signs of a stressed cat kitten hiding under a sheet

10 Signs Your Cat Is Stressed And How You Can Help

If your cat has been acting strangely lately and you can’t work out why, it could be a sign your cat is stressed.

Cats have a reputation for being aloof and independent, which stems from their solitary ancestry. However, studies have shown that our domestic kitties can form strong bonds with their owners, which is great news for us feline-loving folk! 

When they are feeling stressed, cats will communicate with their owners through body language cues and vocalizations, which can vary between breeds. For example, Burmese cats are known to be incredibly vocal and attentive, so they are more likely to voice their concerns! British Shorthairs are more likely to be subtle in their approach, which can lead to signs being missed!

It’s important to remember that all cats will tell us when something is wrong. We just need to know what signs to look out for! The positions of the tail or the ears may seem insignificant to us but they are obvious warning signs to a cat! If these signs are not picked up on, your cat’s behavior may become more extreme, for example, a panic attack. This can lead to the use of defensive tactics or complete withdrawal.  

In this guide, we’ll be taking a look at the 10 most common signs of a stressed cat.

Stick around to the end and we’ll even tell you some of the things you can do to calm your kitty when they’re showing signs of stress.

10 Most Common Signs Your Cat Is Stressed

Cat Anxiety Symptoms Cool Cat Advice

1. Hiding In The Dark

When your cat spends too much time hiding under furniture and blankets, it could mean he or she is feeling anxious.

Many cats suffer from acute stress which can have them running for cover under the nearest bed! This type of response is usually caused by loud noises or sudden movements (think fireworks being set off or the sound of the dreaded vacuum cleaner!). Signs of acute stress usually disappear a short while after the  threat has disappeared. 

If your cat is permanently hiding away with no apparent cause, then it could be the result of chronic stress. This is a much more serious condition that requires closer attention.

2. Losing Interest In Food And Water

Many cats lose their appetite when they are under stress. This is because the act of eating is a vulnerable position. Think about it; when they are nibbling away at a tasty morsel of food their guard is down and their head is lowered. So, they are less likely to be able to dash away at a moment’s notice!

By keeping an eye on your kitty’s food and water bowls, you’ll be able to notice if they are eating or drinking as much as normal. 

Don’t place the water bowl directly next to the food bowl as your cat is likely to point-blank refuse to drink from it! This behavior stems from their wild ancestry, where water sources could easily be contaminated by the bacteria found in raw carcasses!

3. Being Aggressive Or Vocal

As mentioned above, if your cat’s subtle body cues are missed, they are more likely to resort to defensiveness and aggression. This can include raised hackles, hissing, and even lashing out in the most extreme circumstances. For this reason, you should know the signs of stress to watch out for BEFORE it gets to this stage. Let’s run through the more common ones now:

  • Ears flattened against the head
  • Wide eyes and enlarged pupils
  • Holding their body low to the ground with their tail wrapped around them

If the situation escalates, your cat may show more aggressive signs which include:

  • A puffed up and tense tail, either held high in the air or swishing from side to side
  • Growling
  • An arched back
  • Stiff posture

You should not approach or attempt to pick up a cat that is displaying these signs as you may get a nasty swipe in return!

4. Vomiting Or Diarrhea

Another sign of stress is vomiting or diarrhea. It’s not uncommon for cats to experience these symptoms during times of high anxiety.

These conditions can also occur due to other medical conditions, so make sure you take your cat to the vet if you see them exhibiting this kind of behavior.

5. Feline Urine Marking

Feline urine marking (also known as spraying)  is a natural part of a cat’s communication system. When a cat sprays, they are informing other cats in the area that this is their territory. Cats have an incredibly keen sense of smell which can help them detect the age, size, and sex of another cat just from one spray! 

However, urine marking can also be a sign of stress. A cat that feels threatened is more likely to spray in random places in an attempt to comfort themselves. Spraying can happen anywhere but it is more often found near areas where your cat sleeps, eats, plays, or interacts with others.

If you notice your cat is regularly toileting and spraying outside of the litter box, you will need to determine the trigger. Usually, this is the result of a change in their immediate environment, such as a new pet in the home. Ensure you offer plenty of reassurance and always introduce new changes gradually so your cat has time to adapt. 

6. Increased Urination Or Constipation

Urinating or defecating more frequently than usual could be another sign of stress (if your cat is pooping on the floor, read here).

Cats use urination to eliminate toxins and waste products from their bodies, and constipation happens when there isn’t enough stool moving through the digestive tract or there is a blockage. Much like in humans, stress can cause an increase in these types of behaviors.

Remember that these can also be symptoms of an underlying medical condition such as Inflammatory Bowel Disease or certain types of cancer. So, it is best to seek the advice of a vet if you are concerned. 

If your cat has not pooped in 48 hours, this should be considered a medical emergency. Cats can become seriously ill from the toxins that are being retained in the body.   

7. Excessive Grooming

Grooming is one of the ways cats communicate with each other. They also groom themselves to stay clean and healthy. However, excessive grooming can be a symptom of stress.

Cats that are excessively grooming will often develop bald patches. You may also notice large clumps of fur around your home. 

8. Overeating

Yes, cats can overeat due to stress just like humans! They can also overeat due to boredom so always ensure you offer plenty of mental and physical stimulation to keep your feline companion happy! Overeating is more common in certain breeds, such as British Shorthairs and Birmans. 

It’s important to keep an eye on your cat’s weight because obesity can lead to health problems such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke, arthritis, and cancer.

9. Changes In Sleep Patterns

Sleep patterns change depending on your cat’s needs. For example, kittens generally need to sleep more than adult cats. Stress can affect these patterns and cause your kitty to sleep more or less than usual. Cats are also very good at fake sleeping, which often occurs in multi-cat households where the residents don’t particularly like each other!

It can be difficult to accurately determine if this is the case for your cat because they sleep at such irregular hours. However, there are a few signs that you can watch out for:

  • Ears twitching when your cat is sleeping
  • Sleeping in a crouched position
  • Increased irritability
  • More active or vocal at night

10. Excessive Shedding

Excessive shedding is another sign of stress. It is important to recognize the regular shedding pattern of your cat so you can determine when they are shedding too much. Remember that long-haired breeds naturally shed more than short-haired breeds! Cats will also naturally shed more in Spring and Autumn to grow in their new summer or winter coats.

In addition to stress, excess shedding can be a symptom of other medical conditions such as an allergy, poor diet, or parasitic infection.  

What To Do If Your Cat Is Stressed

signs of a stressed cat

Now that we’ve covered some signs of stress in cats, let’s talk about how you can help alleviate those feelings.

If you notice that your cat is acting unusually irritable, fearful, or nervous, then you should first try to identify the trigger of your cat’s anxiety. This can be as simple as the litter box being in the wrong place, or the addition of a new pet or person in the home. Once you have determined the cause, you can then take steps to fix it.

If your attempts fail and the symptoms of stress in your cat increase, then it is best to seek the advice of a vet. 

Avoid Handling Them

When you first bring home your new pet, you will want to give him or her plenty of time to adjust to his or her surroundings.

This means avoiding handling your cat until he or she has had a chance to settle into his or her new home. Saying that, it is essential that you offer regular reassurance by talking softly to them. You should also provide plenty of hiding spots and vertical spaces so your cat can escape or hide when needed. 

If you can, you should ask your breeder for a blanket that has your cat’s scent on it as this will help them to feel more secure in a new environment. 

Natural Remedies

natural calming remedies for catsThere are plenty of natural remedies you can safely give your cat to make him or her feel more comfortable and relaxed in their home. There are also plenty of diffusers on the market specifically designed for cats. You simply plug them in and they release a calming feline pheromone.

Natural remedies can be particularly beneficial when taking your cat to the vet, which could be another source of stress.


Keep Other Cats Away

Your cat’s stress could be caused by the presence of other cats in the neighborhood. Even indoor cats can be affected if they constantly see unfamiliar cats outside the window! Cats are very good at sorting out their own territories but, just as with humans, sometimes personalities clash! 

If you are having issues with a particular cat, it is best to speak to the owners to arrange a time-share schedule. This involves letting your cats out at different times of the day so they avoid each other. There are also humane deterrents that you can use to keep other cats out of your garden. 

Indoor cats need to be offered plenty of play opportunities to relieve some of their pent-up energy and stress! 

Try A Cat Calming Product

Pheromone sprays and diffusers such as Feliway can really help with stressed or scared cats. These types of sprays make use of your cat’s innate reliance on invisible pheromones to help calm them down. While we humans are kind of aware of pheromones around us, they are a primary source of communication for cats. That’s why they go about spraying new areas!

Final Thoughts On Stressed Cats

It can be upsetting to think that your cat might be feeling the effects of stress and anxiety but it shouldn’t be ignored.

If you follow the steps we’ve outlined in this guide, you’ll be on the way to making your cat feel relaxed again!


Desiree Delong, Writer & Cat Mom

Desiree Delong, Writer & Cat Mom

Desiree Delong is a devoted cat Mom and freelance writer with a passion for all animals, but especially cats. She has owned cats since she was six years old and even though she is now in her thirties, her love for cats has never faded. She continues to adopt cats and give them a safe, loving home. Currently, Desiree spends most of her time writing. In her free time, she cares for her furbaby, a tabby cat named Halo who is nearing her seventh birthday.