Restlessness and Agitation in Cats

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Key takeaways

Restlessness and agitation in cats are common, but hard to define symptoms.

  • Restlessness and agitation are often a normal part of feline behavior
  • Medically relevant restlessness or agitation can be defined as a new and persistent alteration in behavior
  • Examples include hyperactivity from chocolate toxicosis, cats that struggle to lie down and get comfortable due osteoarthritis, or a cat repeatedly going in and out of the litter tray due to urinary tract disease
  • Investigation of restlessness involves physical examination, blood work, urinalysis, fecal samples, and diagnostic imaging such as X-rays and ultrasound
  • Treatment depends on the underlying cause but often involves pain relief and anti inflammatories, alongside medical or surgical options
  • Prognosis varies significantly: some cases of agitation may be linked to behavioral causes which resolve spontaneously whereas restlessness due to an underlying condition has a prognosis corresponding to expected outcomes for the specific scenario
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A closer look: Restlessness and Agitation in Cats


Restlessness or agitation is a broad symptom and severity varies. It is sometimes difficult to gauge when agitation is normal, such as in young cats engaging in hunting or play behavior, or anxiety when new people are in the house. Restlessness that warrants concern involves new and persistent changes.

Many triggers of agitation are self-limiting and resolve spontaneously whereas other triggers are part of life threatening conditions.

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Possible causes


Risk factors


Restlessness varies significantly depending on the underlying cause.

Some cases present suddenly such as urinary obstruction whereas other cases develop over time such as feline hyperesthesia syndrome. Most cases of agitation are seen alongside other symptoms but in some conditions, like separation anxiety, restlessness and agitation are the only obvious symptoms. The cause of restlessness is sometimes obvious such as trauma whereas other cases are less obvious including brain tumors.

Cases vary by progression, some improve rapidly such as insect bites, other causes progress slowly such as osteoarthritis. Feline lower urinary tract disease usually presents with intermittent flare ups while conditions like osteoarthritis are more persistent.

Testing and diagnosis


Investigation of agitation is broad and normally involves a full work up including:

  • Physical examination
  • Bloodwork
  • Urine testing
  • Fecal sampling
  • Biopsies
  • X-rays
  • Ultrasound
  • CT/MRI scans

Treatment depends on the underlying cause. Some conditions have specific treatment such as medical or surgical management of hyperthyroidism or antivenom in cases of snake envenomation. Other cases are managed symptomatically with medication such as:

  • Pain relief
  • Anti Inflammatories
  • Antibiotics
  • Steroids

Some cats require behavioral modification using a combination of training techniques and anti-anxiety medication

Similar symptoms


Other symptoms or behaviors present similarly to RA. Some are normal behaviors such as hypervigilance or shadow chasing while hunting or struggling to settle when playing. Cats that need, or want, something such as food or attention often appear restless or agitated, and restlessness can indicate impending labor in pregnant queens.

Associated symptoms


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