Cat resting on a pillow while looking bored

Key takeaway

Cats can become restless for many reasons, including changes in their environment or serious health conditions. Finding the right medical treatment for your restless cat early is important to help your cat heal and minimize complications.

If your cat is unusually restless, it could be due to various reasons, including illness, PTSD, heat, and other physical or mental health problems. Sometimes, your cat may not be able to relax because of an underlying health issue, so it's essential to recognize the symptoms of a restless cat early and get the right type of treatment based on their unique case. Other factors that can cause your cat to become restless relate to your cat’s environment, their diet, and other aspects of their routine.

In this guide, we’ll dive into some of the reasons cats can become restless and explore the treatment currently available.

    Symptoms of Restlessness in Cats

    There are a few signs and symptoms that can indicate when your cat is restless and can’t get comfortable. Some restless cat behaviors you may identify at first include increased aggression, vocalization from your cat, and changes in eating habits.

    Symptoms of restlessness in cats

    Vocalization

    Some cats become more vocal if they are uncomfortable, but many also get more vocal as they age because of changes in their brain or hearing.It's important to treat your cat's vocalization as a warning sign or signal rather than simply bothersome noise because your cat may meow more frequently to show you they’re feeling anxious, distressed, or uneasy. There's a chance that you’ll increase your cat’s anxiety if you reprimand them for being loud in those instances.

    If you get the sense that your cat is uncomfortable because your cat is meowing excessively, it's best to seek veterinary help so that their vet can rule out any serious health issues or cat skin conditions.

    If your vet discovers that your cat is distressed or experiencing anxiety, they may prescribe anti-anxiety medication to help alleviate some of those feelings and behaviors. It's also important to take into consideration environmental factors or recent changes in your cat’s routine that might have sparked their anxiety and increased vocalization.

    Aggression

    You may find your cat is also more aggressive or standoffish because of distress, anxiety, or other health conditions.2 Aggressive cats may paw, swat, or hiss at you or stand tall with the hair on their back upright and their tail up. If your cat is exhibiting these behaviors, it could be due to a fear of loud noises, new pets, or other changes your cat recognizes as potential threats in the home. Cats may also show aggressive behavior when they are in pain, when they’re being handled, or are meeting new people or animals. 

    It's difficult to see our cats in this state and hard to give them the help they need when they're aggressive. Carefully watch your cat for signs of pain, for example, they may be going up or down the stairs differently or show other signs of mobility changes. In many cases, this is more than likely a sign of an underlying health condition or pain in that area. If you discover your cat is sensitive to touch in certain places like a joint or your cat’s skin, you should seek veterinary attention.

    Two cats fighting; one is snarling at the other who is looking down from a higher point of view

    Cats are also very territorial animals, which can cause them to become more aggressive, especially when there are new pets in the environment. Cats usually try to defend their space by hissing, pawing, scratching, or jumping and chasing other cats away from their area. 

    Change in Eating Habits

    Changes to your cat's eating habits or changes in their eating behavior can be a sign of stress, illness, or hormonal and metabolic changes. An abrupt change in your cat’s eating routine can lead to dangerous weight loss when they refuse to eat normally, so it is imperative to find the right treatment for your cat in these cases. Diagnosing the reason for your cat's change in eating habits can be particularly difficult because there are many different potential causes. 

    Some of the illnesses that can cause an adjustment in your cat’s eating habits include:

    • Mouth or throat pain
    • Hormone issues
    • Cancer
    • Thyroid condition
    • GI condition
    • Cardiac disease

    Destruction

    Like other animals, if your cat isn't getting enough stimulation or opportunities to release their energy, they might take it out on your furniture or treasured possessions. Cats are natural-born hunters, and they have a natural instinct to release physical energy throughout the day. 

    Some cats also experience brain conditions that lead to behavioral problems, like chewing and eating things they’re not supposed to. It's important to end this behavior early because your cat can end up ingesting unintended materials or objects that can threaten their health. Pica in cats is known as the urge to eat non-edible materials. Experts are still looking into the cause of this condition but believe it is linked to weaning too young, stress or trauma, boredom, and GI disease.Additionally, there is evidence to support that pica may be caused by GI disease.4

    It's also important to know that your cat may be biting at your furniture or other objects around the house because of pain they are experiencing in their mouth or teeth. Paying attention to your cat's behavior and noticing when they're biting things can help you identify a potential health problem related to their mouth.

    Reasons why cats get restless

    Reasons Your Cat May Be Restless

    Below, we’ve listed a few of the most common reasons cats become restless to help you narrow down the root of the problem.

    Changes To The Environment

    One of the most common reasons cats become restless is due to changes in their environment. This could mean a move from one house to another, a change of owner, or even a change in your schedule. 

    Lack Of Enrichment

    While many cats are seemingly independent creatures, they still need enrichment in order to thrive. In fact, lack of enrichment can cause your cat to be restless. Playing with, training, and providing toys are great ways to engage with your cat and, in turn, prevent restlessness.

    Hyperthyroidism

    Hyperthyroidism in cats is caused by increased production of thyroid hormones and can drive your cat to become restless, especially at night.5 If your cat howls or scratches at different points in the night, this can signify that your cat has a thyroid condition, which may become serious if left unattended.

    Orange cat hiding under furniture while looking straight into the camera

    Estrus (In heat)

    Cats go into heat, or what's known as estrus, when they are as young as four months old.6 At this point, cats can become very restless and exhibit other behavioral symptoms, such as increased vocalization, attention-seeking, and urine spraying.

    How Can I Help My Restless Cat?

    If you notice your cat’s become restless, you’re probably wondering what you can do to help. Fortunately, there are several things you can due to calm your restless kitty and ensure they’re back to feeling like their best self once again.

    • Schedule an appointment with the vet: Before you take any steps to address your cat’s restlessness, visit their vet. Your pet’s veterinarian can rule out any underlying medical conditions that may be causing their symptoms and if needed, make a diagnosis and subsequent treatment based on their needs.
    • Remove environmental stressors: If your cat’s restlessness is caused by environmental stressors, it can help to take these triggers out of their environment. For example, if your cat is bothered by loud noises, it may help to create a sanctuary space for them in a quiet area of the house. Stock this area with their favorite toys, blankets, and other comforting items.
    • Establish a routine: Some cats, like many humans, are comforted by a daily routine. Implementing scheduled events, such as feeding times, helps your cat know what to expect, which may help ease their anxiety.
    • Provide enrichment activities: Finally, creating an engaging environment play a big role in keeping your cat from feeling restless. Investing in a variety of cat toys, a cat tree, and giving them plenty of attention can all serve as enrichment activities.

    Restless Cat: Frequently Asked Questions

    Why is my cat restless?

    Your cat can become restless for many reasons related to their health, environment, or routine. It’s important to seek veterinary help if your cat shows signs of restlessness. 

    How do you calm a restless cat?

    Here are a few ways you can calm a restless cat:

    • Remove stressors
    • Create a routine
    • Provide enrichment activities
    • Administer medication if prescribed by your vet

    What are the signs of a cat in distress?

    Some of the signs of a cat in distress include increased meowing or yowling, aggressive behavior, increased activity, or chewing on inedible objects around the house.

    Final Notes

    Recognizing the symptoms of a restless cat and understanding the causes can be a complicated process, but with the help of a veterinary expert, there are ways to diagnose the underlying reason for this behavior.  Knowing the signs and taking action early can be life-saving since some of these behaviors result from serious illnesses. If you find that your cat is aggressive lately, isn’t eating or urinating as usual, or is exhibiting some other abnormal behavior, seek help from your vet immediately.

    Dutch is here to support you through the process of calming your cat and providing them relief from whatever is causing them distress. Sometimes, making a simple change in their environment can do the trick, and other times, medication is necessary. We can help you find high-quality veterinary care 24 hours a day, so you don’t have to go without answers or treatment when your cat is feeling restless.

    References

    1. “Older Cats with Behavior Problems.” ASPCA, https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/cat-care/common-cat-behavior-issues/older-cats-behavior-problems.

    2. “Aggression in Cats.” ASPCA, https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/cat-care/common-cat-behavior-issues/aggression-cats.

    3. Bradshaw, John WS, Peter F. Neville, and Diana Sawyer. "Factors affecting pica in the domestic cat." Applied Animal Behaviour Science 52.3-4 (1997): 373-379.

    4. Demontigny-Bédard, Isabelle, et al. "Medical and behavioral evaluation of 8 cats presenting with fabric ingestion: An exploratory pilot study." The Canadian Veterinary Journal 60.10 (2019): 1081.
    5. “Hyperthyroidism in Cats.” Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, 23 July 2018, https://www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/cornell-feline-health-center/health-information/feline-health-topics/hyperthyroidism-cats.

    6. Bukowski, John A., and Susan Aiello. “Breeding and Reproduction of Cats.” Merck Veterinary Manual, Merck Veterinary Manual, 15 Dec. 2021, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/cat-owners/routine-care-and-breeding-of-cats/breeding-and-reproduction-of-cats.