Frustration in Cats



It seems like every time I open a book or read a study about cats I learn something really cool. Cats very closely parallel their wild ancestors in so many ways, which makes studying them so much fun. Most recently I read about frustration in cats and think that there are some common behavior issues that can be solved with a better understanding of how cats experience and withstand frustration.


What is Frustration

frustrated cat


Frustration, like in humans, comes when cats develop expectations they can’t, for some reason or another, meet. Frustration usually results in a very aroused cat. The arousal can be so intense that their behavior can be erratic and even aggressive. If you’re noticing that your cat seems out of sorts at times you should consider these common sources of frustration:

Hand Raising

Hand Raised Kitten Complications


Every kitten season, thousands of kittens are found or displaced and ultimately raised from infancy by humans. Although the kitten ultimately won’t end up on the streets living an abbreviated life due to disease and hazards, they do miss out on important life lessons that mothers, or queens as their called, teach. Most people usually think of socialization problems in hand raised kittens since they are usually taken from the litter and don’t get littermate input on their behavior, but there’s more to it than that.


Queens know best

Queens know best!


An important lesson that queens teach their kittens is how to deal with frustration. They do this during the weaning process by cutting the kittens off before they’re full. This is understandably frustrating for kittens but serves to prepare them for a life of hunger-based frustration. Despite being excellent predators, there will be more failures than successes in their life and knowing how to handle the stress and frustration of those failures will keep them from shutting down mentally and emotionally.


Adorable baby kitten

How can you say no to that face?!


People who hand raise their kittens often don’t have the heart to cut feedings short during the weaning process. Those ears and eyes and tiny noses don’t make it easy! As mean as it seems, its an important part of kittenhood and provides them with the mental and emotional resilience they’ll need not just to last between meals but for other sources of frustration they may face.


Rude Interruptions

Watching, napping, and investigating are all things that you shouldn't interrupt

Watching, napping, and investigating are all things that you shouldn’t interrupt


One thing we can all agree on is that cats can be fiercely independent. It’s clear when they have something in mind that they’re heading off to go do. When people interrupt their cats too frequently, frustration can build. Think about it from your own perspective. No one likes to be kept from doing what they want to do, especially when it happens all the time. Its easy to be of the mindset, “You are my pet and I want to pet you!” But that mindset can make for a volatile cat. The best thing you can do is let your cat do all their catty things without bothering them. Let them come to you for attention and try to limit interruptions the best you can.


Territory Infringement

Watching over domain


I just wrote an article about how to keep territorial behavior problems in check. You can check it out here. When cats have to sit and watch as their territory (as far as they can see from the windows in your house) is invaded they get very upset. Frustration can build when the invasion is regular and there’s nothing they can do about it. Check out my other article for what you can do to ease this very serious source of frustration for your cat.


Signs of Frustration

Frustrated Cat


The number one type of candidate for frustration are confident cats who are used to succeeding. It can be difficult to nail down the root of what’s going on with your cat, but these are the signs you can look for if your cat is frustrated:

  • Inappropriate elimination – going outside the litter box can indicate a number of problems in your cat, so make sure to combine this with other signs and if you can’t, see your vet.
  • Aggression – if your cat isn’t usually aggressive or if the aggression is coming in bursts
  • Pacing – a sure sign of frustration and anxiety
  • Vocalizing – demanding meowing is most often a signal that your cat is unhappy



  1. My cat is quite mellow, but I’ve seen some other cats exhibit these signs of frustration. My instinct is to always leave the cat alone, and I’m happy to know that is probably a good instinct.

  2. Interesting post, I’ve not heard this cat-agorized in quite this way before. *s* One very clear cause-effect issue of frustration is redirected aggression. For instance, kitty sees a squirrel out the window but can’t reach him, and so instead attacks the kitty-buddy who wanders nearby. Sort of the same thing when you’re mad at your boss (but can’t talk back) and then become snippy for no reason to your spouse later that day, LOL! Great article.

  3. Thanks for the insight! We have three cats and I am not seeing any signs of frustration that would be alarming but like humans their moods can change anytime! I will keep your information in mind just in case!

  4. I really enjoyed this post. I shared my life with cats for many years, all rescues and I find them fascinating. You presented some really interesting info all cat lovers should know. Unfortunately I don’t have cats at the moment, but I will again!!

  5. Wow – this is a very informative post! I’d love to see a video that helps us non-kitty parents understand the pacing and meowing of a frustrated cat. I’m not sure I could recognize it and would like to know what it looks like – and if we do spot it, what do we do (just give them space?). I really enjoyed your article!

    • Amber

      That’s a great suggestion! I’ll see if I can stimulate this behavior in my cat, Trout, by holding his dinner off an hour or so lol! If not, I’ll try to find something on YouTube. Thanks Rebecca!

    • Amber

      I just about died when I found out they’re called Queens. Our cat was a major mama’s boy so we get a good giggle from thinking of him calling her his queen. LOL

  6. Fortunately, I haven’t experienced any of these issues, but my previous cat (when younger) used to make ‘chirping’ noises at birds outside the window.

  7. The only time I ever saw any issues like this was several years ago when I fostered two kittens. The mother cat had been feral and was extremely ill when she was brought in to the shelter. Sadly, the mom cat didn’t survive. I’d had cats all my life and it wasn’t until I fostered these two that I realized that the loss of the time with their mother at such a young age had had such an impact on their behavior. I definitely saw signs of frustration in them like eliminating outside the litter box (and on pillows and beds) and aggression. Wish I’d had this post to read back then!

  8. This iis really interesting, I’ve never given much thought to cats being frustrated. Dogs yes, I think it’s more visible in them.
    Love & biscuits,
    Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

    • Amber

      Totally agree! Cats can be very stoic making diagnosing behavior problems or even illnesses and injuries very difficult. I love it lol!

  9. Generally sudden aggressive outbursts generally in a mellow cat needs a lot of investigation to find out the trigger and rectify. I had a friends cat one day that refused to come out from under the coffee table for hours. When we finally figured the trigger it was unbelievable- human had started using a new deodorant!!

    • Amber

      That’s hysterical! Cats can be so strange that way! What an incredible checklist you must have gone down before coming to a change in deodorant! 😀

  10. Kelly Lehmacher

    Can you help with ideas on how we can help our frustrated cat? Our cat was hand reared from 1 week old when abandoned by its mom.. he has always, from a little kitten, had anger issues to the point of us needing the barocade ourselves in our bedroom while he claw as the carpet all night outside our door to in at me. He bites and scratches, he basically tries to kill me – full jaw around my throats if he can get to it. He’s 7years old now.. he got a little better when we moved house and he was able to be an outdoor cat but he still had violet outbursts all the time. We have moved again and he has to be locked in at night time because he gets into cat fights every right and after 2 cat fight abscess we decided it’s best to lock him in doors. Now he meows all night.. from 7pm when he’s in till we let him out in the morning.. he has such a loving nature i between these outbursts.. usually in the early morning when I let him out of the kitchen and at night he’ll have a nap on my/my husbands lap after he eats.. then he’ll be up and down meowing the napping then up meowing and this repeats until we go to sleep and lock him in the kitchen so we can get some sleep… is there anything we can do to help him? We have tried pheromones, changing his food… other than spending heaps on vet bill getting him tested for what ever is obviously wrong with him.. is there anything else you can think of that we can try? Oh,, and he scratches the crap out of our couch and bed.. won’t use scratching posts.. thank you for any advice.

    • Amber

      Hi Kelly!

      I’m sorry for my delayed response! I’ve been so caught up in my new job that I got away from my site for a while. Hopefully you’ll notice that the site is active again! I’m planning on a new post every Friday 🙂

      As for your kitty issues, I would love to help you with those! I have a few easy to handle strategies for you. Please see my Work With Me page for contact information. Please feel free to call me directly so we can get started!

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