6 Common Causes of Fear and Stress in Cats

These 6 things are common fear-inducers in cats.

Cats are known for being a little timid about things. Many of them can become easily afraid or stressed, and that can be either short-term or long-term depending on the trigger. Cats that are feeling stressed often engage in negative behaviors, especially urinating and defecating outside the litter box and scratching inappropriate items.

To help your cat deal with fears, stress, and anxiety, the first step is understanding what types of things cause those feelings in cats. Below are six common things that often cause cats fear.

Changes in Routine

Cats like to know what's coming, and disruptions in their routine can cause them stress. You can combat this by doing as much as you can to make sure that meal and playtimes stay as consistent as possible for your cat when you know things are going to be otherwise different for a period of time.

If you do need to change your cat's routine, try to do so slowly, moving the times of feedings, for instance, by a few minutes every day until you reach the new time.

New Pets

While some cats are quite gregarious and love to meet and play with new pets, many of them are much more cautious about newcomers. When you are bringing a new pet home, it's best to assume your cat will be stressed by it and do a few things to prepare.

Keep the new pet confined in a small space initially. Let your cat adjust to the scent of the new pet from afar. Make sure all interactions are supervised and make them as positive as possible. Give lots of verbal praise and treats during introductions and go slowly. It might take several weeks or more for a cat to get comfortable with a newcomer.

If it's a new cat you're introducing, make sure you add additional litter boxes, scratching posts, food and water dishes, and toys to your home. You don't want the cats to be stressed due to a lack of resources (see more below).

Being Punished

When cats are punished by hitting, yelling, or other negative means, serious stress is the result. Cats become afraid of the punisher, and if that's the person they live with, that means there's chronic stress and fear.

Positive reinforcement for desired behaviors works much better than negative reinforcement to train cats to do what you want them to without triggering crippling fear and anxiety in the kitty.

Not only that, but punishment also tends to increase the feline behaviors that are a problem for many people, including scratching inappropriate items and urinating or defecating outside the litter box. So not only will punishing your cat result in a damaged, fear-based relationship between the two of you, but it will probably also increase many feline behaviors that you dislike.

Lack of Resources

Not having enough of the things that a cat needs to stay healthy and happy results in stress for the cat. Here are the things that cats consider to be necessary resources:

While single cats can be stressed by a lack of resources when a human doesn't know they need some of these things, it's more common for cats to experience this in multiple cat households. Often, people don't realize that they need to provide multiple cat scratching posts, lots of litter boxes (as many as you have cats plus an extra one), several feeding and watering stations, and one-on-one playtime with each cat.


Leaving home is often extremely stressful for cats. They don't know what's coming and can become quite afraid.

You can help decrease this fear by getting your cat used to a pet carrier before you need to take him somewhere. Let it sit open in your home so he can go in and investigate it whenever he wants without being taken somewhere.

You can use Feliway spray in the pet carrier to help calm your cat down when you need to travel with him. This product mimics the calming pheromones found in the scent glands in cats' faces.

Sudden Movements and Loud Noises

Cats are often spooked by sudden movements that occur around them. While humans can find it cute or funny when a cat leaps a few feet into the air, turns, and takes off at a run to find a place to hide, it isn't cute or funny to the cat.

While some sudden movements or loud noises are inevitable, you shouldn't allow anyone to purposefully produce them with the intent of seeing how your cat responds. It can leave your cat feeling insecure and permanently jittery if it occurs too often.

For information on how to tell if your cat is stressed and what you can do about it, take a look at this article: "5 Ways to Tell if Your Cat Is Stressed (and Tips for What to Do)."