Identifying Cat Stress.
Symptoms That Tell You There's A Problem

Identifying Cat Stress. Symptoms
That Tell You There's A Problem

Cat stress symptoms are often a deceptively subtle way of telling you that there is an underlying behavioral or medical problem.

Cats really prefer things to stay the same, and they are usually very unsubtle about indicating their displeasure.  Introducing a new anything - from another pet to another human, even new furniture -  is a source of anxiety and, unresolved, can lead to some significant medical consequences.

If your cat is showing unresolved stress, it is unlikely that she will solve the anxiety problem on her own and you will either need to modify your behavior, remove her environment and, in the worse case, seek medical treatment.

Common cat stress symptoms to be aware of

Peeing outside the litter tray

If she is peeing in a seemingly inappropriate way, try to remember – peeing SOLVES a cat’s problem.  There is no moral issue or comment.  Peeing IS the cat’s coping mechanism and she is communicating that there is a problem. 

To solve the owner’s problem, however, we are going to have to understand the problem from the cat’s point of view and make some changes to the environment.  Unfortunately, we cannot tell whether the message is one of fear, anger or just disapproval but either way, you will need to make some changes to the environment to remove the offending influence!

My book Cats Revealed: What Is Your Pet Cat Trying To Tell You? delves into this as well but basically, you will need to make some changes to the household arrangements.  Look at what's changed and if possible, remove it or create a space that allows Fluffy to live with it.

Read more about alternative litter trays and how you need to manage them...

Stopped peeing

If your cat has just stopped peeing, you will need to visit a vet as soon as possible  A cat which holds onto its urine is holding some pretty toxic stuff which creates irritation and sludging.  This builds up and, especially as the cat is usually hyperventilating from anxiety and pain, the urine is getting more alkaline and irritating.  Discover more about the very real dangers of a blocked bladder...

Hiding the minute you show the carrier

This is definitely something you can control and, in the end, it comes down to the relationship you create between the cat and transport cage.  Read my article on the solutions to cat travel anxiety to discover what you can do.

Other common behavior patterns

  • uncharacteristically yowling at night and attempting to wake you
  • gone off food
  • moody
  • hiding for long periods for no apparent reason.

So what are the causes of feline stress?

Cat stress symptoms can appear after:

  • A new unfamiliar experience.
  • Separation from his or her owner. 
  • A new arrival (human or animal) - but especially another cat - inside or outside the home.
  • Moving to a new house. 
  • Traveling whether it is to the vet, the groomer, boarding or just a new home! 
  • Idiopathic (unknown). 

As you know, our own experience of anxiety is a feeling that generates itself from nature’s programmed “fight or flight” reflex.  It's the same for your pet cat and it helps her decide how to act in  dangerous situations, such as an attack from a predator or even another cat.  

So when your cat is feeling anxious, she is actually debating whether she should fight, hide or run away from this new experience or run away.  The indecision gets worse each time she experiences anxiety without a satisfactory resolution.

How to prevent cat stress

Cat stress symptoms are often difficult to detect unless you are paying regular attention to her daily behaviour and activities and herein lies the key to spotting behaviour changes.

A Feline Friendly household will actively and consistently conduct the following practices.

With good home care and regular cat vet checkups, the behavioural issues should never become a medical problem.  

Many cats will respond well to environmental changes alone whereas other cats may require a medical approach.  So if you understand what the cat is trying to tell you and pity rather than punish her when it shows its distress message by peeing on your clothes, then you can help resolve their problem and pain quickly.  

The myths and facts about relieving cat anxiety

Unfortunately, there are some common myths (often perpetuated by vets) about reducing stress and, as a result, a loved feline's pain and anxiety can remain unresolved, leading to longer term medical issues.

Myths

  • Talking kindly with your cat and reassure him/her they are safe.  
    Your actions speak louder than words and your cat wants you to do the same things every time.  Talking calmly (see below) but cats don't translate words very well.

  • Reward the cat for attempting the new situation with praise or a treat.  
    Most cats and especially if they are anxious, are not interested in food treats and mostly you just put them off eating.  Food aversion where a cat associates a food with nausea and fear, is a very real problem, so save the treats for calm situations
    .

  • Introduce your cat to a new situation regularly but provide refuge in a favorite blanket or kitty house.
    Make a rule and stick to it.  Do not repeat failed attempts at introducing new situations.  Think about what you really want and set the cat up to succeed


  • Be patient and never raise your voice.  
    This means different things to different people.  Certainly low, male voices are scarier than the higher pitched adult female voice..Also, never scream or move suddenly.  Most important however are calmness and reliability

Facts

  • Start by remembering that your cat may view you as an unreliable and possibly predatory component of their household.
  • Establish and maintain a routine around feeding, playtime and calm interactions.
  • Let the cat choose to visit you or not rather than forcing contact - the interactions will last longer that way. 
  • Do not bring home other cats (people and dogs allowed with supervision) unless you are ready to make proper introductions.  Accept that underneath it all, your cat was born to walk alone!

If in doubt...

A cat will change her behaviour when something is not right.  Don’t ignore it.  See a vet for all vaccinations, treatments and neutering.  This reduces the risk of any sickness in future.  Microchip to reduce lost kitty’s and always seek professional advice in times of doubt.

Whatever you do, talk with your veterinarian to find out what the best treatment option is for you and your anxious feline.  Show the cat vet this article and make sure you get to the root cause of the problem