Mental problems

Reasons Why Your Cat is Stressed

Matthew Nesbitt
By Matthew Nesbitt, Journalist specialized in animal research. Updated: August 23, 2022
Reasons Why Your Cat is Stressed

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Cats can be very sensitive animals. They can be prone to anxiety and are often wary of their environment, usually more so than dogs. Despite such sensitivity, felines are often able to overcome stressful episodes and adapt to new situations. If the negative stimulus is one they have to contend with on a regular basis, they can develop an anxiety disorder. This will causes stress in cats, damaging their overall health and well-being, as well as their bond with their guardian.

Unfortunately, some of the things which stress out our cat are not always obvious. This is why AnimalWised brings you 11 reasons why your cat is stressed so that you can think what might be aggravating your kitty. If your feline is not affected by the causes of stress in cats from our list, hopefully it can at least direct you in the right direction.

You may also be interested in: My Dog Is Stressed Out a Lot
  1. Stress in cats
  2. Visiting the vet
  3. Change of address
  4. Changing the furniture
  5. Arrival of a new family member
  6. Loud noises
  7. Playing with lasers
  8. Unexpected visitors
  9. Inappropriate punishments
  10. Changing food
  11. Not having a scratcher
  12. Lack of mental stimulation
See more >>

Stress in cats

Before we list some of the reasons why your cat is stressed, it's important to look at the symptoms of their stress. Identifying these symptoms will help you determine the root cause, but it is also important in case they need medical treatment. Symptoms of stress in your cat include:

  • Disease: stress can affect your cat's physical health, encouraging infections and even influencing feline autoimmune diseases. Stress can even develop due to flea and tick bites since the annoyance of needing to scratch and bite their fur to ease the itch can be acute. Also, autoimmune diseases will lower their resistance to infection and can cause stress due to weakness.

  • Hair loss: not the regular amount of shedding or molting, but losing hair at an unusual rate. If you see patches of skin in particular, it can be worrying.

  • Aggressiveness: some cats may be more prone to exhibit aggressive behavior, but if your cat is more aggressive than normal, then it is possibly due to stress. They might try to lick or bite you in particular, which can be hard to determine.

  • Stereotypies: these are movements or small behaviors which indicate stress. In humans, it can present in symptoms such as an eye twitch or rocking back and forth. If your cat is engaging in unusual behavior like pacing or being particularly jumpy, then it may be due to stress.

  • Loss of apetite or thirst: stressed cats tend to stop eating or drinking. If your cat suffers weight loss it may be that stress is the cause.

  • Marking: it depends on the stressor, but your cat may begin marking uncontrollably in areas they never marked before. If this happens in the house it is especially likely to be stress, even more so if they have previously been good at using a litter box.

  • Changes in grooming routine: if your cat is cleaning and licking themselves excessively, it could be due to stress. Conversely, stressed cats may also neglect their regular grooming.

Now that we know the signs of stress in cats, we can start to see some of the reasons why gets get stressed in the first place.

1. Visiting the vet

Does your cat go crazy every time you visit the vet? This is likely for two main reasons. First, the carrier in which you take the cat confines them and can make them feel they are in danger. Secondly, the veterinary clinic is a new environment which can make them feel very stressed. Other pets and stimuli in the vet's office will pose a perceived threat to your cat, even if they are otherwise safe. Of course, the underlying reason for the cat going to a veterinarian is also likely to increase their stress levels.

It's important to get your cat used to the carrier before you travel in a car with them. You can put treats and toys in and around it before you go on a trip. This will help your cat to associate the carrier with positive stimuli. Unfortunately, your choice is limited once you get to the vet in terms of keeping them relaxed. If your cat becomes aggressive at the vet, then take a look at our article on how to keep them calm. Otherwise, you are best just to reassure them with petting and distracting them with toys.

Reasons Why Your Cat is Stressed - 1. Visiting the vet

2. Change of address

Cats are territorial animals which feel a need to control their environment. When you bring them home for the first time, they will need a lot of investigation before they will feel comfortable. This process can take a while. For this reason, it's not surprising that moving house can be a particularly stressful time for your cat.

Changing address might have many practical considerations for you as a home owner, but they may mean very little to your cat. When you move place, you will likely see your cat rubbing their face over walls, furniture and fixtures. This ritual has a clear objective: to leave their scent. The cat is releasing pheromones to mark their territory against other cats.

In a new home, cats will not have any of their territory marked, so they will often feel vulnerable even if there isn't a specific threat in the new home. They will perceive one anyway and can get stressed by this perception alone. To help with this process, it is advised to bring some furniture or objects which the cat has already marked to help ease them into the new space.

Reasons Why Your Cat is Stressed - 2. Change of address

3. Changing the furniture

As cats are so sensitive to changes in environment, it might not be moving the house which interferes with their territoriality. Even moving, changing or renovating the furniture can be one of the reasons a cat is stressed. It interferes with their complex understanding of their environment. As we said above, their secreted pheromones will not be present. Changing the furniture can make them feel vulnerable when their markings are now gone. It may take time to renew their markings and this can be a stressful period, but usually resolves with time.

4. Arrival of a new family member

We know it can be unsettling for siblings when a new member of the family comes into the fold. We may not be as considerate when it comes to our non-human members of the family. Whether it is the first born or any new addition to the family, your cat may take some time to adjust. It's not that they will have a problem with the new addition, it's just that it can take a while for them to get their head around it. Any changes in a cat's environment (and a new baby is always a big change in your home life) can be causes of stress in cats.

Generally, your cat won't feel too threatened by a human baby. A kitten, on the other hand, can be a big upset. The longer standing cat may feel threatened by a younger cat, acting aggressively towards them or feeling stressed. This can lead to some of the aforementioned behavioral problems. If you want to know how to introduce a new cat to the household, then you may want to read our article on how to socialize an adult cat.

Babies and cats may be one thing, but introducing a pet of another species can be the most stressful for your cat. If you have enjoyed the company of your pet cat, but also feel the desire to have a dog, it can get tricky. Some dogs don't generally socialize well with other animals. Cats too can be very stressed out with what they may think of as a predator in their home. However, with good socialization and a lot of patience, they can become firm friends.

Reasons Why Your Cat is Stressed - 4. Arrival of a new family member

5. Loud noises

Although not something anyone is too enamored with, loud noises can be particularly stressful for a cat. If we hear construction work or fireworks going on outside, then we may find them annoying. However, we usually will know where it is coming from and rationalize it. Not understanding the noise can be one of the reasons a cat is stressed as it provokes fear.

A state of confusion is one of the most stressful states you can be in. Even smaller sounds like a constant clatter of wind chimes or tinkling of bells can frustrate your cat. Many cat toys have bells in them because they respond to the noise, but if this sound comes from somewhere else it can lead to more stress and confusion. This is one of the reasons putting a bell on your cat's collar is a controversial subject.

7. Playing with lasers

We have all seen YouTube videos of cats playing with lasers and how much fun they can have with them. Many of the games we play with our cat are similar to games they play in the wild with their siblings. These can mimic hunting and feed into their nature.

Sometimes these games can seem like fun, but what is actually happening is actually one of the reasons your cat is stressed. When cat's are outside and they catch prey, they know when they are caught or if they elude capture. When they chase a pinpoint light like that which emanates from a laser pen, this is not what's happening. The cat can find it very concerning and it messes with their mind to see that they are chasing a prey they can never catch.

For this reason, you need to look for signs of the cat being stressed while playing with a laser. If the cat's tail is raised, their eyes are very wide and they seem agitated, then it is likely they are not enjoying the game and you should maybe trying something more tactile.

Reasons Why Your Cat is Stressed - 7. Playing with lasers

7. Unexpected visitors

You may be a very sociable person, but the same doesn't always apply to your cat. Cats which are poorly socialized from a young age can be particularly fearful of strangers. If you always have people round, even for a quiet coffee, the cat may not respond well to what they perceive as an intruder. This may include your cat attacking your friend or behaving erratically when they are present.

As well-intentioned as your friends may be, they may not be used to interacting with cats and treat them in a manner they find stressful. If you have a party, you may combine many of these stressors together such as loud noises, moving furniture, strangers in the house, etc.

8. Inappropriate punishments

We might not think about how our behavior towards our cats is making them feel. If you tell a child not to do something, they are likely to know what they have done wrong. When you shout or scream at a cat, they may become very confused. Their actions to them are normal and they probably won't understand the reason you are making such noise at them. Instead, use positive reinforcement when the cat behaves well.

One of the major reasons a cat is stressed is when you punish them for something which happened too long ago. Essentially, unless your cat has been caught in the act of doing something you perceive as bad, then it may just make them more stressed to call them out. This is because they will not be able to associate the right action with the punishment and will become stressed trying to work out what you mean.

Reasons Why Your Cat is Stressed - 8. Inappropriate punishments

9. Changing food

Cats can be very picky about food. If a brand or texture isn't something they like, it can put them off. If you change their food, whether due to budgetary or availability reasons, they can get confused as to why. It might be something they think is unpleasant. Even if it seems to be the same as before (although you probably won't taste to find out), your cat's acute sense of taste may say differently. If this is the case, it can lead to the cat getting stressed.

Not eating also could be due to a lack of nutrition, which can lead to illness and stress. You may also have changed your cat's diet for other reasons. You might have wanted to put them on a raw meat diet or maybe even tried to make them vegetarian or vegan. If this is the case, it's possible they are not getting enough nutrients which can lead to stress. Consult a vet if unsure about your cat's dietary requirements.

10. Not having a scratcher

If you haven't trimmed them in a while, you will know that long nails can be bothersome. The same goes for your cat. Long claws impede mobility causing physical stress on their legs which can in turn into an emotional stress for your cat.

To avoid this, it is important to provide a cat scratcher so that they can use it to file down their claws. If you don't provide one, then they will use your couch, walls, curtains or pretty much any piece of wood or fabric in your home for these purposes. Unfortunately, cats will often claw these objects even if you do provide a cat scratcher or scratching post.

Reasons Why Your Cat is Stressed - 10. Not having a scratcher

11. Lack of mental stimulation

You may think of your cat as being a solitary figure who doesn't need anyone else. They may stay out all day and only come in when it's cold or they feel hungry. However, most domesticated cats love interaction. They need games and play to stay mentally active. Many cat owners will speak of how important the bonds they develop with their pet can be. These bonds can be very strong and incredibly beneficial. They need to be reinforced through communication. A lack of mental stimulation in your cat can result in boredom, frustration and, eventually, stress.

Make sure you play with your cat regularly, share your time with them and let them know they have family to rely on. You can do this in any number of ways, such as reading our article on 10 games to entertain your cat to learn more.

These stressors can seriously hinder your cat's quality of life. Making sure you provide an environment and relationship which stimulates them is as important as keeping them fed and watered. If you have any information not provided in this list about reasons why your cat is stressed, tell us about it in the comments below.

This article is purely informative. AnimalWised does not have the authority to prescribe any veterinary treatment or create a diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the veterinarian if they are suffering from any condition or pain.

If you want to read similar articles to Reasons Why Your Cat is Stressed, we recommend you visit our Mental problems category.

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Reasons Why Your Cat is Stressed