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Is Your Cat Stressed Out?

How COVID-19 may be upending normal life for your cat and what to do about it.

This post was written by Jessica Pierce and Ibrahim Raidhan. Ibrahim is the creator of

Many people are feeling stressed out right now with the COVID-19 pandemic unfolding around us. Daily routines and patterns have been upended.

Just as humans get stressed out, so can companion cats. And although your cat may not be worrying about the COVID-19 virus, their life may feel a bit topsy-turvy. For companion cats, particularly those who are kept indoors, our homes are their “ecosystem.” And there may have been some dramatic changes in this ecosystem over the past couple of days or weeks.

An abrupt change in routine can be stressful for cats, just as it can for us. Your cats may be thrilled to have you around all day if you are staying home from work or school or the gym, but this may nevertheless be a big change from what they are used to, and change is hard on cats. Shifts in feeding schedules or who is sharing a cat’s territory can also be upsetting. And it may also be that your cat is picking up on your emotional state and feels stressed because you are feeling stressed.

One big difference between stress in cats and stress in people is how well cats can hide their feelings. This is why it’s important to watch for behavioral clues that your cat is stressed. Some short-term stress is unavoidable, but long-term stress can affect cats’ mental and physical well-being. It can lead to compromised immune systems, illness, and behavioral issues.

Spotting the Signs

Let’s look at some potential signs that your cat might be feeling stressed.

Grooming Excessively

Cats spend around 30 percent of their lives grooming themselves, so it can be difficult to identify overgrooming. But you know your cat very well, and you’ll realize when they are grooming too much. You might also notice your cat pulling out their hair and leaving patches.

If you notice overgrooming, you should consult with your veterinarian.

Peeing Outside the Litter Box

If your cat starts to pee outside the litter box all of a sudden, this is also a warning sign that your cat might be stressed. Cats trained to use a litter box very rarely stop using their box unless something is wrong physically or emotionally. If this happens, again, the first thing you should do is consult with your vet to make sure it's nothing to do with their health

Whatever you do, do not shout at your cat or punish them. This is counterproductive and will only make your cat more stressed.

Change in Behavior

Have you noticed your friendly cat suddenly being aggressive or standoffish? Any alteration in the normal behavior of your cat could be a sign of stress. It could also be a sign that your cat is ill or in pain—so please check with a veterinarian.

Lack of Appetite

Cats are known to be fussy eaters (well, at least our cats are!), but they eat their particular foods with gusto. A cat who stops eating might be stressed or ill. If you free-feed your cat, keep an eye on how much food you put out to make sure your cat regularly eats about the same amount.

Being Alone All the Time

People think that cats are independent and like being alone, but this is not the case. Cats love interaction and affection. If your normally cuddly cat wants to be alone all the time, this can be a sign of stress or even pain. Once again, consultation with a veterinarian is a good idea.

As you can see, if you notice anything different in your cat's behavior, the first thing you should do is consult with your cat’s veterinarian. If everything is OK physically, and you suspect the issue is stress-related, you can work on how to calm your cat down and “destress” them.

How to Help a Stressed-Out Cat

With the COVID-19 virus drastically changing the behavior of humans, especially by keeping many of us home more than usual and changing our daily routines, it is no surprise that our cats' lives have also been disrupted. How can you help reduce your cat’s stress? First of all, step back and try to think about things from your cat’s point of view, and see if you can identify what might be causing discomfort. Empathy and understanding are the first steps. (This is especially true if your cat’s behavior is annoying you or making you angry. Remember: There is no such thing as a bad cat.)

Here are a few ideas for relieving your cat’s stress:

  • If you think your cat might be overstimulated by more human interaction than usual, make sure they have a safe and quiet place they can go for some alone time.
  • If you have more than one cat, you can make sure that there is plenty of food and affection to go around.
  • Environmental enrichment (food puzzles, new toys and games, structures to crawl up and hide in) can help your cat feel better by giving them interesting things to do.
  • Some cats respond well to pheromone diffusers, which mimic the smells that cats leave behind on your hand, leg, couch pillows, or whatever else they rub their cheeks on.
  • Make sure your cat is having fun and has ample opportunity to play. Here are more ideas about having fun with your cat: Fun things to do with your cat at home.

Facebook image: Koldunov Alexey/Shutterstock


And if you are looking for more information about COVID-19 and our pets, here are a few links:

What pet owners and veterinarians need to know about the coronavirus, from Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medicine ADVISORY DOCUMENT: UPDATED AS OF MARCH 20, 2020 The New Coronavirus and Companion Animals—Advice for WSAVA Members, From the World Small Animal Veterinary Association And this post by fellow Psychology Today blogger Dr. Marc Bekoff: What Pet Owners and Vets Need to Know about COVID-19
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