Last Updated on: November 18, 2015 by Ingrid King
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
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Ingrid King is an award-winning author, former veterinary hospital manager, and veterinary journalist who is passionate about cats.