The Humane Society of the United States

My Cat Is Scared or Upset

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My Cat Is Scared or Upset

Cats are very sensitive to change. Their senses are far more developed than ours, so even small differences in your home’s sounds, smells, and sights can be stressful. This can cause litter box difficulties or other behavior that you don't like.
Is this an overreaction? Not to a cat. It may help you understand how vulnerable cats are to changes at home if you consider this fact: Your home is your cat's entire world.

Is My Cat Stressed Out?

The questions below will help you figure out if your cat’s undesired behavior is a response to changes in your home environment not immediately obvious to you.

Figuring out what caused your cat’s behavior will help you feel more sympathetic. And even if you can’t eliminate—or pinpoint—the cause, you can reduce his stress by giving him plenty of affection, interactive play, and a stimulating and safe environment as well as by maintaining a reliable routine. Learn more about how to provide these in the How to Keep Your Cat Stress-Free and Happy section below.

  • Seeing another cat out the window can be deeply alarming to your cat. Nancy Peterson/The HSUS

How to Keep Your Cat Stress-Free and Happy

Once you can check off each of the four main steps below, your cat should be feeling relaxed and pleased with life.

• Wind down the play in the last couple of minutes so your cat can calm down, and always end by giving your cat a treat or a meal.• Set aside a couple of special toys for your play time, then put them away for later.• To keep toys interesting, rotate them every few days.

Experiment with games. Here are a few tried and true ways to play with your cat to get you started:

  • Chase The best type of interactive toy is a fishing-rod toy that has a 3-foot rod attached to a 3-foot string that has a couple of feathers at the end of it. Cats love to grab and pounce on these feathers as you move them around. Some cats also enjoy a cat laser light. Cats usually love these toys because they get to chase "prey." When playing with your cat, try to simulate the cats hunting of prey as best as possible. Prey slinks, stops, hides, makes sudden movements, and moves away from the cat.
  • Fetch Some cats are like dogs; they love chasing treats or dry food and then returning for more.
  • Rolling Other cats adore chasing balls made out of aluminum foil or other material, the rings from beverage bottles, or catnip mice.
  • Catnip toys Most adult cats love catnip. Buy some high quality catnip and rub it on the cat’s existing toys or the scratching post, put some on the floor, or stuff some in a sock and tie the end.
Scratching posts The best posts are at least 3 feet high, sturdy, and made of sisal (a rope material). Place the post in a prominent location that’s easy to get at. Since cats like to scratch while playing, encourage yours to use the post by playing with her near it. Put some catnip on the post, too.• Hidden food Cats love to find hidden food. Leave out treat balls, which are plastic balls with holes; once you put treats in and put the ball down, your cat will learn to move the ball to make the treats fall out the holes. You can make your own treat ball by sealing the ends of a paper towel roll and poking holes in it.• New things to play with and investigate Cats love to play with paper bags (cut off the handles), cardboard boxes, aluminum foil balls, and crinkly wrapping paper.• Catnip Most adult cats love catnip. Buy some high quality catnip and rub it on the cat’s existing toys or the scratching post, put some on the floor, or stuff some in a sock and tie the end. • Hiding places Cats need to have safe hiding spaces throughout the home. Here are a few options: cat carriers, cardboard boxes, space in closets or towels draped over chairs, cat trees, or soft tents (sold in pet-supply stores).• High resting spaces Cats often seek security in high spaces where they can observe the home environment. Cat trees are the ideal high resting space, but you can also make a safe place for the cat in your home by clearing space on book shelves, desks, windowsills, and maybe adding a cat perch to the wall.• Calming products Various products release scents in the air (that we can’t smell) or natural chemicals that can calm stressed cats. They include Comfort Zone Feliway Plug-In Diffuser; L-theanine, a chewable supplement that is clinically proven to reduce cats' stress levels; and flower remedies, such as Bach’s Rescue Remedy.• If it's a multi-cat household, make sure there are enough resources for everyone Provide multiple litter boxes and multiple food and water bowls, many high resting and hiding spaces, as well as individual attention and interactive play time with each cat.• If you know your cat’s routine is going to be changed, help your cat adjust by gradually shifting to the new schedule beforehand. • Make sure your cat has lots of play time and interesting things to do as she gets used to the new schedule.• If the change is short-term, such as a vacation, jump back to the old schedule as soon as possible when you return.• If the change is long-term, make sure the new routine is consistent so your cat can rely on it. If it’s work-related, try to leave and return home at the same time. If your new baby’s needs make the old play time impossible, schedule the new play time at the same time every day.

If you are still having issues after you have checked off everything on the list, please contact us at for more information, clarification, or advice.

  • For some cats, there's just nothing more relaxing than a great play session with the right toy. Nancy Peterson/The HSUS

My New Cat Is Hiding and/or Not Eating

Most cats brought into a new home need some time and the right environment to feel comfortable. It’s important to give your new cat a place where she feels safe while she’s getting used to her new home.
If your cat hasn’t eaten or drunk for more than a day, or seems sick, call your veterinarian.
Use the checklist below to make your cat feel comfortable and secure in his new home.

  • When touching a new or shy cat, imagine cats saying hello by touching noses and gently extend your finger for him to touch with his nose. Nancy Peterson/The HSUS

My Cat Won't Get into Her Carrier

Your cat probably doesn’t like the carrier because whenever you put her in it, she has to ride in the car and go to the veterinarian, both of which can be stressful. Teach your cat that the carrier can be a comfortable place by following the steps below, taking your time, and checking each off as your cat becomes comfortable with what you're doing:

Now you've taught your cat that getting into the carrier is no big deal and doesn’t always mean a trip to the veterinarian.
If you are still having issues after you have checked off everything on the list, please contact us at for more information, clarification, or advice.

  • Help your cat stop being afraid of her carrier by turning it into an intriguing place that might contain treats. Mike McFarland/The HSUS

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