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Stress in cats

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This is an image of a cat relaxing in a cubby.

Stressed out

Just like us, stress can affect kittens and cats.

There are a number of ways stress may be expressed by cats.  If you're concerned about any sudden behaviour changes, it's always best to get advice from your vet, who may if necessary, suggest referral to an animal behaviourist.   

It’s worth noting that certain feline behaviours such as scratching and scent-marking, might be perfectly normal from your kitty's point of view, just not so acceptable from yours!

Here are some ways a stressed cat may act:

Anxious behaviour

If your cat crouches low to the ground, with a tense body and dilated pupils, they may be feeling anxious.  If so, they may also pant, and lick themselves more than usual.

Aggression

If your usually friendly cat starts to bite and scratch, they may be feeling bored or threatened.  If a cat’s hunting instincts aren't met through play, they'll start to look for it in other places.  A cat might also behave like this if they think their territory is under threat.

Hiding

Cats like some degree of ‘alone time’.  However, if your cat starts hiding from everyone in the house, and particularly if this is not usual behaviour for them, head to the vet.

Excessive meows

Some cats are ‘talkers’, but unusual episodes of increased vocalisation shouldn’t be ignored.

Off their food

If your cat suddenly seems disinterested in their food or stops eating altogether, it’s best to book a visit to the vet.

Indoor urine marking

Changes to a cat’s normal routine, or the introduction of a new cat in the home, can lead to urine marking behaviour. 

Avoid using ammonia and chlorine cleaners as these smell similar to cat urine and may actually encourage marking behaviour.  Clean the affected area with a 10% solution of biological washing powder, and spray it with an alcohol such as surgical spirit.  Offer your cat lots of love and reassurance.

Not using the litter tray

If your kitten is otherwise healthy, eliminating outside the litter tray could be a sign of stress.  It’s still important to rule out any underlying medical issues, so book a check-up with your vet.  

Cats don’t stop using their litter tray out of spite, so consider if you’ve made any changes such as using a new type of litter.  Also assess whether your litter tray cleaning schedule is up to scratch.  Provide one more litter tray than the number of cats in the household and ensure all cats have free access to litter trays.

Nervous grooming

Stressed cats may over-groom themselves by continually licking and scratching a particular area of their coat.  This can lead to hair loss and a skin infection, so head to your vet for advice.

Chewing wool

Obsessive wool chewing and sucking behaviours can occur, and amongst other causes, can be stress-related.  Items such as blankets, jumpers and carpets are commonly targeted, and this behaviour tends to be more often seen in Oriental breeds such as the Siamese and Burmese. 

Try to discourage your cat from doing this, and if possible remove or reduce access to the tempting material.  Redirect your cat through puzzle feeders and toys, and ensure your cat has scratching posts and other ways to stay entertained.

Cats don't all display the same signs when it comes to stress.  Always talk to your vet so that you can rule out any underlying health issues.  Then you can focus on ensuring that your home and routine helps your cat feel safe and reassured.