10 signs that a domestic cat is stressed

Below, I list 10 signs of stress in a domestic cat. These may occur together or individually depending upon the source of the stress, the degree of the stress and the individual cat’s character. The last factor is important. Confident cats are certainly less likely to be stressed while conversely timid cats will find more events and circumstances stressful. They may suffer a permanent level of anxiety. Caveat: these signs overlap with signs of other conditions so they are not unique to anxiety or stress in a domestic cat.

Hiding is one possible sign of stress in a domestic cat

Hiding is one possible sign of stress in a domestic cat. Image by ❤️A life without animals is not worth living❤️ from Pixabay


  1. Grooming. I’m sure you have read about this or possibly seen it first hand. When a cat is stressed they sometimes groom themselves more than they should. They might groom to the point where they remove all the hair in areas where the body is easily accessible. Grooming helps to calm a cat. It is a form of self-therapy. It’s a coping mechanism. Humans have their own versions of coping mechanisms. So if you see bald spots on the belly or the insides of the legs developing it’s a good sign that your cat is stressed. You will have to decide why and the answer will be found in the environment that you have created for your cat which includes your behaviour.
  2. Spraying. I would not expect this to be that usual for a stressed domestic cat but they might spray urine within the house. The purpose of this from the cat’s point of view is to reassure themselves. They want to smell their scent and make the environment more homely, if you will, from their point of view.
  3. Defecating inappropriately. Sometimes cats who are very stress might defecate within the home inappropriately including on the owner’s bed. This is another form of scent marking like spraying urine. Why on the bed? Because the bed is full of the owner’s scent and the cat wants to merge their scent through their poop with the scent of their owner. This also is reassuring to the cat.
  4. Loss of appetite. Anxiety might cause loss of appetite as happens in humans. Or it might change their eating routines and habits.
  5. Increased appetite? The exact opposite may also take place in my opinion. A cat might eat more as a way to feel better. I would expect the former to be far more normal when a cat is stressed than the latter.
  6. Hiding. Hiding is also reassuring for a stressed cat because they feel protected. Stress will come from the environment and if the environment feels hostile to a cat, hiding from it helps to remove that uncomfortable feeling.
  7. Scratching. Scratching objects deposits their scent on those objects because there are scent glands in their paws. This is reassuring for the same reasons as spraying urine is reassuring, as mentioned above.
  8. Illness. Chronic stress can cause illness or exacerbate an underlying illness through depressing the immune system so you might expect a chronically stressed cat to be predisposed to illness.
  9. Facial expression. It might be fair to say that can see anxiety in a cat’s facial expression in conjunction with their general demeanour. This would be a very subtle sign. However, if you know your cat extremely well you may be able to spot the difference.
  10. Change in behaviour. I am referring to a general change in behaviour and behavioural patterns. This observation depends upon how well you know your cat and there may be some subtle signs which you can pick up. This change in behaviour might not indicate stress but it would indicate that something might be wrong which on investigation may be assessed as stress.

This may not be a comprehensive list but it is a full list nonetheless. If you have any other ideas or thoughts on this then please leave a comment.

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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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