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How to manage your cat’s anxiety/stress - Cats Protection

What is cat stress?

Cats sleep for about 16 hours a day, most likely in their favourite warm space and most have an owner that will give them for the attention they need. However, if you look a bit more closely at your cat’s world then it may not be as stress free as you would expect.  For example, many of the problems owners experience in getting their cat ready for, and taking them, to the vet are because the cat is experiencing stress.  Stress is a normal response to something that a cat finds scary or unpleasant and it prepares a cat to be able to respond accordingly.  It stimulates the ‘flight or fight’ response to deal with the situation faced.  

For cats, their natural coping mechanisms in the face of stress are to run away (‘flight’), hide and climb to an often familiar place up high where they can view their surroundings. ‘Fight’, or an aggressive response, is an absolute last resort as cats do not want to risk getting injured but if forced to exhibit aggression and the tactic is successful (for example the thing causing the stress backs away), a cat is more likely to exhibit aggression earlier in its response next time).

One stress to cats is other cats. Many owners make the innocent mistake of allowing or inviting another cat into the house.  Even if your cat is not around at the time, the scent left behind can be threatening to the resident cat. Another cause of stress is a change in routine or environment such as moving house, furniture, or a new baby. Cats can find sudden change stressful and unsettling. This may feel like they have lost control of their environment and essential resources such as water bowl, litter tray.

Is it easy to tell if my cat is showing signs of being stressed?

Cats are adept at concealing signs of stress, and to their owners they may seem to be acting normally. However, they can remain stressed. There are a few visible signs to look for:

·         Check their facial expression and posture

·         A reduction in behaviours such as eating, drinking or grooming

·         Behavioural ‘problems’ like inappropriate toileting, spraying indoors, or over grooming

·         A noticeable change in their normal behaviour such as hiding more, playing less or becoming ‘moody’ or less tolerant of being picked up

·         Stressed cats can pretend to be sleeping, often in a crouched position but will be moving their ears to listen in to their surroundings and have tense facial muscles

·         There’s also a strong link between disease and stress, such as cystitis or skin disease

If you see a change in your cat’s behaviour we recommend visiting your vet to rule out any other reasons why your cat’s behaviour has changed, such as medically based reasons. 

How to help reduce your cats stress and keep them happy

·         If your cat is feeling stressed, they may prefer hiding than attention

·         Provide your cat with a few places where they can perch up high

·         You could make room on your window sill or add a blanket on top of the wardrobe, making sure that that it is within easy reach for the cat

·         Keep out unwanted visitors by installing an entry-only cat flap e.g. a microchip/magnetic cat flap

·         Provide extra essential resources, ideally one per cat plus one extra, separated all over the home. You could try separating the water bowl from the food bowl and ensure they are away from the wall so they are able to view their surroundings without any worry

Visiting the vets – Tips to help minimise stress


·         Choose a sturdy basket so there is no risk of escape, and leave the basket out (preferably from kittenhood) to help the cat form positive associations with the basket

·         Place a soft blanket inside which helps with scent continuity as it smells of the cat 

·         Before your visit, you could spray a synthetic pheromone spray such as Feliway into the basket, 15-20 minutes before putting the cat inside, to help the cat to feel calmer Pheromones are important to cats in recognising safe familiar parts of their home

·         Using cat carriers where the top comes off completely can help both the cat and owner

·         Try using a towel over the carrier whilst maintaining adequate ventilation for the cat to reduce visual stimulation

·         See if you can arrange an appointment when there aren’t noisy dogs in the waiting room

·         Once in the waiting room, try to keep your cat’s carrier on a shelf or your lap, away from the gaze of other cats or dogs 

Understanding the world from the cat’s perspective can help us to provide for their needs. Visit our online course to learn more: In addition, some FAQs can be found here: 

This article is intended as a guide only. Always seek veterinary advice regarding a change in your cat’s behaviour. If your vet feels the problem is behavioural, then contact a qualified behaviourist such as a member of the Association of Behaviour Counsellors (

Cats Protection © November 2014

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