Recognising Stress in Cats – Stress Awareness Month

Stress and anxiety can have debilitating effects on our health and unfortunately, it’s no different for our furry family members either.

This Stress Awareness Month, PDSA Vet Nurse Nina Downing explains how stress affects cats and what you can do to help your feline friend.

“Behavioural changes in cats can often be down to stress, so it’s important to be able to spot the signs as soon as possible,” she said.

“Stress can affect your cat’s quality of life. Your cat may be feeling stressed due to a health condition, change in their circumstances or environment. Stress itself can cause medical problems, like stress cystitis, which is a painful and potentially dangerous problem for cats.

“This means it’s important to be able to notice when your cat is showing signs of stress so you can help them before it gets worse!”

Spotting the signs

Nina explains: “Some signs your cat might be feeling stressed include hiding or staying out of the way all the time, eating less than normal, avoiding certain places or people, over-grooming or skin conditions, being more vocal, diarrhoea or vomiting and weight loss.

“However, many of these signs can be caused by medical problems as well as stress,” Nina adds. “So if you’re worried about your cat or they show a sudden change in behaviour, we always recommend contacting your vet for advice.

Identifying the cause 

“Cats can be stressed by lots of different things, and not all cats will find the same things stressful,” Nina adds. Some of the common stresses include new animals or people coming into their home or garden and changes around the home including where their food, water and toilet are kept.

Environment changes

“One of the biggest causes of stress for cats is changes to their environment or home. This might be as big as moving house or as small as new furniture or carpets.

“Changing rooms around or redecorating can really upset them, as can moving their food or water bowls and litter trays. This may even lead them to toileting in the house in strange places so introduce any changes carefully and avoid making too many changes in one go.

“Alterations to their territory can also be upsetting to them. Although you can’t control beyond your own garden, you can make sure this is kept a consistent, safe haven by creating areas for shelter and hiding places. Cats can be worried by neighboring cats so monitor your cat’s behaviour when they venture outside and when they return.

“Boredom can also lead to stress for cats so try to keep them entertained and active. Make sure to give them some time and attention every day. You don’t have to buy new toys, you can rotate the toys they have by keeping some away and swapping them out every so often.

Social changes

“Many cats like their own company and can find other pets stressful, even if they are related. They can be territorial and they tend to enjoy their own space.

“Cats can also be affected by changes to those living in the household, such as when a new child or baby comes into the household or even if someone they were close to moves out or passes away.

“Changes in routine can also be very stressful for your cat. This includes changes to feeding times or work patterns. Even when their own family are in the house more often than usual, for example if you are working from home more.”

Advice and help

If you think your cat is stressed, Nina says it’s best to contact your vet for advice as they can check for any underlying medical causes, discuss possible reasons for the signs of stress and recommend ways to help them.

“There are some things you can do to prevent stress. Most importantly, make sure your cat has everything they need to be happy. This includes constant access to their water, providing a good quality complete food, enough beds and hiding places, exercise, toys, scratching posts and litter trays, and of course, your time!” Nina explains.

“Many cats love high up hiding places as it helps them to feel safe. Place igloo beds (or use cardboard boxes) on high, but easy to reach cupboards. Cat shelving is also great for them to get to high places where they can survey their surroundings.

“And for cats that enjoy time outdoors, consider a cat flap so they can come and go as they please. We recommend one that only opens to your cat’s microchip to stop other cats coming into your cat’s home and eating their food.”

For more information visit

PDSA is the UK’s largest vet charity providing a vital service for pets across the UK whose owners struggle to afford treatment costs for their sick and injured pets. For many vulnerable pets, PDSA is there to help when there is nowhere else for their owners to turn. Support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery helps us reach even more pet owners with vital advice and information.

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