk recommends feeding multiple animals in different areas of the house.
Consider window blinds
Does your cat freak out when she sees outdoor cats in her backyard? Dr. Bonk recommends getting window blinds so your cat can’t see the outside inhabitants, or moving her window perch to a different window to see if it helps.
Give her attention
Also, make sure you’re giving your cat some individual attention (when she actually wants it, that is). “Don’t force an interaction; rather, make yourself available and let them come to you when they’re ready,” Dr. Bonk said.
Consider calming products
Calming products are amazing for helping a stressed-out cat feel a bit better. You can try different kinds to see what works best for you and your cat, but some of the most common kinds of calming products for cats include:
Calming pheromone diffusers for cats
How to use it: Plug it into the wall.
How long it lasts: Up to 30 days
Pheromone diffusers for cats mimic a cat’s natural pheromones, or chemicals released by cats in response to certain emotions or stimuli. These can help your cat feel happy and relaxed when she’s stressed.
Calming sprays for cats
How to use it: Spray directly on objects, like your cat’s bed, the car or her carrier.
How long it lasts: 4–5 hours
Calming cat sprays work similarly to diffusers in that they use pheromones to help keep your cat relaxed. They work great in the house, but are also wonderful to use if you’re traveling in order to make your cat feel more relaxed in her carrier.
Calming treats for cats
How to use it: Give one to your cat 20–30 minutes before the anticipated stressor.
How long it lasts: Up to four hours
Calming cat treats use natural ingredients like L-theanine and thiamine to help keep a nervous cat relaxed. If you know something coming up might stress out your cat, like meeting a new furry sibling or driving in the car, giving her a calming treat can help ease her anxiety.
Calming collars for cats
How to use it: Just put it on like a regular collar.
How long it lasts: Up to 30 days
Calming cat collars also typically work by releasing pheromones. They’re perfect for just putting on your cat and not having to think about it for at least 30 days.
Calming beds for cats
How to use it: Place it in your cat’s favorite room.
How long it lasts: As long as you have it
Calming cat beds are made to mimic the feeling of warmth and security that a kitten experiences when sleeping with her siblings. These beds are made with super soft fabric, like faux fur, and come in the cuddliest, most snuggly shapes.
Talk to your veterinarian
Some cats might need extra loving when they’re stressed out. If none of these tips work for your cat, you might want to talk to your veterinarian to see if prescription anti-anxiety medications would be best for her or if there’s something more serious that’s causing your cat’s stress.
“If all else fails, see your veterinarian to rule out medical causes of stress,” Dr. Bonk said.
While stress in cats is normal from time to time, that doesn’t mean she has to live that way consistently. With these tips, and the help of a veterinarian or certified cat behaviorist if needed, your cat should be feeling better than ever soon enough.
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