What To Do If Your Kitten Is Stressed

Photo of Karen Dell

Karen Dell

Senior Editor • Backyard Cat Enclosures

09 April 2019

What are the physical signs of a stressed or anxious kitten?
Kittens who are feeling anxious or stressed may display some of the following signs:
  • Crouching low to the ground
  • Tense body
  • Dilated pupils
  • Panting — As this could also be a sign of sickness, it’s best to have your vet check your kitten for other symptoms to make sure that they’re not sick.
  • Washing or licking more than usual — when your kitten is feeling stressed, they may over-groom by continually licking and/or chewing one specific area of their coat (think of some people suffering from anxiety who pull at their hair). This licking and biting could even cause an open sore to form.
What other behaviour could signal stress and what can you do to relieve it?
It’s not only physical symptoms that you could look out for to see if your kitten may be stressed or anxious, though. Many times it is rather their actions that show that something is wrong. These actions or behaviour deviates from their normal behaviour, and can include:
  • Aggressiveness — If your kitten suddenly starts to bite and scratch when they didn’t before, they could feel that they or their territory is being threatened. They could also be bored, however, so some playtime should help! If they feel their territory is being threatened, it could be as simple as having new people in the home, or getting a new pet. Make sure that you don’t neglect to give your kitten attention. If someone visiting you is being aggressive towards the kitten when playing, also tell them to stop as this behaviour will not only put your kitten on the defence, but may frighten them so much that they are scared of all visitors in the future. Rather show them how you play with a kitten using a toy or even how to properly pick up and carry a kitten.  
  • Destructive behaviour — While we might see the destruction of a roll of toilet paper as destructive behaviour, your kitten may have seen it as a way to play and let out all their energy. Make sure that they have enough kitten toys to keep them busy and spend some time with them playing and cuddling. Letting them know that they are loved and that they can trust you goes a long way when teaching them what they can do and what they shouldn’t do. Making sure that there’s enough to keep them busy while you are away at work, for instance, will go a long way in relieving any stress as they will be able to play around (and won’t make a game of knocking all the china off the shelf). If this becomes a real problem, though, speak to your vet as they may need some behavioural training intervention.
  • Marking their territory — This especially happens if a new kitten has been introduced to the home or there has been a significant change in routine. To clean the places where there’s been ‘sprayed’, use a dilute disinfectant to remove the odour. Give your kitten lots of love and reassurance during this time. If it is an un-neutered male that has started to spray, to neuter him should take care of him spraying (and wanting to go roaming after females!).
  • Not using their litter box anymore, or having ‘accidents’ — Not using a litter box could be a sign of stress if your kitten is otherwise healthy. It is a good idea to also make sure that the litter box has been cleaned and that a dirty litter box is not the reason why your kitten is not using it.  Cover the spot where it happened with some plastic or tinfoil after a thorough cleaning to deter your kitten from doing it again. If your kitten is still only a few weeks old, make sure that the litter box’s sides aren’t too high for them to get inside to use it. You should also give each cat their own litter box. If accidents keep happening, or you find that your kitten has diarrhoea or is vomiting as well, get them to the vet immediately as they may have any of a number of illnesses. Because kittens are so small, dehydration at a dangerous level occurs very quickly, so treat it as an emergency. If your kitten is healthy, however, it’s a good idea to speak to your vet about what you can do to help your kitten use their litter box only.

In some cases the origin of stress is easy to pinpoint, for instance loud noises like fire crackers being set off. In these cases, talk to your vet about your options for calming medication. Otherwise, be sure to stay with your kitten while there is noise and keep calm, talking in a soothing voice. You can also turn on some white noise or even soothing music. It may seem counter-intuitive to add more noise, but familiar and soothing sounds may help to calm your kitten down.

When in doubt, always consult with your vet if your kitten is acting out of sorts and there is no obvious origin of their stress.

Photo by Paul Hanaoka on Unsplash


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