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How do you calm an overstimulated cat?

Cats can easily become overstimulated by things like sudden loud noises, too much petting, seeing outdoor animals through a window, or even by the emotions of their owners. An overstimulated cat may seem unable to calm themselves down, which can lead to behaviors like aggressive meowing, hyperactivity, attacking or biting. As a cat owner, it’s important to learn how to recognize the signs of overstimulation and help your cat feel relaxed again.

What are the signs of an overstimulated cat?

Here are some of the most common signs that a cat is becoming overstimulated:

  • Dilated pupils
  • Flattened ears
  • Agitated tail swishing or thrashing
  • Excessive vocalization like meowing, growling or yowling
  • Hyperactivity like running around or jumping on furniture
  • Aggressive behaviors like biting, scratching or pouncing
  • Hiding or running away

If you notice any of these signs, it means your cat is becoming stressed and over-aroused. Taking action quickly to remove the stimulus and help them calm down is important to prevent the situation from escalating.

What causes cats to become overstimulated?

There are many potential triggers that can cause a cat to become overstimulated. Here are some of the most common:

  • Loud noises: Vacuums, thunder, construction sounds, or loud music can all overstimulate a cat.
  • Too much petting: Some cats can only handle gentle petting for short periods before becoming irritated.
  • Seeing outdoor animals: A cat seeing birds and squirrels outside the window can trigger their prey drive.
  • New environments: Being in a new place with new smells and sights is very overstimulating for many cats.
  • Owner’s emotions: If the owner is stressed, angry, or overly enthusiastic, the cat may pick up on those emotions.
  • Interacting with other pets: The presence of dogs or rowdy cats can overstimulate a cat.
  • Catnip: While amusing, catnip can also cause hyperactivity and overstimulation.

As you can see, there are many potential stimuli that can cause an individual cat to become overaroused and stressed. It’s helpful for cat owners to pay attention and learn what specifically overstimulates their pet.

How can you tell if a cat is overstimulated vs. playing?

Kittens and energetic adult cats often exhibit hyperactive, “crazy” behavior when they are simply feeling playful. So how can you tell the difference between playful energy and true overstimulation?

Here are some clues that your cat is overstimulated and not just playing:

  • Their body language looks fearful, tense or aggressive rather than playful.
  • The meowing, attacking or running seems frantic rather than fun.
  • Your cat seems unable to calm themselves down.
  • It occurs in response to an environmental trigger.
  • It happens immediately, rather than a gradual build-up of energy.

Playful kittens will typically still respond well to redirection with toys or treats. But an overstimulated cat will often ignore their favorite toys and continue to seem distressed. Pay attention to your individual cat’s signals to help tell the difference between excitable play and uncomfortable overstimulation.

How to calm an overstimulated cat

If your cat is showing the signals of overstimulation, here are some effective techniques you can use to help them calm down again:

Remove the trigger

The most important first step is to identify and remove the stimulus that is causing the overstimulation. For example, turn off loud music, close the curtain over the window where they see outdoor animals, or place an overstimulated cat in a separate room from other pets.

Create a quiet safe space

Bring your cat to a part of your home that is quiet, dimly lit, and away from the trigger. Their sleeping area or a bathroom can work well. Give them a chance to settle down alone in this safe space.

Use pheromones

Plug in a Feliway or similar pheromone diffuser. The synthetic feline pheromones have a calming effect on cats. You can also try spritzing some pheromone spray on bedding or petting the cat with a wipe containing pheromones.

Distract with toys or treats

Offer toys like wands and feather teasers to redirect their energy into play. Food puzzles with treats may also shift their focus onto eating. However, be patient, as an extremely overstimulated cat may ignore their favorite distractions at first.

Pet very gently

If your cat seeks physical affection, try very gentle chin scratches, head pets or back strokes. But stop immediately if they seem oversensitive or irritated. Avoid petting an agitated cat excessively.

Use calming supplements

There are many cat calming supplements containing ingredients like tryptophan, chamomile, vitamin B and L-theanine that can promote relaxation. These are available as treats, paste or liquids. Consult your vet on appropriate dosing.

Consider medication

For cats who get overstimulated very easily or severely, medication may be recommended. Your vet may prescribe anti-anxiety medication on an as-needed basis for stressful situations like vet visits or moving.

How to prevent overstimulation

Once you recognize what triggers overstimulation in your individual cat, there are steps you can take to try to prevent it:

  • Keep noise levels moderate in your home.
  • Avoid overly enthusiastic play or petting.
  • Separate them from outdoor views that agitate them.
  • Give them refuge from dogs or children when needed.
  • Maintain soothing pheromones in the environment.
  • Keep their routine consistent when possible.
  • Ensure they have vertical territory like cat trees.

You can also work on general stress management by making sure your cat is getting adequate exercise, mental stimulation and quality time with you daily. A stressed cat will be more prone to overstimulation.

When to seek help for an overstimulated cat

In most cases, overstimulation will subside on its own once the trigger is removed and the cat has a chance to calm down in a safe space. However, seek an emergency vet visit if:

  • Your cat attacks you or someone else and breaks skin.
  • They seem unable to relax even after separation from the stimulus for more than 30 minutes.
  • You notice signs of breathing difficulty, seizures, loss of balance or uncontrolled urination/defecation.

These signs indicate a true medical emergency rather than simple overstimulation. You should also speak to your regular vet if your cat frequently becomes severely overstimulated or the behavior seems to be worsening over time. There may be an underlying medical condition contributing to the problem.

FAQs about overstimulated cats

Why does my cat attack me when overstimulated?

Cats rarely become aggressive just to be malicious. When an overstimulated cat attacks a human, it’s typically because they are feeling overwhelmed and threatened. They are essentially saying “back away and leave me alone!” Cats use aggression to create physical distance when they feel unsafe. The best response is to heed their warning and give them that space to cool off.

Why does my cat run and hide when overstimulated?

Running to hide is another instinctive response cats exhibit when overwhelmed. It allows them to retreat somewhere dark and enclosed where they feel safer. As prey animals, hiding is a defense mechanism to keep them safer from threats. Allow your cat to remain in their hiding spot until they venture out themselves again.

Why does my cat pant/drool when stressed?

Some overstimulated cats may pant heavily, drool or vomit. These are signs of nausea induced by severe stress and anxiety. Heavy breathing or panting can also point to an overstimulated cat beginning to experience full blown panic. Make sure to respond quickly and get the cat somewhere quiet and soothing.

Is my cat aggressive or just playing?

Kittens and energetic cats often play rough. Biting, pouncing, boxing, chasing, and scratching are normal play behaviors. Signs it’s still play include inhibited biting force, taking turns “attacking” each other, positive body language, and responding well if you interrupt and redirect them. True aggression involves hostile body language, ears back, and refusal to be distracted from the target of their aggression.

How do I introduce a new cat without overstimulating my resident cat?

Go slow with introductions! Set up separate living spaces at first so the cats can smell each other under the door but not directly interact. Exchange blankets between the spaces so they get used to each other’s scent. After a week or two, do brief supervised encounters until they seem comfortable. Be prepared to separate them again if the resident cat seems distressed. Use techniques like site swapping and positive associations with treats to help facilitate bonding.


Cats have sensitive natures and can become overstimulated quite easily. Paying attention to your individual cat’s triggers allows you to manage their environment. Remove anything overstimulating, provide calming interventions, and give them a quiet place to recover. With time and patience, an overstimulated cat can relax and go back to their normal selves again.

Stay alert to signs of stress in your cat so you can intervene early. Use techniques like pheromone therapy, distraction, and creating a soothing environment to help them overcome moments of overstimulation. Prevention is also key – when you know your cat’s sensitivities, you can limit the things that overwhelm them.

With care and understanding of your cat’s needs, overstimulation can often be avoided or minimized in frequency and intensity. But in severe or ongoing cases, consult your vet to make sure there is no underlying medical issue that needs to be addressed.