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Is My Cat Stressed or Sick? Vet-Reviewed Signs & Ways to Help

Written by: Cassidy Sutton

Last Updated on May 7, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

Is My Cat Stressed or Sick? Vet-Reviewed Signs & Ways to Help


Dr. Lauren Demos (DVM) Photo


Dr. Lauren Demos (DVM)


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

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Cats can struggle with change just as any species, so in times of stress, it is important to be more cautious of their needs. This is tough since cats don’t always outright tell us what is wrong and what we need to do to fix it.

Most cats relax and move on from their stress, but some have a harder time and may become sick. In this post, we explore cat stress and how it affects your cat’s mood and overall health. We’ll also discuss what you can do to fix the problem.

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Understanding Cat Stress (and Why It Matters)

Stress, although seemingly harmless, can make cats sick if it isn’t resolved quickly.

Cats may become stressed because they don’t like their territory and normal routines disrupted. When normal suddenly becomes abnormal, cats feel the fight-or-flight senses that stress triggers. Sometimes stress is only temporary, and within a day or two your cat bounces back.

Some common stressors for cats include:
  • A trip to the vet
  • A family member or new pet visiting
  • Random loud noises
  • House renovations
  • Living with another conflicting cat or pet
  • A new partner or baby
  • A new home
  • Changes in the litter box location or material

These are short-lived stressors that usually resolve themselves in a short time. However short-term stress that doesn’t resolve can become more chronic and can result in major behavior changes and severe health problems.

cat stressed in transport box
Image Credit: Oleg Batrak, Shutterstock

The Warning Signs of Chronic Stress in Cats

Identifying stress in cats is tricky since cats are very good at hiding their emotions and illnesses. As cat owners, no matter how long we’ve owned cats, sometimes we only notice the obvious changes in our pet’s behavior and health.

Sings of chronic stress in cats include:
  • Not eating or drinking
  • Diarrhea
  • Not using the litter box (or going outside the litter box)
  • Frequent hiding
  • Crying, moaning, hissing, growling, and other vocalizations
  • Aggression against people and other animals
  • Excessive grooming and scratching
  • Unwillingness to play or cuddle
  • Less social and lower energy levels

What Are the Risks of Chronic Stress in Cats?

If left unresolved, chronic stress can turn into serious health concerns. These can include:

  • Illness
  • Upper respiratory infections
  • Self-mutilation
  • Lowered immune system

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How Do I Help My Cat?

The best way to help your cat is to first find the source of the stress. Your next actions will greatly depend on what the stressor is and why your cat doesn’t like it. Until then, you can move on to enriching the space and seeking medical attention for your cat.

Enrich the Space

Next, enrich your cat’s environment so they have a space to call their own. Enriching your cat’s space provides a sense of control and peace, so your cat can escape to this place when they need to.

To enrich the space, try:
  • Adding cat trees and shelves for climbing and scratching
  • Adding cat-friendly plants for exploring and chewing
  • Synthetic pheromone diffusers for relaxation
  • Opening a window or adding a catio for fresh air

Looking for toys that cater to the many needs of your cat? The Hepper Hi-lo Cat Scratcher is one of our favorite cat products. Its clever thee-angle design offers multiple ways for your cat to climb, stretch, and exercise. Made of a sturdy plywood base and a replacement cardboard insert, this scratcher is an option that can be enjoyed by cats for years to come. If your cat requires a little encouragement for self-play, the Hepper Plush Mouse Kicker is a fantastic choice. Equipped with bite and kick-resistant fabric, an enticing internal bell, and organic catnip, cats can satisfy their natural prey instincts while getting the physical activity they need to thrive. 

Hepper Mouse kicker toy white cat playing on a scratching postscratcher
Hepper Plush Mouse Kicker Toy Hepper Hi-Lo Scratcher
Multi-level play
Multi-level play:
Multi-level play:
Interactive :
Interactive :
Promotes exercise
Promotes exercise:
Promotes exercise:
Replaceable parts
Replaceable parts:
Replaceable parts:
Satisfies prey-instincts
Satisfies prey-instincts:
Satisfies prey-instincts:

At Catster, we've admired Hepper for many years, and decided to take a controlling ownership interest so that we could benefit from the outstanding designs of this cool cat company!

Seek Medical Attention

In addition to “catifying” your space, work with your vet regarding the best treatment plan for your cat’s health so your cat can bounce back quickly and safely.

vet holding a senior cat
Image Credit: Alive Rodnova, Shutterstock



As a cat owner, dealing with a stressed cat at some point is likely. Usually, your cat will deal with the stress and then move on. But sometimes, the stress is too great and your cat falls ill. If this is the case, find the source of the stress immediately and provide a safe space for your cat while they receive medical attention.

Featured Image Credit: photosforyou, Pixabay

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