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Stress as a Cause of Sickness in Cats

Mar 22, 2011
Stella JL, Lord LK, Buffington CAT: Sickness behaviors in response to unusual external events in healthy cats and cats with feline interstitial cystitis, J Am Vet Med Assoc 238:67, 2011.

Millions of cats are relinquished or euthanized at shelters each year because of inappropriate elimination behaviors that are objectionable to owners. The most common behaviors are related to the lower urinary tract. Because this is a problem of major veterinary importance, the objective of this prospective, observational study was to compare sickness behaviors (SB) in healthy cats with those of cats with feline interstitial cystitis (FIC) in response to unusual external events (UEE). Twelve healthy cats and 20 cats with FIC were housed in an enriched colony environment and watched by a single observer for 77 weeks. SB referable to the gastrointestinal and urinary tracts, the skin, and behavior problems were recorded. Different instances of UEE (e.g., changes in caretakers, changes in vivarium routine, and lack of interaction with the investigator) were identified during 11 of the 77 weeks.  The remaining 66 weeks had no instances of identified UEE and were considered control weeks. The study had 4 noteworthy findings. First, there was no difference in mean number of SB identified between healthy cats and the cats with FIC under the enriched housing conditions in the colony. This suggests that husbandry and enrichment conditions present were related to a decrease in SB in the cats with FIC, compared to healthy cats. Second, exposure to UEE significantly increased the risk for an increase in the total number of SB in both groups of cats. SB may be more closely associated with UEE than with disease status.  Third, the most common SB associated to UEE includes decreases in food intake and elimination behaviors and increases in defecation and urination outside the litter box. This would suggest that when cats are evaluated for the presence of these clinical signs, the possibility the signs resulted from external as well as internal events should be considered. Fourth, an increase in age conferred a significant risk for upper gastrointestinal tract signs and avoidance behavior. The authors recommend that all clients with cats should be offered assistance with environmental enrichment to improve the health and welfare of their cats.  [VT]

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