We asked animal behaviourist Inga MacKellar for the signs to look out for if your cat is feeling anxious, and how you can help. Here are some tips on using your body language and surroundings to ease your pet's distress.
First, recognise the signs
1. An unhappy cat will often twitch the end of her tail as a warning sign, just before stress sets in. Her claws may also come out in self-defence.
2. If your cat feels unsafe or threatened, she's likely to hide and crouch down to make herself seem as small as possible. That way she'll feel less visible to any potential dangers.
3. A stressed cat may mark her territory by spraying (squirting urine horizontally) while standing with her tail quivering in the air.
Use your own body language to help
1. To feel safe, your cat needs to have her own space and an easy way to escape if it all gets too much. Don't crowd her or make a fuss; instead, give her room to get away and do her own thing, then wait for her to come back on her own terms.
2. Your instinct might be to comfort your cat by stretching out your arm to stroke her, but she could see this as a threat and lash out with her claws or teeth. Rather give her some space and keep a watchful eye over her from somewhere close by, then save cuddles for a more relaxed moment.
3. Once your cat seems less stressed and more like her usual self, try to engage her in play from a distance. Use a fishing-rod toy or roll a ball for her and she'll join in if she no longer feels like there's danger looming.
Control your surroundings
1. Create safe hiding spaces for your cat by using her basket or a couple of boxes that she can retreat to when stressed. Your cat is likely to prefer somewhere higher up and the darker and cosier the spot, the safer she'll feel.
2. Let her interact with you on her own terms. Cats need to feel in control of their surroundings, so take your cues from your pet and avoid stroking or playing with her if you notice any of the body language signals mentioned above.
3. Installing a cat flap can also be a great way to ensure your cat feels more in control, as she'll be able to come and go as she needs to. You could opt for a high-tech version that recognises your pet's microchip (to prevent neighbourhood cats from coming for a visit, too!) or a lockable one if you'd prefer to keep your pet indoors at night.
Inga says: 'Remember, each pet is different and many factors can come into play when handling a stressed cat. It's most important that you try to keep calm, and then approach your pet according to her needs and level of stress. But if your cat's anxious behaviour persists even when she's away from stressful situations, consider asking your vet to refer you to a qualified animal behaviourist who'll be able to help you come up with long-lasting solutions.'