Cats, like humans, can develop stress-related illness, University of Edinburgh experts have found. Significant life-changes like moving house or the arrival of a new member of the family can lead to bladder problems in some cats, say the animal specialists. But the biggest stressor of all for a cat is when it doesn't get along with other cats in the house, studies have shown.
Cat health professionals at the University's Hospital for Small Animals studied the lifestyles of a group of cats with no apparent physical cause for their bladder problems and compared them with a control group of disease-free cats. They found that the sick cats were generally more anxious, and were particularly stressed by being in conflict with other cats in the house.
Dr Danielle Gunn-Moore, the Nestlé Purina senior lecturer in feline medicine at the University of Edinburgh Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, explained: "Feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD) is a group of diseases of the bladder, most commonly seen in pedigree, middle-aged, overweight male cats which take little exercise, use an indoor litter box, don't go out much and eat a dry food diet.
"This condition is particularly frustrating for vets and owners, because most cases have no apparent cause, and are categorised as feline idiopathic cystitis (FIC). Earlier studies led us to believe that stress could be a trigger factor for FIC, and we wanted to identify differences in the cats' environments and temperaments which might be causing this condition."
This latest, questionnaire-based study compared 31 cats with FIC to 24 cats in the same households that did not have cystitis. These were in turn compared with a control group of 125 healthy cats.
Dr Gunn-Moore said: " Although many owners of cats taking part in the study reported that a fear of strangers was the most common problem they observed, this tends to be a short-term stressor. If a cat is living with another cat where there is a conflict, this is a chronic situation causing long-term stress. We concluded that this is a significant factor in the development FIC, and will be carrying out further studies to see how best this and other stress factors can be overcome."
Dr Gunn-Moore recommends that cats that have FLUTD or FIC should be fed wet food, and encouraged to drink more fluid. This can be done, for example, by adding tuna-flavoured ice-cubes to water, or offering water fountains to encourage them to drink.
A small, separate pilot study by Dr Gunn-Moore's team used a synthetic soothing scent to reduce anxiety showed a trend for cats exposed to the scent to have fewer episodes of FIC. More work will continue on this study.
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