Can Cats Die of Stress?

Is your cat stressed? When talking about stress in people, it’s generally accepted that it may damage our well being, productivity, and health. But did you know that our four legged fur babies can also suffer from stress? In this article, you will learn everything you need to know about stress in cats: what the stress is, what causes it, and most importantly how to relieve stress in your cat.

Grey kitten looking stressed seemingly asking, "Can cats die of stress?"
Stress can hurt your kitten just like it can hurt you.

Table of Contents

What is stress?

According to the Oxford Dictionary of English, stress is:

“…a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances.”

Oxford Dictionary

Basically, stress is a strain or tension resulting from something. And it doesn’t quite matter what kind of animals we are talking about. Of course, stress is most commonly associated with us humans. However, unlike many other human emotions that are not expressed by other animals, the stress in cats is real, as it is real for most animal species.

Stress however, is not always bad. We do have negative associations with it because we know that stress can kill. Or at least, that’s what antidepressant ads tell us.

But stress is actually a beings main driving force. Are we hungry? We go hunting. Just like in nature when a cat is hungry, they go hunting. Our cat encounters an aggressive dog? They’ll retreat without even thinking about it. And this happens because of stress. You’ve no doubt heard of flight or fight? Again, a reaction to stress.

But what if stress becomes too much? The first thing to note is that stress affects your cat’s behavior. But most important, stress can definitely affect your pet’s health.

What happens during stress?

  • Blood pressure climbs
  • Breathing becomes more rapid
  • Digestion slows down
  • Heart rate increases
  • Immune system becomes less effective

Any of these things are okay if they happen during short bursts of stress. But what happens if the stress is constant? Studies show that stress can be a contributing factor to many diseases and in turn, lead to a shortened lifespan.

Just like us, stress can shorten your cat’s life.

What are signs of stress in a cat?

As a loving cat owner, you understand that you don’t want to have a constantly stressed cat. How do you find out whether your cat is under stress? One of the easiest ways to know is to look for symptoms.

Excessive selfgroomin - sign of stress in cats
Excessive self-grooming is one of the most common signs of stress in cats.

Most common signs of stress in cats:

That’s not all. The signs listed above are only the most common signs but you can view a longer list of signs of stress in cats here. We’ve written articles on each one of these common signs which may lead to chronic stress for your cat. Click on each link above for more information on that topic.

One thing to note though, is that many apparent cat stress symptoms could actually be signs of something else. Identifying your cats anxiety is one thing, treating it is another. If you aren’t sure, please consult with your veterinarian.

Some cat behavior that seems odd to us may be quite normal. Like urine spraying for intact cats. While unpleasant for us, it’s normal for your cat but this behavior could tip to a stress condition if done too often. For example, if a neutered cat sprays. In general, your cat may present only one of the above listed symptoms but the stress is there. Another sign is your cat’s tail puffs and their hair stands on end. This is may be a sign of fear.

Have you noticed at least one or two signs of cat stress in your household? Then there may be cause to relieve your cats anxiety.

What calms a cat down?

Now that you have recognized that your cat is in stress, the next logical step is to relieve it. How do you do that?

If we look back at the definition of stress. look at the part of the definition that reads, “resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances“. That means that there is always a cause of that stress. Finding out what (or who) is the cause, is the most important part of relieving anxiety in your cat.

What can cause your cat stress and how can you reduce this?

As we look at how to treat the chronic stress that our cat may be under, we have to fully understand the cause. What are the most common causes of stress and anxiety in cats and how do you treat them? We have grouped them into several categories.

Physical changes in the family or household

These might include re-homing, remodeling the house, a new baby, a new family member or frequent visitor, a new pet, or changes in the environment such as new furniture or furniture being moved around. It’s also true that these changes might work the other way around. For example when a family member moves out or an older cat passes.

Most of these kinds of changes are unavoidable. For example, you won’t give away your new baby because your cat will experience stress because of it. So your only choice is to help your cat cope more easily with the changes. Here are two suggestions.

First, make any changes gradually to reduce your cat’s stress. If a baby is expected, start to set up the baby’s room months in advance. Add new furniture and items gradually, slowly. Even if you move homes, save your cat from all the repairs, packing, and let them explore the new home gradually on their own terms. Of course, gradual changes are not possible at all times such as the sudden death of a family member.

Second, give your cat a lot of attention. Play as much as you can (check these tips if you think you’re too busy to play with your cat), keep them in your lap, pet them, brush them, talk to and cuddle them. Your cat will be grateful and will cope with the changes more easily.

Experiencing new things and revise bad experiences

The most common example of revising a bad experience is a visit to the veterinary clinic. It’s not pleasant, it may be painful, and it sure is frightening for a cat who goes to a vet for the first time. But even a simple trip to your vacation destination can be a stressful situation for your cat.

Cat in stress in snow.
Experiencing new things is always stressful to any animal.

In such cases, the best way to relieve your cat’s stress is to make sure that these experiences end positively. For example, if you’ve been working from home a lot and then have to go to the office your cat can suffer from separation anxiety. Make your departure positive by playing with your cat, give them their cat food, and let them drift off for their regularly scheduled nap. Try it first and then just leave the room your cat is in. Then try leaving the house for a short time. When you return you can give some tasty treats when you return.

Fear and aversion related problems

This type of experience includes fear of dogs, kids, other cats, or even items and locations. Even too much forced activity is among the most common causes of stress in cats.

First, if possible, reduce any sources of fear. If your cat is afraid of the dog, make sure your dog knows basic commands and is friendly toward the cat. Make sure your cat’s experience with the dog is positive. If there are kids, make sure you educate them how to properly interact with your cat. For example if your cat doesn’t like their tail to be grabbed, make sure they know that. If your cat is afraid of items, either try to help them associate them with something positive. If the vacuum is scary, give your cats some treats while they explore the vacuum when it is off and again when you turn it on. Alternatively, help your cat avoid interactions with these things. Find more information about fear in cats here.

Second, make sure your cat’s environment is compelling, cat appropriate, and stimulating. Most importantly, it has to include several elevated locations where your cat can sit and view their surroundings undisturbed. You can read more about environmental enrichment of an indoor cat here.

Problems with the daily schedule and activity

This includes a lack of activity, routine changes, inconsistent routines,and forced confinement among other things. This is about your cat being able to express themselves as a cat and to have things set up the way they like them.

That is, your cat must have a daily routine to rely on. Things like meals at approximately the same time or owners playing with them at about the same time. Naps during the day should also come at expected times.

Woman playing with her cat to reduce the stress.
Regular playing is the best way to reduce your cat’s stress. And yours, too!

Also, your cat must get moving every day. This is what cats do in nature. They spend most of their waking hours being active and hunting. If you play with your cat using an interactive cat toy, and if you move that toy as if it were a mouse to hunt, their self confidence will climb and their stress will decline. You can read more about benefits of playing with your cat here.

Other causes of stress in cats

There are some other things that may cause stress in your cat, like noises, views of other cats or birds outside the window, illnesses and traumas. You can read more about causes of stress in cats here. However, you already know the simple strategy:

  1. Identify and eliminate or limit the cause(s) of the stress.
  2. Improve your cat’s experience with the stressor.
  3. Play, pet, and soothe. Rinse and repeat.
  4. Make your cat’s environment compelling and stimulating.

When behavior modification is not enough to relieve your cat’s stress

Sometimes the above mentioned actions may not be enough to relieve your cat’s anxiety. So this is where additional tools come into play.

Cat pheromones

Pheromones are chemical substances that are naturally produced by some animals and which are released into the environment as communication tools. For cats, pheromones are released with urine and are also released from the paws while scratching and treading. They are also released from your cat’s cheeks when they rub against objects, other pets, and you. This is not marking, at least not in the way of claiming ownership. But these latter pheromones are very beneficial because cats consider them “pawsitively” calming.

Scientists have managed to create a chemical copy of these pheromones and they come in several forms. Most commonly they come in spray-ons, plug-in diffusers, and calming collars.

Spray-ons may be used locally on any object your cat is afraid of or in locations where you want to stop their urine spraying. Plug-in diffusers however, fill the whole room with this calming substance. A collar may be put on your cat to keep them surrounded by the scent of pheromones wherever they go. The latter however, is not recommended. We don’t believe your cat has to be calmed everywhere they go. There are everyday situations when your cat must have their wits about them like when you have multiple cats in the house.

The best thing about cat pheromones is that they are not drugs. They are not sedating your cat by blocking some brain responses. They are territorial markers that let your cat know it’s safe here.Here you can find more information about cat pheromones.

Herbal remedies

Natural pet anxietNatural cat anxiety relievers, like Rescue Remedy for Pets and Ultimate Peacemaker, do work very well. However, they (as well as pheromones) are only an temporary aid.

The main intention of such remedies is to relieve short term stress. Independence Day coming with some fireworks outdoors? A vet visit? Those are great situations when you may use herbal remedies. If you find that you need to use them on a prolonged basis, then a veterinary consultation is strongly recommended.

Veterinary drugs

In cases of severe chronic stress, a veterinary behaviorist can prescribe some medicine that in combination with other environment and behavior modification techniques will help to relieve the stress temporarily. Remember, these are given for severe stress only, and a veterinary prescription is necessary.

Two lions relaxing.
There always will be some stress in your cat’s life, but it’s up to you to ensure that your pet is enjoying calm and relaxing moments, as often as possible.

In the end, please understand that there is no way to ensure a completely stress free life for your cat. Like our lives, it’s not possible not to stress out every now and then. It’s normal. What you should focus on is making sure that your cat’s stress level is controlled and that it never climbs to a severe level where it impacts your cats behavior and health.

Back to the main question, can cats die of stress. Yes just like people. Chronic stress affects people and pets emotionally and physically. Eliminating and reducing sources of stress for your cat will go a long way towards a happy life for you and your cat. And keeping your Pet Happy is what we all want.

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