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How to Tell if a Cat Is Stressed: 12 Vet-Reviewed Signs to Watch For

Stressed cat hiding.
Stressed cat who is hiding. Photo by Shutterstock
Last Updated on November 28, 2023 by Catster Editorial Team

Vet approved

	Dr. Maxbetter Vizelberg DVM Photo

Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Maxbetter Vizelberg DVM

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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In some ways, cats are a lot like people. They get stressed and anxious. Unlike humans, they can’t tell us their problems using words, which means that we as cat owners have to look for subtle signs to identify when a cat is stressed. This can be especially difficult because a cat’s natural instinct can be to hide when they are in pain or suffering. In the wild, signs of weakness give potential predators and challengers a chance to take advantage.

To help you determine whether your cat is stressed, we have highlighted 12 signs to look for, as well as information on what can be done to remedy the situation and make your cat feel comfortable and happy again.

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Top 12 Signs Your Cat is Stressed

1. Inappropriate Urination

cat pee in bed
Image Credit: cunaplus, Shutterstock

Inappropriate urination is urinating outside the litter box. It’s possible that this behavior can be caused by a change in litter or because the litter tray isn’t clean enough. It is also possible that another cat or dog is approaching them when they get in the tray. These incidents themselves could be causing any stress your cat is experiencing, so it is important that you recognize them. If there doesn’t seem to be an explanation, however, it could be caused by stress or anxiety.

2. Diarrhea or Constipation

Diarrhea and constipation can be caused by a lot of things. A recent change in diet or feeding time, for example, may to be blame. It is also possible that your cat has eaten something that they should not have, which led to the GI upset.

3. Excessive Grooming

cat licking its paw
Image Credit: TeamK, Pixabay

Grooming is a natural habit for cats, and most will spend a lot of time licking themselves to stay clean, remove dead hairs, and generally because they enjoy it. If your cat is grooming to the extent that they are causing bald patches or skin irritation, this is likely a sign of something else afoot. This overgrooming could be related to, among other things, excess stress and anxiety.

4. Excessive Scratching

Scratching is another natural behavior for cats. It enables them to sharpen and maintain claws, mark their territory with scent from glands in their paws, and is even a means of stress relief. It can be a sign of health, behavioral, or emotional issues, too. This can include cats scratching their scratching posts more often, but it may also include scratching furniture and other items.

5. Hiding Away

a cat hiding under a couch
Image Credit:, Shutterstock

Some cats are naturally shy animals and some simply like a bit of personal space away from the chaos of the house. If your cat is spending more time shut away and avoiding you and the rest of the family than they normally would, this may be a sign that something is on their mind. If you have introduced a new family member, whether two-legged or four-legged, your cat could simply be trying to enjoy some peace and quiet away from the action.

6. Demanding Attention

Similarly, if your cat suddenly goes from hiding away all day to wanting and demanding attention at every opportunity, this is another possible sign of stress. Generally, stress manifests itself as a change in behavior, and only you will really be able to tell if your cat is acting differently.

7. Vocalization

cat hiding under the table growling
Image Credit: Fang_Y_M, Pixabay

Some cats vocalize a lot, and others are less chatty. But a stressed cat is prone to vocalizing its problems, and this can include increased talking, meowing, hissing, and yowling. If you notice your cat making more noise, especially if the noises sound stressed, you should consider consulting a vet because this could be indicative of a health problem or stress.

8. Change in Eating Habits

Some cats may turn to stress eating, which means that they will spend more time at the bowl, be more inclined to eat leftovers, and become more demanding of food. Others will be less inclined to eat. Over- and undereating can lead to serious health problems and may be a sign of anxiety, although there are other causes of this change in habit.

9. Altered Sleeping Habits

cat sleeping above the trash can
Image Credit: Khoir Gallery, Shutterstock

Cats are renowned for their ability to sleep. In fact, most cats spend around 16 hours a day sleeping and taking cat naps. If you find your four-legged friend is sleeping more or less than they used to, look for possible causes. It could be something as simple as you leaving a pile of clothes in their favorite spot, but it could be a sign that something major is wrong.

10. Aggressive Behavior Towards Other Pets

An otherwise friendly cat can become more aggressive towards dogs and other cats if they are feeling anxious. If you’ve just introduced a new pet, it can take time for the new arrival and your existing flock to get used to the new living arrangements, but if your cat is being aggressive for seemingly no reason, this may mean it is anxious about something.

11. Aggressive Behavior Towards People

Gray cat following person with camera
Image Credit: dimitrisvetsikas1969, Pixabay

Stress is one possible cause for a cat becoming aggressive towards its owners, family, and even its favorite person. It could also be a sign of physical injury and their fear that you are going to exacerbate the pain, but it is worth checking out with your vet to ensure that it is nothing serious and to try and remedy the situation.

12. Changes in Behavior

Really, any change in your cat’s behavior could be a sign of stress. Whether it is a change in eating habits or the amount of time it sleeps during the day, something is likely to be changing those habits. With that said, it is also important to remember that cats can be prone to changes in some habits. One week, your cat might like sleeping in the back of the wardrobe, while the next week, when it is sunnier, they might prefer the windowsill.

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Cats have subtle, and some not so subtle, ways to tell us if they’re feeling under the weather, are ill, injured, or if they are stressed and anxious. The key to identifying a problem is knowing your cat and spotting any changes in their temperament or behavior. If you believe that your cat is stressed, try to resolve the cause of the stress and, if you can’t identify the cause, consult a vet, because it could be a symptom of a bigger underlying problem.

Featured Image Credit: yvonneschmu, Pixabay

About the Author

Christian Adams
Christian Adams
Christian is the Editor-in-Chief of Excited Cats and one of its original and primary contributors. A lifelong cat lover, now based in South East Asia, Christian and his wife are the proud parents of an 11-year-old son and four rescue cats: Trixie, Chloe, Sparky, and Chopper.

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