Ask a Veterinarian: Why Is My Cat Acting So Strange?

By Dr. Genie Bishop

Has your cat been acting strange lately? Maybe she runs and hides at the sound of the doorbell, or she is cranky with you or your houseguests. Maybe she is even peeing in places other than her litter box. These behaviors could mean something more than your cat is moody; they could mean that your cat is stressed.

What Causes Stress and Anxiety in Cats?

One way to determine whether your cat is stressed is to look at a situation from her point of view. While having a houseguest might be exciting for the owner, it’s a new smell, a new creature and a disruption in routine for the cat. Other common causes of stress for cats include new pets, new babies, remodeling, construction, boarding or storms.

 What Does Stress and Anxiety in Cats Look Like?

 Cats exhibit stress in a variety of ways. They may have skin, bladder and/or gastrointestinal (GI) issues. They also may urinate outside their litter box, vocalize excessively (growling or hissing), act aggressively toward people or other animals or groom obsessively. Some cats have even been known to lick themselves bald from stress!

Helping Your Feline Feel Better

So what can you do to help ease your cat’s discomfort? One thing is to minimize her exposure to unpleasant circumstances. Rather than boarding your cat when you travel, could you use a pet sitter so she can stay where she feels safe? Is the adoption of a puppy really a good idea for your household?

“Environmental enrichment” is a term used by veterinarians to describe ways to make your house a happier home for your cat.  Cats can become bored, which can also lead to behavioral issues. By nature, cats love to hunt, so engage her in a game of “stalking the toy” or “chasing the laser light.” Another idea for reducing feline stress is to add extra litter boxes or feeding stations. This reduces competition in a multi-cat household. Many cats enjoy vertical spaces and may appreciate a “kitty perch,” where they can observe household activities from a safe distance. Water fountains can break the boredom while encouraging your cat to drink more.

There are other ways to help manage your cat’s stress if her anxiety does not respond to the above suggestions. Feline pheromones (chemical substances released in the environment that affect the behavior of an animal) are available in diffusers and sprays that help relieve stress. Many veterinary clinics use them to help calm their feline patients. Prescription medications are another possibility your veterinarian may recommend. And for those owners who are not able to give their cats oral medications, prescription diets with anti-stress nutrients are as easy to use as filling the food bowl.

Visit Your Vet

Your veterinarian is your best source of information concerning stress in your cat and will be able to advise you on how to make your trip to the clinic easier. Once the diagnosis of stress is confirmed, you can discuss the possibility of a prescription diet for this condition.

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Dr. Genie Bishop is the Scientific  Communications Manager for Royal Canin Veterinary Marketing. Prior to that, she was in private practice for 30 years as well as serving as an instructor of medicine and surgery in a veterinary technician program.