Recognising stress in cats

It can be worrying when your cat stops behaving like themselves, especially if you don’t know what’s wrong.

Stress can make many medical issues worse, and it can cause problems of its own in cats. Cats, like most animals, are sensitive to their surroundings and can be easily stressed. It’s important to be able to notice when your cat is showing signs of stress so you can help them as soon as possible.

Although very stressed cats may show obvious signs, it can be hard to spot if you’re not sure what you’re looking out for.

Emergency Appeal

In this time of crisis, our front-line staff are working hard to ensure we're still there for the UK's most vulnerable pets. We need your support now more than ever to keep our doors open.

What are the signs of stress in cats?

There are several signs of stress in cats you can look out for. Some can also be a sign of other medical conditions so always take your pet to the vet if they are showing any of these signs.

  • Hiding or staying in out-of-the-way spots more than normal.
  • Change in eating habits (e.g. eating less than normal, avoiding eating at certain times or in certain places).
  • Change in toileting habits (e.g. going outside the tray).
  • Over-grooming (you might notice bald patches on them).
  • Worried body language (e.g. slinking low to the ground, crouching or arching, ears back).
  • Avoiding a certain area or the house, or a pet or person.
  • Meowing or whining more than normal.
  • Out of character behaviour (e.g. a social cat not wanting to spend time with you or an active, playful cat that doesn’t want to play anymore).
  • Being aggressive towards other pets or people.


What causes stress in cats?

Different cats will get stressed for different reasons and things one cat may breeze by, another cat might get really anxious about. Common things that might make a cat stressed, include:

  • Changes to their environment, from bigger changes like renovations or moving house to smaller ones like moving furniture or buying a new duvet set.
  • Negative relationships or interactions with other pets in the household (cats prefer to live alone with their humans).
  • Stranger or neighbour cats coming into their home through their cat flap.
  • Changes in routine, including feeding times, when you get up or if your pattern of being out of the house changes.
  • Changes in members of the household, from a new baby, someone moving out or in, or even the loss of a family member.
  • Boredom.
  • Fireworks.
  • Travelling in the car.
  • Visits to the vet.
  • Lack of enough resources (food, water, litter trays, scratchers and places to rest).


How do I stop my cat from getting stressed?

Whether you want to make sure your cat doesn’t get stressed, or help make a stressed cat happy again, there are a few steps you can take.

  • Make sure your cat has everything it needs to be happy, including constant access to water and enough beds, scratching posts and litter trays. Food and water shouldn’t be kept near one another, and litter trays should be kept far from both.
  • Ideally you should offer at least 2 water points, litter trays, posts and beds for a single cat. If you have more than one cat in the house, you’ll need one per cat plus one spare of each, spread around the house.
  • Always make sure your cat has a separate food bowl to other pets in the household. These should also be kept away from your other pets’ food, either in a different location or by feeding them at a different time if space is tight.
  • Make sure you have lots of hiding places for your cat where they can feel safe. This could include igloo beds, cardboard boxes and high up spaces that provided somewhere comfy to rest in.
  • For cats that go outdoors, it can be helpful to give them a cat flap so they can come and go as they please. We recommend a microchip one to stop other cats coming into their territory and eating their food. If you can’t have a cat flap, try to keep their routine for being let in- and outdoors the same so they know what to expect.
  • Cats love routine as they are creatures of habit. Try to keep to your daily routine as much as possible. Try to keep to the same feeding schedule every day.
    Just like in people, keeping active may help reduce stress. Make sure your cat has access to plenty of toys and play with them every day.
  • Make them use their brain to avoid boredom. Use puzzle feeders, scatter feed dry food or hide treats in old loo roll inners so your cat has to puzzle for their pudding.
  • You can try a pheromone diffuser for cats, which can be especially useful if there are things you know might stress your cat out but are unavoidable, like moving house. Pheromones come in a plug-in diffuser or spray form.

Remember to give your cat some space and let them choose when they want your attention. Sometimes, even if we mean well, our cats can get stressed over too much attention. Then it’s all the more rewarding if a cat chooses to spend time with you!

Exercising your cat

Find out great ways to keep your cat active and help to keep them fit and healthy and prevent stress.

Read more

Nervous cats

Cats in particular can be skittish. There are ways to help a nervous cat so they don't find things so scary.

Helping nervous cats

Keep your cat healthy

Keeping your cat happy and healthy is important for preventing stress. There are simple steps you can take.

Read more