A study conducted at the Ohio State State University, funded by the National Institutes of Health, found that stress is not just detrimental to human health, it affects our cats’ health, too.

The 3-year-study looked at 32 cats.  Twelve of the cats were healthy, and twenty had FIC (feline interstitial cystitis), an often painful, inflammatory condition of the bladder and urinary tract.  There are multiple, sometimes unidentified causes for this condition, but stress is believed to be a component.

During the first part of the study, researchers created a consistent environment for the cats, including their cages, litter boxes, food, music, toys, time spent with the other cats and time spent with human caretakers.  Researchers were careful to manage their own stress levels when they were around the cats.  Says Judi Stella, a doctoral candidate participating in the study:  “I had to be careful if I was having a bad day so it didn’t rub off on the cats.”

When the cats were subjected to moderate stressors – and to a cat, anything from a loud noise, a dirty litter box, or unwanted attention can constitute stress – the cats would vomit, urinate or defecate outside the litter box, and eat less, according to OSU researchers.

What the study found was that during healthy and stress-free times, both healthy and affected cats got sick once a week on average.  During the weeks when their routines were changed,  the healthy cats got sick 1.9 times a week and the others twice a week.  Levels returned to normal when the stress had passed.

So what’s the take home for cat owners?  Not surprisingly, just like in people, stress causes illness in cats.  By reducing common stressors, and enriching cats’ environment, illness can be decreased.

“This study shows that an enriched environment – one that includes hiding areas, toys, bedding and other physical features, plus an everyday routine including a consistent caregiver, feeding and play times – reduces or altogether prevents some common signs of feline sickness such as decreased appetite, vomiting or eliminating outside of their litter boxes, ” said feline veterinarian Jane Brunt, a member of the CATalyst Council and owner of Cat Hospital at Towson.

I thought it was particularly interesting that the researchers noted that their own stress levels also affected the cats.  I had previously written about this topic, so this aspect came as no surprise to me.  It’s also something I keep in mind when I make decisions about my home that might affect my own cats.  For several years now, I’ve been wanting to do some minor remodeling, but somehow, there always seems to be a reason to not go ahead with it.  First, Buckley was diagnosed with heart disease, and the noise and disruption associated with even minor projects would have been way too stressful for her.  You’d think that with Allegra, who’s a young, healthy cat, I could finally get some of these projects done.  But Allegra hates being closed up in a room and is afraid of loud noises.  My remodeling projects will have to wait – and that’s okay.  I’d rather keep my cats happy and as stress-free as I can and live with some outdated floors and kitchen cabinets.

Quotes from “Ohio State studies symptoms of cat stress, disease” by Sue Manning, The Associated Press

You may also enjoy reading:

Stress and your pets

How to keep your indoor cat happy

Keeping your single cat happy

17 Comments on Minimizing Stress for Cats Can Decrease Illness

  1. I work with cats at an animal shelter. Any day I am feeling anxious or rushed, those cats let me know to slow down – they usually misbehave when normally they are very friendly. They are very good at reminding me!

  2. I have often wondered about the impact of my stress on the my kitties. Especially when P. has an ashtma attack-I try to pretend that I am not stressing.

    • I think it’s really hard not to stress when your kitty is having an asthma attack, Esme, but it’s good that you’re aware that the calmer you are, the better for Penelope.

  3. it is good they do a study–even if we all knew already. there may be ways of helping in ways we may not know. i have helped elizabeth get past many things-plus she has 2 illnesses. i do all i can to keep stress minimal-but it is IMPOSSIBLE to have any thing stress free. i read read read to deal with those issues.
    i had 2 other loves-and they also did very well-my last baby i adopted also w hcm (like w elizabeth) so i knew i had to be alert–but most of the time all is well. it is allergies etc..or pills or this and that or going to the vet til ok..it is stress,
    and possibly there are ways to deal w particular stresses that can’t be helped. rescue helped me sometimes. and other odds and ends.
    i guess your spoiling is going all well-and you have a happy kitty.
    elizabeth is usually ok. -or-oh i don’t know what i am saying.
    i am just glad -not that they need proof-but that studies and helping hand/s really do help-yes-many already know how to help w/o studies–but it is not common knowledge–even with some vets. i a grateful for the vet i have now. i spoil my girl-and she loves it-she is happy..but for the first time..i ..well-she may not feel well-or she may not be happy. i have a call into the vet. but-i do know stress is part of it..and sometimes it is not easy to know where or what direction to look into. i say the more we know the better things are. i wish i could say what you wrote about my baby…i can-at times..but not others. and those others are ..HARD. also-they keep coming out w new things. foods whatevers..`and then find some are not good. it is not always easy. not to say you..i know you likey know way more than me..so im sorry ..just scary for me now

  4. I’m surprised they had to do a study for this. It seems like a common sense kind of thing. Oh well, at least now we have scientific proof and a good reason for spoiling our cats.

    • Amy, I agree, it is common sense, but sometimes it’s nice to have scientific validation. As if we needed another reason to spoil our cats, right? 🙂

  5. ingrid..this article came at a time i realllllly need it.
    elizabeth has been feeling my stress is one..and two-i worry about getting a new couch-which i NEED-this one is old and is now falling apart–i can not wait anymore. i did for a long time.
    her eating isn’t great..and
    she has mild stable hcm..and had a secondary (?) (one after the other) urinary tract infection–kidneys as well.
    we play. i’ve been in working-but will be out more.-
    i did pick her up at bedtime or whenever to be with me..i see now unwanted attention is not good.
    she comes when she wants.
    i love her so much..and it kills me that i am ..well.. fault is not the word-but..i must LEARN. and i am trying–but no changes is impossible. also -i am ill-and i can’t help she notices when i am in pain..even tho i do my best to ..act ok.
    my vet (who i DO like a lot) put her on pepcid ac (?) a quarter tab of a 10 a day. it seemed to help. he said from the urinalysis-by needle-her urine was quite clear-but then -oh–well-thru time and her gaining back her weight (she had been on antibiotics-and it made her not interested in food -i had to assist feed a few times. her weight is just about right..but when i put her on the pepcid-as he said she has acidic ..something..? but i also had to initiate her interest in food again=that antihistimine that stimulates app. it did-but now-slowly getting off–i hardly gave her even a quarter 1xday. but today-no more.as it is time to get off-but also-it made her constipated.
    i never meant any of this. some my vet worked along with me-but i think i kept her on the anti-h. too long-about 2 wks-off a day or two-but not eating much..so..?? and now-today. do i assist feed today? i have to call.
    she just now went to her food-kept trying to eat..but kept looking up and not eating,.
    the air -due to heat-which i try to keep lower–i guess that is making her hair dry.
    i know these are other issues i need to work w vet on
    but stress i know is something ..and..i feel ..so awful. NO. bad.
    i am overprotective in a way…
    it is like is this better or that?
    but stress is something i will work on more.
    OT: do you know a good moisturizer (is there one)
    sorry this whole thing is part OT-but they seem to play hand in hand.
    esp w the urinating. she uses her box no problem there (except when she had the UTI. i keep it clean. she uses :the worlds best litter..and i like it-no scents not as much dust for her when covering her stuff.
    GOD. ingrid. i LOVE HER.
    i am working here more and more to ..i ..am afraid to leave.
    but must slowly get back to work out of here too.
    there is the thing that maybe we are ariund each other too much.-i don’t know.
    i do let her do her own thing-except playtimes and ..-well no more w the picking her up to be with me.
    she is so gentle.
    oh-also had to put laxatone on her -hoping.-usually works.
    oh-before the vet (different one) (no longer there) she was given a liquid thing to help with constipation -but she was going every day!!! quite a bit. i was losing it. she then ate less-and -actually-this was when she stopped eating (the other was before-and one other was after the UTI.
    she is in her “hut” now. loves it. head down.
    worry she is a bit depressed.
    she is 6.
    it is killing me. she does well on and off-plays around has fun..but i feel i messed her up.
    what to do?
    i only want to ..
    i may have to assist feed today..if she wont eat.
    looking at the food-hungry wanting to eat but..not–what is that??
    no more antihist…unless if needed -like after a dental-for only 3-4 days tho.
    a lot of the time she acts happy..but -these pills-pepcid and other..well-NO MORE anti h. but..pepcid?? 🙁
    calling vet
    but this thing on stress is SO true..and i am in the middle of it with her trying to get balance. trying. til we get there.
    🙁 i love her so so much :((((((

    • I’m sorry you’re having such a hard time with Elizabeth. I know it’s hard not to worry and stress over our cats when they’re sick, but one of the best ways we can help them is to manage our own stress when we’re around them.

      • yes..i try–have always been aware–but when she has other issues–how to deal with THAT type of stress is my question?

        • or..is rescue remedy a good idea -or even the feliway plug in-to help during such times?
          just wondering HOW to minimize during illness.
          sory..just right now i am keeping above it cancelled my own bloodtest til tomorrow. i just gave her the pepcid-even tho not sure. trying to understand why SHE looks at her food -wants it-many times goes to eat..but then-no go.
          so many times -i know it is typical to treat stuff with info from others who had same–but also-individual stuff is often missed..or neglected as possible ..(?)
          just-id you know and remedies..or -i know you know about this.
          ingrid–is it hard to learn reiki-i asked about it-and want to look into it ..
          on the other hand
          i wish you luck with allegra.-from all i read..i love her.
          oh–also–ingrid-so the Q’s:
          felliway/rescue-is this a good thought?
          and..the couch..how to minimize stress then? i wish i could avoid it ..i can’t. just asking.

          • Rescue Remedy and Feliway may certainly help. But I’m going to emphasize again that the best thing you can do is try to manage your own stress – Elizabeth will thank you for it 🙂 Reiki would probably greatly benefit not just Elizabeth, but also yourself – I’d definitely encourage you to look into it.

          • @Andrea – you mentioned kitty seemed to want to eat her food but then no go. I was wondering if she’s having issues with her teeth or gum? My kitty did the same thing recently. He would go to his food bowl, looked like he wanted to eat but didn’t. Took him to the vet the same day and discovered that his gum was inflamed. Ended up having a few bad teeth out taken out. Perhaps you may want to check out her gum, especially around the back teeth.

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