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Easing Feline Stress: Simple Solutions for Anxious Cats

Developed in collaboration with Katie Berlin, DVM, CVA | Veterinary Content Strategist | AAHA

Last reviewed: March 06, 2024

Cats can suffer from anxiety for many reasons, but with an understanding about why cats feel stressed, we can prevent or treat cat anxiety in many cases. Let's look at some symptoms and causes of anxiety in cats as well as ways to help reduce cat stress. With time, patience, and medication, if necessary, you can help your cat take life in stride and avoid the uncomfortable state of being anxious.

Key Facts about Cat Anxiety
  • Feline anxiety is common, but often preventable and/or treatable.
  • All cats can experience anxiety, not just cats who are naturally skittish.
  • Signs of cat anxiety are complex. They can be obvious, subtle, behavioral, or physical.
  • Some signs of anxiety are also symptoms of other medical conditions.
  • The most common reason for cat anxiety is a sudden change in their environment or routine.
  • Removing anxiety triggers, controlling the environment, and exercise can help eliminate anxious behavior.
  • In some cases, medication is the best option.

How to Know if Your Cat is Anxious

Anxiety is common in companion animals, and cats are sensitive. Knowing when your cat is nervous, stressed, or scared, or has a medical condition, requires observation on your part.

In some cases, a cat's body language is an obvious sign that they are feeling stressed. Hissing, clawing, arching of the back, and growling are instinctive defense mechanisms. You may see them when taking a car trip to the veterinarian or when another animal invades their territory.

But most signs of anxiety, including less obvious changes in body language, are subtle. Sometimes stressed cats freeze, sit in a tight ball with their tail curled around them or twitching slightly, or show other behavior changes that can indicate severe anxiety even without growling, hissing, or lashing out. You need to watch your cat closely to pick up on cues that your cat’s anxiety is triggered or that they have a serious medical problem.

Cat Anxiety Symptoms

Behavioral Symptoms

Take note of your cat’s daily routine. If you notice changes in their activity, these changes may be a sign of anxiety. Look for behaviors like:

  • Hiding for most of the day when they were previously more active.
  • Not using the litter box and using a different area instead, which may be hidden or in the open.
  • Eating less or not at all.
  • Being “chattier” than normal, with excessive meowing or purring at unusual times.
  • Newly aggressive behavior toward people or other pets (hissing, swatting, biting).
  • Newly destructive behavior like scratching furniture or door frames.
  • Excessive grooming that leads to hair loss or skin sores – this can sometimes go unnoticed for a while, as the belly and legs are common areas to overgroom.

 Signs of an Anxious Cat

  • Frequent hiding
  • Changes in litter box behavior
  • Changes in appetite
  • Excessive vocalization
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Frequent nose licking
  • Hunched posture
  • Repetitive behavior
  • Trembling/shaking
  • Compulsive behavior such as overgrooming 
  • Vomiting or soft stools
  • Tail flicking/flattened ears
  • Destructive behavior
  • Rapid breathing/panting
  • Hair standing up

Remember that these behavior changes are natural consequences of stress and anxiety in cats – they are not rebellious responses to situations cats are unhappy about. Cats should never be punished for any of these behaviors, as punishment will only lead to more fear and anxiety.

Physical Symptoms

Pay attention to the physical signs of anxiety in your cat. These outward clues may include:

  • A change in appetite or weight, vomiting, soft stools
  • Trembling/shaking
  • Rapid breathing/panting
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Tail flicking
  • Dilated pupils
  • Hair standing up
  • Flattened ears against their head
  • Licking their nose frequently
  • Sitting hunched in a tight ball instead of stretching out

Medical Symptoms

Stress can affect your cat's physical health. It is especially hard on your cat's immune system and can affect their ability to fight disease.

Most subtle signs of anxiety can also be symptoms of a medical condition, and it can be difficult to distinguish between the two.

If you think your cat may be suffering from frequent or chronic anxiety, make an appointment with your veterinarian. They can piece together the symptoms along with a physical exam and blood tests to properly diagnose your cat and suggest a treatment plan. If they feel your cat’s signs are due to frequent or ongoing anxiety, they may recommend behavior/environmental modification, medication, or a combination of both.

Pet medication logo

Your veterinarian may prescribe a customized, compounded medication. These medications are mixed by trained, licensed compounding pharmacists and often come in dosage forms designed to make giving or applying the medication easier and more accurate.

Causes of Cat Anxiety

Just like in humans, it is not fully understood why some cats suffer from frequent or chronic anxiety and others do not. The most common reason for cat anxiety is a sudden change in their environment or routine. Events like adoption, the addition of a baby, a new cat or other pet or human to the household, a family moving to a new home, or anything else that disrupts what is familiar and comfortable to them can cause significant stress for your cat.

Other common triggers are:

  • Being taken from their mother too early as a kitten
  • Lack of socialization at a young age (especially shelter or feral cats)
  • Sudden or ongoing loud noises
  • Foreign smells
  • Previous abuse or trauma
  • Competition for food, litter boxes, affection, etc.
  • Boredom
  • Animals outside the home (especially other cats)
  • Genetics
  • Injury, infection, toxicity, metabolic illness, or other medical conditions

In some cases, like moving to a new house or going to the vet, cat anxiety can be very normal and expected, just like it would be for us. But it’s still important to make sure steps are being taken to protect your cat from feeling uncomfortably stressed.

5 Ways to Help an Anxious Cat

1. Remove Triggers 

After you have visited your veterinarian and underlying medical conditions are ruled out, identify, and remove your cat’s triggers, if possible. For instance, if your cat is stressed out when neighborhood cats invade your yard, use deterrents to keep them away or block your cat’s view of that area of the yard.

2. Make Gradual Changes

Some triggers can’t be removed or avoided. In those cases, slowly introduce your cat to the new situation and make sure they have a safe space they know they can always go to get away. To introduce a baby or new pet, start with giving your cat the new pet’s blanket or a onesie the baby wore and allow them several days to get acquainted with the unfamiliar scent.

If moving to a new home, keep your cat in a smaller room and then gradually introduce them to other areas of the house over a course of days or weeks until they are familiar with their new surroundings.

3. Physical and Mental Exercise

Sometimes, cats feel anxious when bored and inactive. Exercise and mental stimulation are fun and calming for cats. Give them opportunities to distract themselves, spend time playing with them, and encourage them to use their instincts to keep themselves entertained.

How to Help an Anxious Cat

  1. Remove triggers
  2. Make change gradual
  3. Physical and mental exercise
  4. Pheromone therapy
  5. Medication

Ideas include:

  • A cat tree or high perch (cats feel safe and secure when in elevated spaces). At least one cat tree should be in areas where the family spends time – many cats are unlikely to use cat trees in rooms no one goes into
  • A shelter, bed, or safe space to retreat to in stressful times, especially if their anxiety stems from a new pet, loud noises in the house, or a toddler’s new walking habit
  • A scratching post with multiple textures
  • Perches near windows. Cats can spend hours watching the activity outside
  • Exercise wheels
  • Catnip toys and food puzzles
  • Toys that encourage interaction with you, such as “fishing rod” type toys (never leave your cat alone with a toy on a string)
  • A cardboard box or paper bag can arouse your cat’s hunting and prowling instincts

4. Pheromone Therapy

Calming products like sprays and diffusers that release a natural cat pheromone sometimes help. Synthetic feline facial pheromones like Feliway® replicate the scent that cats use to mark their territory by rubbing their cheeks on objects like couches and corners. The scent creates a state of familiarity and security in the environment, which helps to calm some cats.

5. Cat Anxiety Medications

Sometimes training and other remedies aren’t enough to ease your cat’s anxiety. In those cases, your veterinarian may prescribe medications like gabapentin, amitriptyline, fluoxetine, or melatonin. These medications modify your cat’s brain chemistry to help them better cope with stressful situations.

Remember that cats don’t know if a stressful situation is serious or not, or if it will be threatening and scary forever – so they can’t moderate their anxiety on their own the way we can when we know what to expect. A cat may be just as anxious when you move the furniture around as it is when they go with you on a long car ride. This is why medications can sometimes be indicated even for temporary stressors, like trips to the vet or if you are having company over for dinner.

It’s extremely important not to give your cat any medications or supplements or change any doses without consulting your veterinarian first.


Anxiety in cats is common and often even expected, but it can be a threat to your cat’s health and wellbeing. Luckily, most anxiety in cats is manageable. Calming your pet’s fears takes time and patience – you may have to go through trial and error to find the best remedy for your anxious cat. If re-conditioning, exercise, or mental stimulation doesn’t work, if you’re preparing for a short-term event where anxiety is expected, or if your cat is too stressed to be able to relax enough to play or recover once their daily life has changed, medication may be the best course of action.

Your veterinarian may prescribe a customized, compounded medication to treat your pet’s anxiety. These medications are mixed by trained, licensed compounding pharmacists and often come in dosage forms designed to make giving or applying the medication easier and more accurate.

For more information, visit our medications for anxiety page for a complete list of compounded medications available.

Related Blog Posts

5 Ways to Easily Tell If Your Cat Is in Pain and Hiding It
How to Treat Breathing Difficulties in Cats
How to Properly Deal with Abscesses in Cats
How to Tell If Your Cat Is Aging: Signs and Symptoms to Watch For
Feline Urinary Tract Infections: Symptoms Checklist
Understanding Tail Language: What Your Cat Is Communicating


Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

What Are the Symptoms of Cat Anxiety and How Can I Recognize Them?

Symptoms of anxiety in cats vary for each pet. The most common symptoms are:

  • Frequent hiding
  • Changes in litter box behavior
  • Changes in appetite
  • Excessive meowing or vocalization
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Frequent nose licking
  • Trembling/shaking
  • Rapid breathing/panting
  • Vomiting or soft stool
  • Tail flicking/flattened ears
  • Destructive behavior
  • Compulsive behavior such as overgrooming
How Does Stress Affect a Cat's Behavior and Health?

Stress affects cats both emotionally and physically. Anxious cats can feel fearful, frustrated, or even depressed. Those feelings may lead your cat into unwanted behavior like not using the litter box, aggression, hiding, and destructive and compulsive behavior. Your cat may stop eating or vomit, resulting in poor nutrition which compromises their immune system.

Are There Any Pheromones That I Can Use to Calm My Anxious Cat?

Calming products like Feliway® that release a synthetic feline facial pheromone – the scent cats use to mark their territory – sometimes help. The scent creates a state of familiarity and security with the environment, which may help to calm them.

What Body Language Should I Look For To Assess My Cat's Level of Anxiety?

Cat behavior is complex and some of the cues may be subtle. Look for things like trembling or shaking, rapid breathing, avoiding eye contact, tail flicking, hair standing up, flattened ears against their head, or licking their nose frequently.

This article is meant to provide general and not medical advice. We strongly recommend that a veterinarian be consulted for the specific medical needs of your animal.


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