I can’t tell you how many letters I’ve gotten from readers of my cat advice blog asking me why their cat suddenly hates everyone, why their formerly brave cat is now hiding all the time, or why their cat has started peeing inappropriately.

Every time I get one of these letters, the first thing I advise the reader is to take the cat to the vet. The next thing I do is tell them about feline stress, how it manifests, and how they can help to de-stress their furry friend. Here are the top signs of stress in cats.

1. Appetite changes

A stressed cat will either stop eating, eat less, or eat more than usual. Like some humans, cats will overeat in response to tension.

2. Hiding

A cat under stress is a cat who feels her world is out of control. Her natural response is going to be to take refuge in a safe and quiet place.

3. Aggression

Aggression is pretty common in cats who are feeling agitated about changes in their lives. This can be fear-based aggression, when a cat feels cornered and feels he has no other recourse but to strike out; or it can be redirected aggression, where the original object of the aggression (such as a feral cat hanging out in the backyard) is not reachable, so the cat goes after the nearest object, whether that object is another cat, a pet, or a human family member.

4. Inappropriate elimination

A cat who is stressed by intruders such as cats in the neighborhood will often urine mark by the doors and windows where she sees or smells the offending feline. If a cat’s litter box isn’t safe from dogs or small children, she may react by defecating and urinating in a place that has better camouflage.

5. Excessive grooming

This condition is referred to as psychogenic alopecia. When a cat is under stress, he may groom himself as a self-comforting tool. The trouble is, the more stressed the cat is, the more he grooms himself, until one day he’s barbered himself nearly bald. Cats tend to overgroom their bellies and their front legs.

6. Excessive vocalization

A cat who feels anxious may respond by talking more than usual. This is particularly true for the more chatty breeds like the Siamese, Tonkinese and Oriental. The talking may take on a desperate tone or even be quite loud, and if your cats are anything like mine, they love to sing their songs of angst late at night.

If your cat is showing any of these signs, don’t just assume it’s stress and treat the problem based on that assumption. Cats can be stressed by pain and physical illness as well as by emotional turmoil and change in home life. If your cat’s behavior changes, take her to the vet to ensure that she’s physically well before you begin stress reduction techniques. For some tips on managing kitty’s stress levels, check out this article by Pam Johnson-Bennett, author of several of my favorite cat behavior books.

What signs do you look for to tell if your cat is feeling stressed? Have you ever mistaken an illness or pain for psychological stress? How do you help your cat cope with stress? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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About JaneA Kelley: Punk-rock cat mom, science nerd, animal shelter volunteer and all-around geek with a passion for bad puns, intelligent conversation, and role-play adventure games. She gratefully and gracefully accepts her status as chief cat slave for her family of feline bloggers, who have been writing their award-winning cat advice blog, Paws and Effect, since 2003.