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Stress Signs & Solutions

So your cat is acting strange. What could be causing her stress and how to help her manage!

Stressors are events and changes in your cat's environment that can affect their well-being. When cats are stressed, it can compromise their immune system, making them more susceptible to URI’s (upper respiratory infections) and other illnesses. Cats can stop eating due to stress, and may not eat for days, even if it means a risk to their health. Stress can also cause the development of behavioral problems.

Cats do differ in their response to stress, as do other beings. Some take major changes in stride, showing almost no signs of stress, while others can show major signs with very minor changes. Early socialization and inherited temperament can play a role.

Management of stress has three factors:


  1. manifestations of stress,

  2. cause of stress,

  3. and methods of stress management


Signs that Your Cat is Stressed (Manifestations)

Manifestations of stress can be spraying, inappropriate elimination, excessive pacing, loss of appetite, loss of fur, trembling, excessive meowing, hiding, and physical symptoms of illness.

Common Causes of Stress

Common causes of stress can be overcrowding in multiple cat households, moving, travel, new family members which can be human or animal, parties, excessively loud noises, and confinement. Changes are the second most common cause of stress in a cat, with the most common being illness or injury.

Methods to Manage Stress

Methods of stress management generally have three options:


  1. change in the situation that is causing the stress,

  2. change in the response of the cat,

  3. or a combination of the two


Sometimes changing the situation can be easy. If the cat shows stress in specific situations but is fine most of the time, it can be about removing the stress situation. An example is you've moved the litter-box and now the cat is eliminating on the bed or couch. Moving the litter-box back may immediately fix the problem. Another example could be if another animal in the home is causing the stress, to keep the animals isolated from each other and re-introduce them slowly.


Changing the response of the cat can be more difficult. Don't hesitate to bring the cat to the vet for a check-up and receive advice. However, before any medication is involved, exhaust non-pharmaceutical options first.


Aromatherapy can help, such as: lavender oil, feliway sprays, and Rescue Remedy flower essence. Try massaging on a daily basis to reduce stress by using circular movements with the fingers on the skin. Also, nutritional supplements, such as B group-vitamins, can reduce anxiety.


Classical conditioning techniques can help a negative association with a situation or object turn it into a more positive association. Desensitization can help but is more difficult and tends to take more time for cats than dogs. During the stressful situation, massage/pets and treats can help turn the situation more positive.


If these options are exhausted, there are some pharmacological options that may help. Consult your veterinarian about these options. A combination of these many methods can tend to be most effective. You may need to remove the stressor, but also offer massage, feliway spray, or pets and treats to break the stress cycle. A variety of methods is often the most effective. The environment can be changed, but sometimes the cat has learned the stress response so well that it can remain even when the stressor is removed. A combination of the methods above may be most effective.

Cats are intelligent and sensitive, they respond to situations in the household and will pick up anxiety and stress in their human. Its important to manage your own stress to help minimize and manage your cat's stress.

DISCLAIMER OF LIABILITY: Any advice provided by Citizens for a No-Kill Philadelphia ("CNKP") is for informational purposes only. The Community Help Desk is managed by volunteers of CNKP and does not necessarily represent the views of CNKP. Behavior and training advice and suggestions provided through its Help Desk are not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a professional animal trainer or qualified animal behaviorist. Any and all advice from CNKP regarding housing assistance, surrender prevention, or veterinary referrals is to be used for informational purposes only and does not substitute for the advice of a professional. CNKP expressly disclaims any and all liability, expressed or implied, with respect to the service and advice received via its Help Desk. Your reliance on the advice provided and/or content of CNKP's website or Help Desk communications is solely at your own risk.

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