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How You’re Stressing Out Your Cat (and Why It’s a Real Problem)

By Colleen Williams
published: June 30, 2014 - updated: April 13, 2022 • 2 min. read

Key Takeaways

  • Yelling at a cat can be very stressful for the animal.
  • Cats can get stressed out by rowdy children and too much change.
  • Cats benefit from having multiple places to spend time in a house.
  • You can tell if a cat is happy by observing its body language.

While house cats may seem like they have it easy, napping all day and basking in the sun, underneath their cool exteriors lies a wide range of complex and complicated emotions. Cats in the wild have to deal with being both predator and prey, and just because your cat is technically safe and sound in your home doesn’t mean she’s completely at ease. According to cat health experts, many everyday, routine factors can cause an enormous amount of stress — which has a direct effect on cat health and can cause vomiting, hair loss, and even urinary tract infections.

We spoke with certified cat behavior consultant Marilyn Krieger, known as The Cat Coach and columnist for Cat Fancy Magazine, to find out your cat’s top stress triggers (and what you can do about them):

1. Your incessant yelling and raging: When someone, especially the pet owner, raises their voice or yells at a cat in anger or to punish them, this can be very stressful to the cat. “Especially if the person who is angry with them is also a person that they are very bonded to and rely on,” Krieger explains. A pet owner or family member yelling at a cat in anger can cause the cat stress to the point of illness and even break the bond that they have with this person.

2. Your kids are little terrors: Feeling cornered or unable to get away from a stressful situation is very agitating to cats. Krieger says, “This can often happen when children or even adults chase a cat and the cat has nowhere safe to hide or get away.” Krieger advises cat owners to have a few high places, like a cat tree, available for the cat to retreat and feel safe.

3. You’re changing too much, too soon: Moving to a new home, adopting a new kitten or puppy, or even adding a new member of the human family can cause a cat a lot of stress. “Cats are very sensitive to change,” Krieger explains. “Everything with cats needs to be done gradually.” She suggests that cat owners take the time to introduce the cat into new situations as gradually as possible.

4. You’re not giving her enough places to go: In multi-pet households, cats can experience a lot of stress if there is only one litter box (shared between multiple cats) or if there is only one set of water and food bowls. According to the San Diego Animal Support Foundation, a nonprofit, cats feel the most vulnerable while they are eating, drinking or eliminating. To resolve this, Krieger recommends placing multiple litter boxes and food and water bowls around the house.

Cats show many signs that they are happy as well. Body language is everything. “A happy cat that is feeling secure, for example, will walk out into the middle of the room and her tail will be up with a slight crook in it,” Krieger says.

colleen williams
By Colleen Williams

Over the past decade, Colleen has written about health, wellness, beauty, and even pets for The New York Times, The Cut, Refinery29, xoVain, Healthy Paws Pet Insurance, and Seattle Met Magazine, as well as many beauty brands. She has a BFA in Art History from the University of New Mexico and an AAS in Fashion Design from Parsons School of Design in New York.

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