Dr. Linda Lord at Ohio State University has been studying how cats respond to stress. Her findings show that otherwise healthy cats became ill when stressed whereas cats with a disorder called feline interstitial cystitis (FIC) became healthier when they were less stressed. FIC is a painful disorder that causes inflammation of the bladder in cats and can lead to the formation of crystals that spread to the urethra.
According to the researchers, signs of stress in cats include: vomiting, decreased appetite, as well as urinating or defecating outside of the litterbox (gross!).
Cats recruited for the study were donated by pet owners who wanted to have their pets euthanized because of their illness (or to save their carpet) and had agreed to let them take part in the study first.
Dr. Lord's group found that providing cats with an enriched environment including toys, places to hide, bedding, and a consistent daily routine, reduced and even prevented some of the signs of feline sickness showing a link between stress and illness in cats.
When the daily routines of the animals were changed, both healthy and sick cats showed increased illness that passed once the exposure to the stressful conditions ended.
The moral of the story: Happier cats make healthier cats.
Stella JL, Lord LK, Buffington CA. Sickness behaviors in response to unusual external events in healthy cats and cats with feline interstitial cystitis. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. 238; 67-73, 2011. doi: 10.2460/javma.238.1.67