7 signs of an unhappy cat

Your cat may be telling you they’re not happy. Here are simple ways to spot the signs and our tips to help your feline enjoy life to the full. 

1) Tune in to what your cat says

Domestic moggies are solitary hunters rather than pack animals, so their vocal range is pretty limited. That’s why you need to tune in to your inner cat whisperer.

‘If your cat is lying on your knee and purring, it’s likely to be a sign of contentment,’ says animal behaviourist Inga MacKellar. ‘But some cats purr when they’re in pain.’ It’s a sign of self-soothing.

A happy cat chatting to their human parent will miaow to ask for something or chirp as a greeting. Yowling or hissing means your cat feels threatened, and an older cat vocalising overnight may be suffering from hyperthyroidism, so check with your vet.

2) Watch for body language

Lying on their side, tummy exposed, tail relaxed, eyes half-closed? That’s one happy cat. And if they’re walking towards you with their tail straight up, that’s friendly.

Watch out for one kind of tail wag. If you’re cuddling your cat and the tip of their tail starts twitching, they’re getting irritated, so stop stroking to avoid a swipe or nip.

Don’t forget about their ears and whiskers. Flat ears could show fear and aggression, and whiskers that are flat against the face suggests your cat might be unhappy.

3) ‘Read’ your cat’s coat and teeth

A healthy cat’s coat is shiny. A stressed cat’s coat probably won’t look good, as they may not be grooming or eating properly.

  • Fur loss or matting? There could be a physical problem. Arthritis, for example, can make grooming difficult and stress can lead to overgrooming
  • If your cat is drooling, has bad breath or shows discomfort when eating, get a check-up for their teeth and gums.

4) Know the signs of stress

If your cat avoids you or is skittish, keep a diary of their behaviour and what’s happening around them. If it is caused by something like visitors, you can address it. Make sure your cat has a nice, safe, quiet spot.

Spraying or middening (pooing in a prominent place) are marking behaviours by stressed cats putting scent around the house to help them feel secure.

Putting scratch posts all around the house will give your cat another way of putting down scent markings.

As behaviourist Inga MacKellar suggests, ‘cats need safe hideouts to disappear into or shelves to jump up onto. Once they have this control, the stress lessens. It’s especially important for indoor cats who can’t escape outside.’

A vet can refer you to an animal behaviourist for advice on other helpful changes.

5) Learn their eating habits

Little and often is what most cats prefer, so be aware of your cat’s normal feeding pattern.

If it changes, it could be a sign of anxiety or illness, so check with your vet.

Encourage happy mealtimes by placing your cat’s food bowl in a quiet place away from both their bed and their litter tray.

6) Is your cat bored?

A bored cat is not a happy cat. As hunters, they love the thrill of the chase.

Give your cat, particularly indoor cats, an outlet for that behaviour. If they start attacking your ankles, they’re not getting enough predatory play!

Most cats enjoy playing with fishing-rod toys or chasing ping-pong balls. And if your cat is an indoor cat, boost their fun by using food activity toys.

A simple idea is to make holes in a small, clean plastic water bottle, fill it a quarter of the way with dry food, put on the cap, and suspend it from a doorway with string so your cat has to bat it to get the food out.

7) Monitor sleep patterns

Cats love their sleep and spend about 16 hours resting each day.

You need to know what’s normal for your cat, so get to know their sleep pattern.

Younger, more active cats tend to sleep more deeply, while older cats tend to have more naps.

Excessive sleeping could be a sign of pain, so if the pattern changes, check it out with your vet.

We work in partnership with the UK's animal charities and have seen first-hand the devastating impact Covid-19 is having on their income and the vital funds needed to support the animals in their care. For over 30 years we have been providing 4 weeks free insurance for rehomed pets and giving 10% of rescue pet premiums back to animal charities. In June, to help support animal charities through the Covid-19 crisis we paid over £700,000 in funds that our partners would have received from us in the next 6 months now, in one lump sum, to help them get through the pandemic.

Back to top