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7 Ways to Help a Cat With Stress: A Vet-Reviewed Guide

Written by: Cassidy Sutton

Last Updated on February 26, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

A young teen girl naps on the couch, hugging her cat

7 Ways to Help a Cat With Stress: A Vet-Reviewed Guide

Cats have had a reputation of being somewhat aloof and independent. But sometimes, we forget that our kitties can become stressed, too. The good news is that in some scenarios, their stress can be managed with some environmental tweaking.

Read on to learn more about the fundamentals of stress in cats and what you can do in some situations if you suspect that your cat is indeed stressed.

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Understanding Stress in Cats

Fundamentally, cats (like all other pets) are susceptible to two main categories of stress:

  • External stress: This is something in your cat’s surroundings, also known as their external environment, that your cat doesn’t seem to agree with.
  • Internal stress: This refers to your cat’s body itself; diseases and ailments can lead to a stressed internal environment.

Whether or not your cat will find something in their external environment stressful depends largely on your pet’s personality, their past experiences, and their general comfort level with their living environment. What stresses out one cat may be a non-factor for another cat. For example, new furniture can be perceived as a threat by some cats, whereas other cats would curiously explore, sniff, and possibly even try to scratch the “foreign intruder” in the form of furniture.

However, what’s important is that if your cat does experience external stress and has a very shy or reserved personality, the stress can predispose them to medical issues that could require veterinary care. One of the most common problems that comes from unaddressed external stressors is difficulties with urination.

Under normal circumstances, if something does stress your cat, their body’s initial response will be to try and restore itself to a normal state, also known as homeostasis. Persistent stress that they cannot seem to avoid, control, or get rid of may lead to health issues in pet cats. Therefore, knowing your cat’s personality is key to knowing how much of a factor environmental stressors would be for your pet.

Signs of Stress in Cats

The signs that your cat is uncomfortable with something in their environment are important to take into consideration, as these can provide clues to know if you should investigate the matter or not.

Signs of Stress in Pet Cats
  • Running away and hiding
  • Refusing to come out of hiding
  • Hissing at something new
  • Growling, swiping at, or biting something new
  • Spraying
  • Refusing to eat
  • Refusing to play
  • Refusing to cuddle
  • Changes in litter box habits
  • Changes in their usual routine (for example, your pet no longer sleeps in their favorite spot)
  • Unexplained or unexpected bouts of aggression

If your cat seems to be showing such signs, a good starting point is to seek veterinary input. At the same time, you can take steps to help remove some sources of stress for your cat.

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The 7 Ways to Help a Cat With Stress

1. Catify a Space

One of the best ways to help your cat go from stressed to serene is to “catify” a space. By this, we mean turning the area (usually a room in your house) into a cat paradise. This would be a safe space for your cat to retreat to if they’re ever uncomfortable.

Fill the room with cat trees and scratchers for climbing and clawing. Ensure your cat has access to a litter box, their favorite toys, beds, and drinking water in this room. Make the space an area where your cat feels comfortable and at peace.

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2. Routinely Interact Your Cat

As cat owners, we often underestimate our pet’s emotional attachment to us. Research has shown that cats that have been separated from their owners for prolonged periods spend more time interacting with them upon their return 1. Other researchers have highlighted key signs a cat shows when they’re separated from their favorite family members 2.

If your cat is used to interacting with you on a regular basis, then you should try your best to keep up with the expected cuddling sessions that your cat is used to. Doing so will help prevent stress in your cat.

However, if a cat is in a state of panic and fright and wants to hide, you should not force an interaction with them, as doing so will likely make matters worse. In such situations, your goal should be to identify and remove the stressor, while allowing your cat the space they require, if possible.

Routinely interacting with your cat doesn’t necessarily reduce their stress, but it does help prevent stress in circumstances where your cat is used to routinely interacting with you.

sleepy cat laying on owners lap
Image Credit: Alena Ozerova, Shutterstock

3. Try a Synthetic Pheromone

If you haven’t tried Feliway before, we recommend giving it a shot. Feliway is a synthetic pheromone that can help cats in some uncomfortable situations. However, it isn’t considered the equivalent of a veterinarian’s input, nor is it a substitute for cats that need medication.


4. Separate Pets

At times, multi-pet households can experience fights and bouts of tension when one pet is taken to the veterinarian or to a place where they pick up the scents of strange pets. Cats recognize each other by scent, not sight.

Therefore, upon your pet’s return, you may notice that your cats suddenly seem to treat each other like strangers. This can definitely lead to fights, and both animals may experience stress in such a confrontation. It’s important to reintroduce your cats slowly after such periods of separation.

One tip is to keep spare soft towels at hand, which you rub on your “home” cat and then on your “trip” cat after this kind of day. This can help transfer their scent back onto each other and ease the reintroduction. At other times, you may need professional help to help reintroduce your pets together. Until then, it’s best to separate your pets.

adorable ginger cat wearing fabric collar when fighting_RJ22_shutterstock
Image Credit: RJ22, Shutterstock

5. Leave Your Cat Be

Sometimes, being left alone is all your pet wants. Give your cat space and allow them to come to you when they’re ready. This is especially important during a frightful episode. Cats should be allowed to hide if they’re suddenly spooked by something. When the stressor is removed, your cat will likely come out of hiding on their own terms.


6. Veterinary Care

At times, your cat’s stress might be due to an underlying health issue. For example, cats with hyperthyroidism can be very easily agitated and often lash out unexpectedly. In such a situation, you need veterinary care and should follow your veterinarian’s care instructions for your pet. As a rule of thumb, if you can’t understand why your pet is acting the way they are, they need to be seen by a veterinarian, as cats may act strangely due to a medical reason, a behavioral reason, or a combination of the two.

Female veterinarian holds sick cat close-up
Image Credit: megaflopp, Shutterstock

7. Check Your Stress Levels

Research has indicated that your stress levels, personality, and health can impact your cat’s behavior as well 3. If you feel stressed and overwhelmed, your cat may be more likely to show signs of stress as well.

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Conclusion

Cats are hard to read, so we don’t always know when they’re stressed. Thankfully, there are some signs you can keep track of to know if your cat is stressed. Some stressors can be managed or mitigated by your actions, and with some effort, you can help your cat feel less stressed in some situations. However, keep in mind that stress may have health implications for your pet, and you should always seek veterinary care if you suspect that your pet cat is stressed.


Featured Image Credit: Simone Hogan, Shutterstock

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