How Stress Affects Your Cat’s Health

We’re all familiar with anxiety. Whether you feel that tightening in your chest several times per week or only when you see flashing red and blue lights in your rearview mirror, it’s a reality for all us humans.

But did you know cats can get anxiety, too?

It’s true. In fact, feline anxiety can actually manifest in the form of serious medical problems.

Here’s what you need to know about feline anxiety, how it affects your cat’s health, and how it may show up in your cat’s PrettyLitter.

Cat Anxiety

Cat anxiety is, unfortunately, rather common. Cats are highly emotional creatures and they’re prone to getting stressed out when things don’t go their way. In particular, cats can begin to experience anxiety if:

  • Something in their environment drastically changes, like living with a new baby or animal
  • You move and your cat has to get used to a whole new environment
  • Your cat feels threatened, such as by a visitor, new pet, or an animal outside
  • Your cat is upset by loud noises or violent weather
  • Your cat doesn’t get enough attention
  • Your cat doesn’t get enough peace and quiet
  • Your cat suffers a traumatic experience such as a house fire, an attack from another animal, or abuse
  • Your cat develops an illness or disease
  • Your cat has gained weight due to overfeeding, unhealthy foods, lack of exercise, or an underlying medical condition
  • Your cat was recently spayed, neutered, or underwent another medical procedure

Cat anxiety can take on many forms depending on your unique cat. Be sure to look out for signs of anxiety including:

  • Urinating or depositing feces outside of the litter box
  • Destroying furniture or toys
  • Excessive scratching, beyond what’s normal for your cat
  • Becoming extremely vocal (meowing, wailing, or hissing)
  • Hiding more often or staying secluded for long periods of time
  • Unusual aggression
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of energy
  • Changes in appetite
  • Weight loss or weight gain
  • Over-grooming or pulling out fur
  • Neglecting grooming altogether

Anxiety can affect cats at any age, so be sure to look out for the signs and help your cat as soon as possible.

Separation Anxiety

Despite your cat’s cool-kid attitude, it is possible for him to suffer from separation anxiety. Some cats become so accustomed to living with their human counterparts that your absence can be stressful.

Cats are most at risk of suffering from separation anxiety if your schedule suddenly changes. If you normally spent your days at home but recently got a new job, or if your work hours dramatically shift, your cat may not like the change.

Feline Idiopathic Cystitis

Feline idiopathic cystitis (also known as FIC or feline interstitial cystitis) is a type of urinary tract disease. FIC is caused by the presence of inflammation, but veterinarians are not entirely sure what causes the inflammation or subsequent problems.

Many vets believe it’s a condition caused by stress, but it’s difficult to measure and test for stress in cats. If bacterial infections, viral infections, and other diseases have been ruled out, your vet may diagnose your cat with FIC.

Signs & Symptoms

Both male and female cats and old or young cats can develop FIC. Signs of the illness include:

  • Difficulty urinating or painful urination
  • Urinating outside of the litter box (many cats will urinate throughout the house trying to find a place that’s comfortable)
  • Blood in the urine (you may not be able to see it in the urine itself, but your PrettyLitter will turn red)
  • Going to the litter box more frequently
  • Howling while trying to urinate
  • A blocked urethra, as evidenced by a full bladder or no signs of urination for several hours or days

One of the most dangerous symptoms is a blockage of urine. A blocked urethra can cause the bladder to become full and the kidneys to become backed up. This is an extremely serious and lethal condition.

If your cat has not urinated for several hours, seems unable to urinate, or seems to have a full bladder, call your doctor immediately for an emergency visit.

Possible Treatments

Because veterinarians are not entirely sure what causes FIC, your veterinarian will likely recommend a constellation of trial-and-error solutions, including:

  • Helping alleviate your cat’s stress and anxiety (more on that below)
  • Playing with your cat more often
  • Cleaning your litter box more often or getting an additional litter box
  • Putting your cat on a canned food diet to increase his water intake (as dry food contains virtually no liquid)
  • Putting your cat on a special prescription food
  • Increasing the number of water bowls around the house to encourage more drinking
  • Adding a glycosaminoglycan supplement

Cat Stress & PrettyLitter

Because cat anxiety can actually cause changes in your cat’s physical wellbeing, you may notice changes in your cat’s PrettyLitter.

Stress can cause urinary tract disease and changes in your cat’s pH. Most often, you’ll notice your cat’s PrettyLitter has turned blue, which means your cat’s urine is more alkaline than normal.

In some cases, stress can lead to the development of bladder stones or crystals, which can cause bleeding in the bladder or urethra. If this is the case, your cat’s PrettyLitter may turn red.

If you notice any changes in your cat’s PrettyLitter color, please call your vet right away. PrettyLitter is designed to alert you to any health problems with your cat so you can catch and fix the problem early. Don’t ignore the warning signs.

What To Do

First and foremost: talk to your veterinarian. Because anxiety plays such an important role in your cat’s health, your vet should be aware of it. Also, stress and anxiety can sometimes be caused by illness. If your cat isn’t feeling well or has developed a medical condition, she may be feeling anxious because of it. Your cat’s anxious behaviors could be a sign that something is wrong and a vet can diagnose your cat.

If your cat’s anxiety seems to be without a cause, your vet may prescribe medications. However, there are natural remedies for anxiety, such as the Homeopet supplement or the Feliway oil diffuser. Always talk to your doctor about what’s best for your cat before choosing any treatment method.

Oftentimes, though, your cat’s anxiety can be solved with some simple changes. Some cats need more stimulation, in which case we recommend toys like the Doc & Phoebe Indoor Hunting Feeder, Tower of Tracks cat toy, and the Catit Food Digger.

Take a look at your cat’s environment, as well. Make sure she has plenty of places to hide, climb high, and access food and water without being bothered by other cats or animals.

Above all, make sure to give your feline friend plenty of love and attention. Sometimes a few minutes of lap time and a gentle scratch behind the ears is all your cat wants. If your cat walks away, don’t force her to stay. Just remain open and let her know she can come to you anytime she’s stressed.

We love seeing kitties relaxed and happy. Share with us your favorite snapshot of your chill cat on Instagram @PrettyLitterCats.


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Rai Cornell
Rai Cornell


8 Responses


January 13, 2020

Will a cat intentionally hold onto its urine if stressed?
I know not urinating can cause a cat to become blocked. But let’s just say you moved a bunch of furniture around and the cat is visibly stressed, can that stress cause him to refuse to use his litter box and just not pee at all? I know urinating outside of the litterbox is a sign of stress but we moved a bunch of furniture around and my male cat will get in the box and scratch and scratch and scratch for a long time but just won’t urinate. He has developed one urinary obstruction since this change and had treatment. When he came home, he spent 41 hours at home where he got in the box to poop, but never would urinate or even squat to try. He will get in, scratch around, get out, get back in, repeat the same behavior. But he won’t even attempt to squat and urinate. Then when I got him to the clinic (I work at a vet clinic and took him to work with me) he urinated in his box not even 10-15 mins after being in his cage. I have 2 litterboxes throughout the house. 1 with a lid 1 without. No other cats. I’m wondering if he’s just so stressed that he just can’t get comfortable enough to urinate. As if he doesn’t feel comfortable and as secure enough in the environment to even attempt to squat and go. Do cats do this? Will they physically hold their bladders due to stress?

Rai Cornell
Rai Cornell

June 07, 2019

Hi @Jim! All great things take time. As much as you want her to feel comfortable, it shouldn’t be forced. Spend time with her each day to get her warmed up to your presence. Try sitting on the floor to appear less intimidating and let her come to you. It will take time, but it should be her choice to engage. You can try enticing her by giving her a treat every time you greet her to associate human interaction with reward. Keep us posted! And thanks for being patient with your fur baby. She’s lucky to have you!


June 04, 2019

I have a cat that I have had for 13yrs, a female gray tabby manx, Mama. We have one of her kittens, now 12yrs old. We had a male orange rag doll cat she bonded with. He has since moved on: ( She was just beginning to get adjusted to following in the rag doll, Tommy, in for the night and sleeping next to him. We acquired a pair of cats, male (Dexter) and female (Polly) from a barn over run with cats. From the moment Dexter saw her, he tried to kill her, much more serious than just a cat fight, but that is a whole different story. Mama was a stray that got no human attention for a couple of years before she kinda adopted us 2hen she had kittens. Due to the issue with Dexter she lives in our garage and is locked in or rather Dexter is locked out. We have been trying to get her to let us touch her, but she runs as soon as a hand moves. She has become more friendly since Tommy has passed on and will now rubup against my leg when I sit with her at night. Is there anything we can try to get her to give in?

Thanks, Jim

Rai Cornell
Rai Cornell

January 18, 2019

@Kaitlyn – Oh no! That sounds stressful. I’m sorry you and your fur baby are dealing with this. Let’s see if we can help you figure it out. You mentioned that it happens a few times per year. What’s going on in your life and in your household during those times? If you go on vacation, have people over, or have some other significant adjustment, that may be causing your cat stress, which can cause the UTI symptoms you’re describing. Another option would be to get a second opinion from a different vet. Also, how much are you playing with your little one? You may want to get her a scratcher with some catnip in it or a few toys so she can let go of any stress she’s holding on to.


January 18, 2019

I am having trouble with my almost 3 year old cat, this past year she exhibited UTI symptoms such as frequent going to the bathroom, urinating on the clothes on the ground, and small amount of blood in the urine at least 4 different occasions throughout the year. My vet just gives her a shot and some antibiotics and sends us home, no bacteria in the urine or blockage. I don’t know what to do to help her. I feel like I’ve tried everything! Makes me so sad she’s going through this multiple times a year and I can’t help her. Any help is greatly appreciated!


March 15, 2018

@Jean Morell – Hi Jean! It sounds like your eldest is just that – getting older. Just like us humans, cats’ personalities, preferences, and priorities can shift a bit as they age. If your older cat seems particularly ornery or aggressive, or if he seems to be causing harm to your younger babies, I would recommend taking him to the vet for a checkup. Cats often express discomfort and pain through behavioral changes. But if he’s just withdrawing from play time a bit and preferring to hang out with you rather than other cats, let him. It’s OK. Give him all the love, cuddles, and attention he needs in his old age. He’ll appreciate the attention and you’ll enjoy the bonding time in his golden years.

Carole Meriam
Carole Meriam

March 09, 2018

Good work Rai! Very interesting and informational.
I love PrettyLitter. Thanks for being a part of your team at PL.

Jean Morell
Jean Morell

March 09, 2018

I. Am having trouble with. My oldest cat ? he almost 14 he wakes up early he refuses to play with the interactive toys when his 3 adopted brothers play frequently wants to be with me alone and picks on his brothers how can I get him involved with playing

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