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How Can I Tell if My Cat Is Happy or Unhappy?

Jan 26 2023.

Cats don’t like change. Our furry friends are creatures of habit who prefer their day-to-day lives to stay pretty consistent. For the past year, without travel or even commuting, many people have spent much of the year at home. But in the next few months, we hope to be going back to the office and on holiday. This opening up might be a welcome change for humans, but it could disturb and disquiet our cats. Checking on Mr Whiskers’ mood and welfare is more important than ever, especially as stress can lead to kitty behavior and health problems such as cystitis. So, what are the signs of an unhappy cat? Cat in a Flat find outs. 

How can I tell if my cat is happy?

Affection from your cat shows they are content

Cat owners think they know their furry friend inside out, but what are the signs of a happy kitty? Cats communicate first and foremost through body language, so watch for these indications of mood. Look out for how they are interacting with you and their environment too. 

  • A cat’s tail is a key indicator or mood. An upright, vibrating tail, accompanied by a trill or “prrrrt”, are signs of a happy cat who is pleased to see you. A vertical tail, or one with a small curve at the end like a question mark, also shows Mr Whiskers is relaxed and comfortable. The ultimate honor is for a cat to wrap or drape their tail around you, it shows that they love and trust you. 
  • When calm and happy, cats will adopt a relaxed posture. Showing tummy is a clear sign of trust and contentment!
  • Your cat should be eating and drinking normal amounts – avoiding food or an unusually high appetite are signs there could be a problem.
  • The status quo is something to look out for in all behaviors. Is your cat sleeping, grooming, dozing, toileting and seeking affection as usual? If they are, there’s a good chance they are a happy kitty. 
  • Purring isn’t always a sign of happiness, but a relaxed rumble is usually a good indicator of a contented cat. 
  • Check for your cat’s facial expressions too. Soft, round ears, almond-shaped or half-closed eyes with small pupils (depending on light levels), a closed mouth and relaxed whiskers all point to a calm cat. 

How can I tell if my cat is stressed?

Hiding is a sign of an unhappy cat

Cats are notoriously secretive about being unwell, stressed, and unhappy. You know your cat better than anyone so looking out for any unusual behavior should help you determine if there is anything awry.

  • As cats are creatures of habit, behavior that strikes you as unusual could be a sign of an unhappy cat. Sleeping for too long, eating too much or too little, not wanting to leave or re-enter the house, over and under-grooming can all be signs of stress. 
  • Is your cat hiding or avoiding you? Don’t take offence! A cat’s instinct tells it to hide when unhappy or unwell. 
  • Similarly, cats who suddenly become very needy might be seeking your company to calm their distress.
  • A stressed cat’s tail could be moving quickly from side to side if they are angry, a typical “stay away” sign. If a kitty is scared or irked, its tail might be bushy and puffed up. And if a cat is frightened, anxious or unwell, it might have its tail between its legs. 
  • If your cat is stiff in its posture and jumpy, it could be a sign of anxiety, especially if your kitty’s fur is bristling. 
  • Unhappy cats have flat ears, forward-pointing whiskers, large pupils and might be hissing or growling if angry.
  • Litter box problems and eliminations in unusual places can be a sign of anxiety or illness.
  • Stressed cats might also develop urinary problems, including cystitis. Urinary troubles can be critically dangerous for kitties, especially tomcats, so look out for the signs and consult a vet as soon as possible if you’re worried. 
  • Grooming is a self-soothing mechanism for cats. Upset kitties might over-groom, and this can lead to fur loss.
  •  Unsettled cats sometimes chew or eat unusual or unsuitable items, including plants, plastic, or fabric. This behavior is called pica and can cause health problems.
  • Excessive scratching on furniture or carpet and destructive behaviors can also be a result of disruption to Mr Whiskers’ life. 

How can I tell if my cat is unhappy?

Along with body language indicators or signs of stress, several other behaviors show your cat is unhappy. Litter box problems can be typical of cats who aren’t feeling themselves. It’s a common problem: around 10-25% of cats will develop an elimination problem in their lifetime. 

Why does my cat poop in the litter box but pee on the floor?

  • It is in a cat’s nature to cover the scent of its eliminations, which is why they cover their poop. However, a stressful change in their home environment or life can make cats want to reassert their territory by spraying their scent around the house. If a new pet or person has moved in your unhappy cat might show their distress by marking with urine. 
  • Urination around the house could signal a medical problem such as cystitis, a urinary tract infection, bladder stones or a kidney or liver problem. If your cat is peeing more often than usual, make sure to consult a vet about potential health problems. 
  • Cats are fastidious about cleanliness, especially around their toilet area. Make sure the litter box is fresh and clean – if Mr Whiskers find it dirty, he might feel he has no option but to go elsewhere. 
  • If cats have to share litter boxes and feel there isn’t enough provision, this can also lead to peeing around the house. Ensure there is a tray per cat plus one extra and that the litter boxes are big enough for cats to turn around comfortably. 
  • Place litter trays somewhere quiet and discreet. Cats feel particularly vulnerable when going to the toilet. For this reason they prefer their litter tray to be away from busy corridors or doors. 
  • Peeing outside of the litter box can become a recurring problem if your cat develops an attachment to a new toileting area. A lingering scent of urine can encourage your kitty to continue urinating in the same area. Clean any urine thoroughly, and if the problem persists, try moving your cat’s litter tray to the new spot. You can then slowly move it back to its original position. 

Why does my cat pee in the litter tray but poop on the floor?

  • Many of the reasons cats go to the toilet in the wrong place are similar, whether it’s a number one or two.
  • If your cat is pooping outside of its box, the litter might be the problem. Some cats have sensitive paws that can hurt when in contact with rougher litter. Declawed cats, in particular, can struggle to dig through sharp or hard litter. Try reading our blog post on the best litters recommended by our cat-loving community for tips. Natural litters made from soft wood chips or corn husks can work well for sensitive cats. 
  • Kitties have sensitive noses, so it’s usually best to avoid scented litter options too. They might smell better to you but be an assault to the senses for Mr Whiskers. 

Remember, litter tray problems aren’t a sign if spite from your cat. Whatever you do, please don’t punish your kitty but try and sensitively figure out what might be causing it. If you have any concerns at all, please consult your vet.  

How can I help manage my cat’s stress levels?

Keep your nervous cat happy

If you notice your return to the office is causing Mr Whiskers distress, try reading Cat in a Flat’s blog on separation anxiety for tips. One of the best things you do is hire a cat sitter to drop by and spend time with your kitty during the day. A few hours of loving human companionship should help alleviate the stress of you being out of the home more often. Extra human attention is especially important for kittens, older cats, and those with health problems. 

If you’re planning a holiday when restrictions ease, make sure to plan your cat sitter early. There could be a high demand for sitters as everyone tries to go on vacation simultaneously. If your cat is nervous or needs extra care, consider booking an overnight sitter. Company through the evenings and nights should help calm anxious cats and soothe needier furry friends.

Remember to read Cat in a Flat’s ten tips for cat care when planning a trip here. And read up on our community’s list of the best UK staycation spots to explore and the best cat books to read when you get there. 

  • Cat Care
  • cat separation anxiety
  • cat sitter
  • cat stress
  • separation anxiety
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