Cats are very sensitive to their environments and can become overstimulated quickly by obvious or seemingly inconsequential factors such as loud music, neighborhood construction, a house guest, or even a plastic grocery bag left on the floor in the kitchen. It’s important to understand that a cat’s reactions to overstimulation are instinctual and therefore are very trustworthy clues that should be taken seriously. If a cat is displaying any of these signs, do your best to remove the stressor and back off to give the cat space to calm down. Continuing to interact with an overstimulated cat can result in serious injury to either or both of you. Look for these 8 warning signs.
#1 – Tail Lashing Dogs wag their tails when they’re happy, but a swooshing cat tail sends the opposite message. As a general rule, a cat will lash her tail more and more dramatically as she becomes angrier. Related: 6 Signs Your Cat Is Angry
#2 – Dilated pupils A cat who is overstimulated may have enlarged pupils. Large pupils help a scared or unsure cat visually take in as much information about the environment as possible so she can identify threats. Related: 7 Ways Your Cat Communicates Without Speaking
#3 – Low growls or hisses Growls and hisses are clear warning signs and should always be taken seriously. Growls and hisses are a cat’s way of saying “I don’t want attention right now. Back off.” Related: 6 Common Cat Noises, Finally Explained
#4 – Flattened ears Cats instinctively flatten their ears when they’re ready to fight, as a way to protect them from their opponents claws and teeth. Related: 5 Ear Signals Every Cat Owner Should Know 9 Amazing Facts About Your Cat’s Ears
#5 – Nips or bites
An overstimulated cat cat quickly get into defense mode and bite anyone she deems a threat. This may even mean biting friends (like you) if the overstimulation is disorienting her and making her second guess how safe her environment is. Nips are often used as a warning, but an overstimulated cat may jump straight to serious bites.
#6 – Swatting
Overstimulated cats use swatting (usually with claws out, ouch!) to defend their personal space. A swat means “Hey, don’t touch me.”
#7 – Tense muscles
You can tell a lot about whether cat is calm or stressed by how relaxed or tense her muscles are. An overstimulated cat will be rigid, tense, and ready to fight or flee at any moment.
#8 – Crouched position
You may find an overstimulated cat in a crouched position. This position will allow the cat to strike quickly and effectively if attacked.
Remember, most of these are deeply-rooted instinctual ways cats deal with overstimulation and stress. Ignoring them can result in serious injury to you and/or the cat. Giving the cat some space to calm down is the healthiest and safest option for both of you.