My Cat is Freaking Out! What Stresses Cats Out and How to Calm Them Down

Cats are famous for being aloof and calm. Yes, they get the “zoomies” and can play with their toys like crazy critters, but what they’re known for mostly is being serene and unreadable.

That is, until something upsets their world. People react to things that disrupt their world and, just like us, cats do, too. has a helppul list of situations and conditions that can stress cats out and ideas about how to help them through those times.

Some things on the list of cat stressors will be familiar, others maybe not.’s list includes:

“Changes in routine
Cats are very sensitive to habit. A small change can make them nervous. Sometimes the culprit is something as simple as the pet parent working different hours or rearranging the furniture.

Memory problems
Cats can develop age-related memory loss and confusion, and this is just as distressing for kitties as it is for older humans.

Pain or illness
Many cats get nervous when they don’t feel well. If a normally calm cat seems out of sorts, look for other signs of kitty illness like lethargy and lack of appetite.

Past trauma
Like humans, cats can become anxious if something triggers a trauma from their past. Look for patterns—do they get anxious right after something specific happens? Do they dislike certain people, noises, or sounds?


Some cats, especially those that have been abused or repeatedly surrendered, develop separation anxiety. These cats will follow their pet parents around and will become distressed when they see signs that their parent is about to leave.”

It’s interesting to find memory loss and past trauma on the stressors list. It may not be easy to spot memory loss in a cat but being attentive to senior pets will help an owner identify when a cat might be having problems. It helps to make sure his food and water as well as the litter box are in familiar, easy to find places in your home. Reactions based on past traumas may be easier to see. When adopting, a cat’s or dog’s past may be totally unknown but there will be clear signals if there is a trauma in his past. For instance, some dogs react badly to people wearing baseball hats and sunglasses, or are afraid of men. A cat might shrink away from a hand extended to pet him. Those actions and others will tell you a lot about a cat or dog’s past traumas. The gentle approach in these situations is always the best.

As Points out, taking steps to calm a stressed cat is much easier when you fully understand the problem. It’s also very important to know the difference between anxiety and aggression in a cat.

An anxious cat :

  • Avoids eye contact
  • Flicks their tail
  • Hisses, spits or growls
  • Pulls their tail close to their boyd
  • “Shies away from what scares them”

An angry cat:

  • “Looks ready to attack—fur standing on end, head tilted, ears back
  • Has dialed pupils
  • Howls”

Those are big differences in behavior that you’ll be able to identify. Trying to calm a cat who is angry instead of stressed is not a good idea. Your cat may harm you or your intervention could give the cat the impression that it’s ok to be angry and aggressive. If your cat is in this state, the best thing you can do is back off and give them space to calm down. Then the soothing can start.

Once you know your anxious cat’s stress triggers, you can figure out the best way to calm and reassure him. suggests that avoiding the things that stress them out is the first and best way to keep a cat calm. They also suggest:

  • “Alone time, if the cat feels more comfortable solo
  • Calming chews
  • Good old-fashioned cuddles, if the cat is amenable and not feeling aggressive
  • Pheromone sprays
  • Prescription anxiety medications”

Catnip can also be used to calm a cat. Studies have shown catnip helps 70-80% of cats so keep some handy if your cat tends to be nervous. It may ramp them up at first but they will calm down when the chemical reaction begins. For extreme cases of stress or aggression, you may want to consult an animal behaviorist. This special branch of veterinary medicine focuses on pet behavior and works with owners in their homes to help figure out the triggers and to find solutions that work, which may or may not include medication. Behaviorists may detect stress triggers in your home that you haven’t thought of.

We want the absolute best lives possible for our cats and knowing what makes them stressed and unhappy and – more importantly – how to handle it, will help make that possible!

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