Top causes of stress in cats and ways to relieve it

Stress is one of the most popular reasons for health and behavior problems in cats. The most effective solution is to find the source of the stress and take steps to minimize its impact.

new experience causes stress in cats
Photo by Konstantin Tronin

In this article, you will learn what the most common causes of stress in cats are, and how to avoid them, or, at least, minimize their impact on your pet.

  • New experience. New things are frightful. In general, cats are curious animals, yet new things cause stress. For example, going outside for an indoor cat and or encountering a new animal or even switching to a new cat food brand. New experiences are hardly avoidable, as life around us is constantly changing. The good news is that “new” does not last. It either goes away or gets old. Pet your cat or talk to him to get through this.
  • Revision of a bad experience. Most cat owners who take their pet to the veterinarian regularly know the following. The cat will start to hiss and spit, and even before they enter the clinic. Events that happen on a way to a clinic (pet carrier, car, the stress of the owners…) trigger association to a bad experience from the past. Playing, petting or talking to your cat may relieve the stress this experience causes (of course, avoiding this experience is a way better solution, but it’s not always possible).
  • Environment changes. Your cat is unlikely to appreciate changes in your home. This includes both getting new stuff and getting rid of old stuff. Not to even mention remodeling part of your house. Cat’s love things as they are. Unfortunately, it also applies when you make good changes that are supposed to improve his life, such as add a new cat tree or move the litter box to a better location. The best approach is to introduce changes gradually, one after the other. Add a new cat tree, wait for your cat to cope with the idea and move the box later. Besides, if you move the box, move it only halfway initially. If you cannot avoid changes, you can give your cat treats or play with him/her next to new objects. You can also spray them with a replica of feline facial pheromones that have a soothing effect on cats. You can read more about feline pheromones here.
  • A new pet. Whenever a new pet arrives, it is stressful for your existing pets, including cats, dogs and others. Best to avoid this is to introduce the cat to a new pet gradually. This means, create a single room for your new pet, and leave it for some time, without introducing to your cat. Make him first accept the new noises and smell appearing, and make the introduction later. Please note, new pet in a neighbors house may also be a source of stress.
  • Baby arriving. Even though small, babies, especially the first in the family, turn the whole world upside down. For cats, it’s a disaster. Not only the whole home changes, but also his owners now have less time to interact with him. The best solution is to create a safe spot for your cat — for example, a cat tree where he can feel comfortable and safe. Also, try to remember that you have to devote some time to your cat for petting playing and to talk. Yeah, unreasonable suggestion, we know, but try. Also, note that several milestones of your baby’s development will be challenging. For example, when he or she will start to crawl, that cat is in trouble. Here again, a tall cat tree or a shelf is a good idea.
  • Routine changes. If the cat wakes up every morning, stretches, scratches and heads to its food bowl, he’s expecting a freshly poured cat food in there. If for some reason, the dish is only half full, it’s what causes the stress. It’s true for other stuff like getting a play, peace for a nap or greeting an owner coming back from work on expected time. Getting yourself disciplined and sticking to your cat’s schedule is important to lower the stress. If it’s impossible, some tasks can be automatized. For example, you can buy an electronic feeder for your cat.
  • Absence of the owner. If an owner is not present for an extended period, for example, goes on vacation, gets into a hospital, or starts working a new job with longer shifts. These are usually things you cannot avoid and no one is suggesting to change your life plans because of your cat. If you are away for longer than usual, get someone to take care of your cat. Best, someone whom your cat already knows.
  • Mourning. Just like humans, pets do mourn. Cats do mourn the loss of their loved ones, owner, family member, kittens or other pets in a household. Combined with the overall mood in the house when someone dies, it creates lasting and often hard to overcome stress for your cat. Being close and spending time with your cat is the best way to relieve it.
  • Lack of activity. Boredom is stressful, especially if the cat had an active life before, but then because of some reason it lowered. No doubt, the best way to overcome it is providing an activity to your cat. Both, spending more time playing with him and creating a stimulating environment with lots of perches, hideouts, and tunnels. Learn more about creative ways to get your cat active here. Play it safe though, too much activity can create an opposite effect.

Cat stressed because of boredom

  • Forced confinement. If you’re traveling with a cat in a pet carrier, it’s tons of stress combined. A new experience, the fright of the sound of motor and disability to move around. Forced confinement also occurs when a cat is locked in a room during visitors coming in or when a former outdoor cat is forced to live indoors. Best relief, of course, is avoiding confinement. Playing and talking with a cat can help if confinement is required. If stress levels are very high trying stress relief medication is also an option, but check with your vet if it is okay. Using cat-friendly pheromones, mentioned above, may significantly reduce the stress. And also, as there are many benefits of keeping a cat indoors, making his indoor environment more appropriate and stimulating will be necessary to avoid stress.
  • Illnesses and traumas. They make cats feel incapable and useless. The higher the disability, the higher the risk of stress. Cheering up and petting a cat during this period is the best relief. Heavy illness may require medications as well if prescribed by a vet.
  • The stress of the owner. If we are stressed out our cats do feel it and start to worry about it. Also, if we have problems in our life we usually spend less time playing with our pets, as we are busy solving things. Thes best solution is (…drumroll…) not to stress about things.

It’s probably not possible to mention all the things what can cause stress in cats. However, you are likely to notice the patterns that are in common with them. Things that stress cats are new, unpleasant, and, actually, not that all different things that can stress us. Check this article if you want to find out more about stress in cats.