What in the world could possibly stress out a cat? They have their every need met by their faithful human servants, and are blessed with the freedom to do whatever they want with their days, whether it’s sleeping on the sofa, sunbathing in a windowsill, or playing with their favorite toys. To us, with our hectic schedules, deadlines and worries, it may seem an enviable life.

But the fact is, a lot of things can stress your feline companion and even make him ill. For example, most cats like their familiar routines, so anything out of the ordinary, whether it’s another new cat, a move, home remodeling, or even a change in the position of household furnishings, can cause them to feel stressed. In addition to changes in the environment, your cat can also be negatively affected by your own stress.

Cats and their humans often mirror each others’ physical and emotional states. Felines are sensitive creatures, and they can easily take on their humans’ problems. Because of the bond shared between cats and their families, energetic imbalances may also be shared, and illness can result.

Connected by more than love

A study conducted at The Ohio State University demonstrated the connection between external stress and illness in cats. The study looked at 32 cats over a period of 77 days. Twelve were healthy and 20 had feline interstitial cystitis. During the study, researchers created a consistent environment for the cats. The cats were housed in large enclosures that offered an enriched environment consisting of elevated resting boards, cardboard hiding boxes, bedding and toys. They had daily playtime outside their enclosures, both with other cats and their human caretakers, and were treated to classical music in the mornings and afternoons.

When the cats experienced what were called “unusual external events”, however, such as a change in feeding schedule or caretaker, the healthy cats in the study were just as likely to exhibit sickness behaviors such as vomiting or eliminating outside the litter box as were the chronically ill cats. Both groups responded to unusual events with the same number of sickness behaviors, and both also had more than three times the risk of acting sick when their routines were disrupted. The researchers also found they had to manage their own stress levels when they were around the cats. “I had to be careful if I was having a bad day so it didn’t rub off on the cats,” says Judi Stella, PhD, a post-doctoral researcher at Purdue University, who participated in the study.

Veterinarians find that sick cats may live with stressed out guardians

Holistic veterinarian Dr. Patrick Mahaney has seen this same phenomenon in some of his clients and their cats. “Cats will sometimes show signs of illness after there’s been a loss of another animal or human family member in the household,” he says. “Idiopathic FLUTD (feline lower urinary tract disease with unknown physical causes) is a prime example. Frequently, the cat is stressed, and the owner is stressed.” Dr. Mahaney has found that these clients, while often not aware of the connection between their stress and their cats’, are receptive to feedback and understand that helping their kitties recover involves managing their own stress.

Veterinarian Dr. Jenny Beard has seen the same thing in cats with interstitial cystitis living with guardians who are going through stressful times. “The same neurotransmitters involved in stress responses in the brain can affect the nerves to other organs,” she says. “In these cases, cats’ bladders become inflamed and painful.”

Dr. Beard believes that cats will also pick up on their guardians’ distress over an existing illness in their felines. She frequently sees this in chronically or terminally ill cats. Dr. Beard will talk to these cat parents about how important it is to spend time simply “being” with their cats, enjoying their company, and letting the worry go. She has had personal experience with this. “I feel strongly that managing my stress and worry during Squishycat’s last two years of living with cancer, and just allowing us to ‘be’ together, helped boost her immune system and remain healthy much longer than her prognosis predicted,” she says.

Manage your cat’s stress – and your own

To start with, look at any environmental changes that might be stressing your cat, and do what you can to remove or minimize them. When making any changes or introducing something new to the household, do it as gradually as you can. Provide plenty of toys, and spend daily time playing with your cat – this is a great stress reliever for both of you, and can also help your cat cope if he’s grieving a loss. If you need to travel, consider having a friend, family member or pet sitter come to your home to care for your cat rather than subjecting her to the stress of boarding.

Managing your cat’s stress may not be enough if you don’t bring your own stress under control. Look at what’s causing your own stress, and see if you can do something to reduce or at least make it more tolerable. Practice stress management techniques such as getting regular exercise, eating healthy foods, making time for yourself, starting a meditation practice, doing deep breathing exercises, etc.

Stress is a fact of life, and can’t always be avoided. But there is a lot you can do to make life less stressful for your feline charges, and for yourself. Not only will it improve
your own well being and state of mind, but it’ll help your cat feel better as well. It’s a win-win situation!

This article was first published in the April 2014 issue of Feline Wellness Magazine and is reprinted with permission.

25 Comments on Are You Stressing Your Cat Out?

  1. I am afraid I will stress Topaz when I cry over losing Zesty. Last night I looked at the pictures I took of her on her last day and cried my eyes out, and Topaz came around and rubbed against me. I felt guilty and put on a happy face and played with her.

    I find myself talking to Zesty, telling her I love her and miss her. (I have always talked to my girls about anything and everything.) I don’t think that will be an issue with Topaz. I make sure I am playing with her and we are having lots of lap time and sticking to our routine.

  2. This is a good reminder. Stress is absolutely contagious in a household, and it’s a zoonotic disease that jumps between humans and cats as well as between cats. There has been a lot of stress around here, and it’s showing on all sides. We’re going to take a hint from your blog post and call it an early night for everyone’s sake. 😀

  3. Again, Ingrid, your helpful info on The Conscious Cat continues to amaze me. So great.

    As a follow up to this post, could you post about (or have you already posted about) how you take care of Ruby and Allegra when you have to go out of town. It sounds like you don’t board them. We have done that twice, and the last time they seemed really stressed out afterward.

    Like you, our kitties are wet food only, and having a neighbor or kitty sitter come over twice or more per day to feed them and clean litter boxes doesn’t seem practical.

    Just wondered what you do. Might make a good posting on your incredibly helpful blog!

  4. Very good post Ingrid. There has been much stress in our house in the last 2 years with 4 sick kitties and 2 of them passing. I have that Essence stuff too. Didn’t really work for my kitty in the water. Mine is a dropper bottle. I will try putting on my hands and then his fur. My kitties get stressed out from outside noises like trash truck, people’s voices, working outside.

  5. I unfortunately know this all too well. 🙁

    My tortie is my best friend and we’re quite emphatically bonded. After my worst depressive episode in years, then losing our 18 yr old in the fall, later adopting two kittens and subsequently losing one of them to FIP; then my mother’s prolong hospital stay (which had all of our routines disrupted), she got sick…twice…in two months! (Ironically, I cannot function when she’s sick either.)

    After the second time and a visit to the specialist, it was determined that she was in perfect health but simply stressed out.

    Needless to say, hearing that news stressed me out even more. Had a hard time dealing with the guilt, but realized that she and I needed to spend some quiet time alone (read: me catching the flu) and now we’re both feeling much better and I try to be much more mindful of the things that could stress her out. I also increase her playtime during seemingly stressful times or if she just seems down. Makes me feel better too! 🙂

    I do admit that I am STILL trying to work on not obsessing over her (a’la “helicopter mom”) as I’m sure she’s finding that a bit weird.

    • I can understand how hearing that your stress caused your tortie’s stress made you feel even worse. And FWIW, I think it’s really hard to not be a “helicopter mom” when it comes to our cats!

  6. I found this article really relevant, Ingrid – caring for a cat with cancer means it’s SUPER HARD not to hover and hand-wring constantly. I am trying to focus on QUALITY time with my little Moofy – and that means calming down and smiling at her rather than worrying…

  7. hi Ingrid
    this article has been well timed. we are moving in 4 weeks and are currently packing up the house. our cat Ceefer has been off her food the last 2 days and i now have a better idea as to what it could be. we dont have anyone near to take her when we move so she is going to a cattery unfortunately. we are trying to keep her close and happy while we are making the changes and will now look into this option aswell
    thank you xxxxxxx

  8. Thank you for sharing this article.

    I’ve seen how my stress can affect my babies. I’m a chronic worrier, so it’s hard for me to keep my stress and anxiety down, but I do try for their sake. I have a CRF cat in my care right now, and it’s really overwhelming some days to go on the roller coaster with her. Any suggestions for coping with this chronic illness?

  9. Fantastic article! This is exactly what I say to my clients, and yet when it comes to my own boys, I seem to forget. I’ve been traveling quite a bit lately and then last week we had roof construction on our townhouse. Jack, my 8-year old tuxedo boy, who is a bit skiddish to begin with, had his urinary issues recur, is hiding under the bed in the basement, and he’s drooling a little bit. Plus, we’re moving in 2 months, so I’m stressed about that! Poor little guy, time for me to relax and chill out with him, rather than worrying about him and everything going on around us.

    Thanks so much for this article. It’s super timely for me, and a great reminder.


  10. Good morning Ingrid. Another perfectly timed post. We’re starting some pretty major home renovations in a couple of weeks. I plan to remove Abby from the situation as much as possible…moving her to the master bedroom while workers are in the house.
    I have Spirit Essences Stress Stopper and would like to know when I should start and how is it best used ? It says to put on her food or in her water 4x a day. And I’m assuming this will be good for Roxanne too (?) ANY suggestions are welcome : )

    Thanks so much for always having such helpful info!! ♥toni

    • Moving Abby away from where most of the activity takes place is a good idea, Toni. Here are more tips:

      I would start using Stress Stopper as soon as there’s evidence in your home about the impending work, for example, when you start moving furniture, packing up things, etc. I don’t give the essences in water or food, although you can. I spray two or three squirts into my hand and then rub it on the back. The remedies are energy “medicine,” and all that matters is that they get into the pet’s energy field. How you achieve that doesn’t really matter. And yes, I would give them to Roxanne, too.

  11. Very timely article, Ingrid! I just moved some furniture around yesterday, and …da da da dum!…removed one litter box, and rearranged another! I know, what was I thinking?!? But, you see, the first box was an extra one added when we brought in another cat. After eight weeks, she wasn’t absorbing into the household at all, and even though she ‘s found another one-cat household months ago, we never removed that added box. This weekend was the time, so out it came and we neated what was the safe room to make it more appealing to our resident cats. No problems so far, but both hubby and I are lavishing love and play to make sure Chuck and Angel feel these are good changes. Since these were nuthin’ burger changes for us humans, we are not projecting stress but rather delight with the better flow of energy. We now have six litter boxes (upstairs and downstairs) instead of seven…for two cats.

    • It’s great that you’re being so mindful that even a seemingly small change like that can be a big deal for your cats. And I am impressed that you have that many litter boxes for two cats!

      • First, we had a guarding issue when Chuck wouldn’t allow Angel into the litter box. So we added another box upstairs in a different room, and put one downstairs too. That made three boxes. Then years later, Chuck developed bladder problems, and while we tried a whole host of different types of litter hoping to get him back on track. Add two or more boxes. Again, a couple of years after that, Chuck had digestive problems, so we threw out all the old boxes and purchased new ones…and added a few more! We are lucky that we have room for them, but I am ever mindful that change can throw the kitties for a loop.

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