What are the signs of stress in a cat?

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It’s essential to keep your feline friend happy and safe – failing to do so can put your relationship with your cat on the line and make it more difficult to bond with them. But how do you go about identifying the signs of stress in a cat (when they can be fickle creatures at the best of times)?

First, consider the situation

If you’ve just got a new cat, then you might be a little bit too sensitive about their well-being. After all, you’re new to this so everything they do is also new and unfamiliar.

It’s perfectly normal for a new cat to be unsettled in a new environment, so don’t worry too much about this. There are a few things you can do to help out – have a read of our article on how to bond with a new cat for some more tips. As your cat becomes more familiar with its new home, it should settle down into a routine.

Also, remember if your cat is sniffing catnip or playing with catnip toys, that can temporarily cause their behaviour to change and some of those changes may similar to the signs of stress in your cat.

The point here is that everything is situational. There can be unique reasons that a cat may display stress-like symptoms, but those don’t mean you need to specifically be concerned about your cat being stressed.

Secondly, consider your cat’s ‘normal’ behaviour

Many of the signs of stress can actually be perfectly normal for some cats. If your cat is reluctant to interact with people for example, it’s not necessarily a sign that something’s wrong. It could just be that they’re not ‘people’ cats.

When we talk about stress affecting cats, we’re thinking about relatively short-term changes in behaviour that could be triggered by illness or negative environmental factors.

Consider if some of these symptoms are normal for your cat, or out of the ordinary:

Excessive grooming or scratching

If your cat is licking or scratching itself to the point that bald patches are occurring, then it’s likely there’s something wrong. Stress can cause itching, which cats will respond to by trying to ‘clean’.


If your cat is usually more friendly and likes to interact with people, but has become more withdrawn and isolated, then this could be a sign that it is stressed.

More vocal

Cats know to meow if they want attention and most do this a lot. Indeed, they even learn to associate your responses to the noise you make and use it to prompt you do things for them, like feed them or let them outside. But if they are becoming vocal and it isn’t clear what they want, then it’s worth considering that this may be a sign that something is wrong.

Losing their appetite

We all know cats love their food, so if they are eating less or not at all, then it’s a sign that there’s a problem.

Being more aggressive

Your cat’s relationship with people and other pets should be fairly consistent – cats like to maintain a routine and can follow certain behaviours habitually. But if you notice a usually playful cat becoming more aggressive, then it could be a sign that they’re stressed. Many animals become more aggressive when they are ill or feel weak – it’s a natural defence mechanism.

What are some possible causes of stress in a cat?

Cats can be very timid creatures and make take a while to adapt to change, so anything out of the normal can affect them. For example:

  • Moving to a new home.
  • Refurbishment work in the home.
  • New cats in the neighbourhood.
  • Not enough territory to prowl.
  • Visits to the vet or cattery.
  • Boredom.

Some tips for preventing stress in cats

With a bit of effort, you can ensure your home is a safe, welcoming environment for your cat and minimise their stress.

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