Stress in Cats: How to Help

Cats are sensitive creatures, any change to their home life or routine can lead to sign of stress.

Created: 10/13/2014 - Shelley Audis-Riddell

behaviour, Behaviour & Training, cats, stress and anxiety, training

How good are you at noticing your cat stress? Are you aware of what can cause your cat to feel stressed from day to day? Do you know your cat’s stress symptoms and how to reduce stress in your cat's life?

As most cat owners know, cats don't deal with change very well. Cats are very sensitive creatures who like to live in a home with little change. When cats experience stress in their lives, they often respond with changes in their behaviour to help them cope, and these changes in cat behaviour can lead to health problems.

What are the signs of stress in cats?

Feline stress can manifest itself in different ways. The cause of the stress or the environment in which it occurs will determine the cat’s behaviour and health. For example, if a neighbouring cat has started to try and enter your cat's house through the cat flap, then you may find your cat starts to spray around that area in a territorial response.

Here are some typical signs of cats stress:

  • Vertical scratching on objects

  • Bald spots

  • Spraying in the home

  • Hiding away

  • Increased aggression

  • Reduced social interaction

  • Weight loss

  • Over grooming

  • Loss of appetite

  • Conflict with other cats

  • Impact on health - such as cystitis and urinary tract problems

  • Hair loss

Black and white fluffy cat outside with their owners

I have a stressed cat... what to do next?

Keeping an indoor cat comes with responsibilities. If you think your cat is showing signs of stress or acting differently, the first step is to take your cat to the vet for a health check so that any underlying medical problems can be ruled out. Once your cat has been given a clean bill of health, you can start to look at your cat's routine and lifestyle to assess what the stress is linked to.

  • Has your routine changed?

  • Is there a new cat in the neighbourhood?

  • Has the relationship between household cats changed?

  • Have you moved house?

  • Are you packing to move house?

  • Have you introduced a new cat or dog to the household?

  • Have you been on holiday?

  • Has a neighbouring cat tried entering the house?

If your cat is displaying signs of stress, your vet will also be able to refer you to a qualified behaviourist, who can work with you and your cat.

Tabby cat hiding behind the curtain

Tips to keep house cats happy

Tip 1) Don't keep your cat's water and food dishes close to the cat litter tray. Cats are very clean animals, and they like to eat and toilet in distinctly separate areas.

Tip 2) Training a cat to use a for litter tray is a good thing. The standard rule for litter trays in the house is 1 per cat, plus 1! If you have 2 cats, then you will need 1 litter tray per cat, plus 1 extra. Have your cat's litter trays available on each floor of your home.

Tip 3) Cats naturally like to climb and hide at different levels in their environment. This meets their instinctive needs and makes them feel safe. Take a look around your home and see what different levels you can provide for your cat to express this behaviour. You may need to give your cat a shelf to rest on and/or provide them with a cat tree that has different levels to perch on.

Tip 4) Toileting for cats is a very private affair! Make sure you allow for this privacy by placing your cat's litter tray in a quiet place in the home. Placing the litter tray next to the washing machine or by the back door may be disturbing and stressful for your cat and may result in your cat toileting somewhere else in the home.

Tip 5) Have you ever measured your house cat litter tray to make sure it is the right size for your cat? Your cat's litter tray should be 1.5 times the length of your cat from nose to tail. This is to make sure your cat has enough space in the litter tray to move around, dig, bury, and use again. If the litter tray isn't big enough your cat may go somewhere else around the home.

Tip 6) Tap into your cat's instincts and enrich their environment daily. Try introducing daily hunting games for your cat to find their food. Play games with your cat using cat activity toys to encourage them to pounce, attack, and chase.

Tip 7) Introduce a vertical scratching post for your cat to groom its claws on and scent mark in the home. The scratching post can be placed in an area where your cat likes to scratch.

We hope this advice is useful for you and your pet family. Maybe your friends and family would like to read this too? Please feel free to share...

Do you need further advice?

If you need any further advice, please contact the OSCAR Helpline Team on our freephone number 0800 195 8000 or email