Can Stressing Out Cats Really Make Them Sick?

"Do I look stressed to you?"
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With their famously laid-back and seemingly uncaring attitudes, the very idea of cats feeling stress would seem a ridiculous notion. But cats are not immune from the effects of stress, and prolonged exposure to a stressful situation could cause your kitty emotional and physical problems.

Stressful Life

You may wonder what exactly a cat would feel stressed about, since they have every need fulfilled and don't have monthly bills or office politics to deal with. Even in the relatively cushy life of an indoor cat, stress can arise. Any sudden change in the normal routine -- anything from holiday decorations to a new piece of furniture -- can essentially freak your cat out. Moving to a new home or introducing new pets or family members can crank up your cat's stress levels, resulting in undesirable -- and even health-compromising -- behavior from your ordinarily serene kitty.

Feeling Ill

You know that feeling in the pit of your stomach when you realize you forgot to do something important, or have a big meeting at work that you're really not looking forward to? That's caused by stress, and your cat experiences the same sort of thing when she encounters something she doesn't like or understand. She could lose her appetite, develop diarrhea or vomit for no apparent reason. Stress can also compromise her immune system, meaning she could literally get sick while she's feeling stressed.

Other Stress Symptoms

Stress affects every kitty differently, and what one cat does during a stressful time may not match what your cat does. Cats have a few methods to self-soothe in times of stress, two of which are grooming and spraying. If your cat's particularly stressed out, she may overgroom herself, essentially licking herself bald in an attempt to relax. Swallowing this excess hair could result in an increase in hairballs, which could make her sick is she can't pass them properly. Inappropriate elimination -- also known as the act of pooping and peeing outside the litter box -- is also a stress reliever, because urine contains the cat's personal scent. If your cat smells her own scent around the house, it helps calm her because she's in familiar surroundings.


Depending on the cause of your cat's stress, she may calm down and recover on her own with no help. If she's just a little freaked out because you added a new chair to the living room, she should be fine once she gets used to it and discovers it's a great place to nap. Larger, more permanent changes, such as the addition of a new pet or baby, may require additional help to calm her down and accept her new reality. Some dedicated one-on-one time with you may be all she needs to feel reassured, or you could try some calming pheromones such as Feliway. If you have an especially neurotic cat who is naturally jittery, you may want to speak with your vet to discuss anti-anxiety medications to help mellow her out.

Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.

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