Tense, stressed out? It's tough being a pet cat

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The Independent Online

They have a fondness for napping and an uncanny nose for the next meal, but scientists have discovered that despite their apparently cushy lifestyle cats are as stressed as we are.

They have a fondness for napping and an uncanny nose for the next meal, but scientists have discovered that despite their apparently cushy lifestyle cats are as stressed as we are.

The biggest source of anxiety is likely to be rivalry with another cat in the house; moving home or the arrival of a new member of the owner's family can also induce bouts of stress, according to a study by Edinburgh University academics.

The researchers at the university's Hospital for Small Animals studied cats with bladder problems - a disease thought to be triggered by stress - and compared the behaviour and lifestyles of healthy cats.

The results showed that the sick cats were generally more worried and particularly suffered stress from conflict with other cats in the house.

"Feline lower urinary tract disease is frustrating for vets and owners, because most cases have no apparent cause," said Dr Danielle Gunn-Moore, the senior lecturer in feline medicine at the university's school of veterinary studies.

"It is a group of diseases of the bladder, most commonly seen in pedigree, middle-aged, overweight male cats which don't go out much and eat a dry food diet. We believed stress could be a trigger factor and we wanted to identify differences in the cats' environments and temperaments which might cause this condition."

The questionnaire-based study compared 31 cats with bladder disease to 24 healthy cats in the same households. These animals were in turn compared with a control group of 125 healthy cats by Dr Gunn-Moore's team. "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," said Dr Gunn-Moore.

"If a cat is living with another cat where there is a conflict, this is a chronic situation causing long-term stress." She said that this was a significant factor in causing the disease.

The research team advised owners with stressed pets to use wet rather than dry food and encourage them to drink more fluid by adding tuna-flavoured ice cubes to water.

Animal behaviourists claim the most common stress triggers for cats are changes that appear to threaten their security or resources, such as another cat coming into their "den", a new baby in the home, a puppy or a change to routine.

Cats under pressure often show their feelings of insecurity by becoming more clingy to their owners or scratching the furniture more. Those who feel stressed at home will stay out longer while those upset by something outside the house will stay indoors.

If stress continues, some cats spray urine and deposit faeces somewhere noticeable to try to regain security in the home. The animal can, no longer wash itself, loses interest in its food and becomes lethargic, eventually falling ill.

The Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said the research would prove valuable. "We've always known cats are extremely sensitive and this study highlights a problem more widespread than previously thought," a spokeswoman said.

THE SIGNS OF AN UNHAPPY PET

Stressed cats may show signs of their mental state by:

* Urinating or defecating outside the litter box

* Marking their territory by spraying their scent on furniture or other household items

* Becoming withdrawn by hiding in corners or sitting immobile for long periods

* Becoming aggressive to other pets or people

* Going off their food

* Becoming restless or unusually vocal

* Excessively grooming or mutilating themselves

Eventually, the animals develop stress-related illnesses

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