Is Stress Bad for the Cat’s Heart and Brain?

Tucker a cat had two strokes and a heart attack

Tucker a ginger tabby cat had two strokes and a heart attack. Photo The Turtle (Flickr)

Stress could be one of the reasons for feline stroke, seizure and/or heart attack.

Feline heart attacks are rare but seizures might affect 2.1% of the entire cat population and one cause of seizures is a stroke.

So stress might indirectly cause seizures for the reasons set out below.

I think it is acceptable to refer to medical research for humans when discussing feline health issues – at least as a discussion topic. After all a lot of medical testing on cats is carried out for the benefit of humans. The two species have a similar anatomy.

A study recently published in the journal Nature Medicine has found that stress causes the body to produce an excess of white blood cells, which can cause inflammation of the arteries.

“Usually white blood cells are a good thing, they help to fight off infections, but if you have chronic high levels they can turn against you.” (Matthais Nahrendorf Massachusetts General Hospital)

White blood cells are immune cells which defend the body from infection. If their numbers are high for a long time they start to invade the the arterial wall gradually eroding a protective layer that separates the flowing blood from the arterial tissue which in turn can cause the formation of blood clots raising the risk of stroke and heart attack.

It is believed that the white blood cell levels increase because stress triggers a response in the bone marrow of increased production of these cells.

I believe that this sort of research can help cat caretakers become more aware of cat welfare. There is a relatively high rate of feline seizures as 2.1% of the population of cats equates to 1,800,000 (1.8m) cats in the USA suffering from seizures. The causes are probably often undiagnosed. Vets sometimes treat the symptoms of idiopathic epilepsy (unknown causes of epilepsy). “Epilepsy is a recurrent seizure disorder.” (WebMD).

I am flagging up a potential cause that has not been referred to before or is rarely referred to. I have a feeling that, in general, not enough regard is given to feline stress. Cats don’t always readily express behavior that gives us clues that she/he is stressed. We can always do more to ensure our cats are contented and relaxed.

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Is Stress Bad for the Cat’s Heart and Brain? — 8 Comments

  1. Michael, a big thank you for simplifying the causes of heart attacks in cats as well as humans. As you said most experiments and research is done on cats and other animals for the benefit of mankind.No medical book could have simplified the relationship between “STRESS” and “HEART ATTACKS” than your version on cats.

  2. Yeah I believe stress is a massive killer of humans and animals. I think humans get cancer directly from stress. Cats seem to be even more suceptible to stress in the short term. Humans just don’t necessarily make the connection that stress is what is causing them to be unhealthy in many areas. But cats get sick pretty quick and it can be very serious if they catch an infection or something at the same time. It must be bad. But a stroke to me suggests clogged arteries so I wonder if cats suffer from things like cholesterol.

    I’m assuming by the caption below the image that cats, like humans, can survive both strokes and heart attacks. That’s lucky! As with humans, there should be many kinds of medication they can take as treatment for these blood related problems.

    Of course they haven’t changed anything, and like all western medicine, it only steps in after the illness of damage has reached the symptomatic stage. You gotta love our short sightedness when it comes to health. Without it we’d all live much longer and that would be bloody awful to be honest. So I can only assume it’s the same with cats and that the pet food comapnies will never do anything to favour animal health unless they are forced to by law, disgusting pig vermin that they are (that’s probably a compliment, and I apologize to all pigs for being so rude to them) – so all that is left is that we should hope they are doing research and producing medicine that will help cats with heart/stroke problems.

    The vets have the power but they don’t use it for good, on average, so they probably can’t be counted on to protest and advise honestly when it comes to the wellbeing of cats. The declaw issue is proof that they, again, on average, are more likely to make things worse, than better. This is so depressing when you think about it. It really makes me want to learn to vet my cats because I will never trust any vet, ever, 100%. I don’t think it’s possible to in all honesty. The sad thing is that there are a small, tiny handful of good vets out there and they will never get the benefit of my doubt, or that of many other lightly informed cat caretakers, because of the majority of vets who do nothing or who even promote animal abuse.

    But those vets deserve all the encouragment and help they can get and they deserve to know that people are incredibly thankful for what they do.

    • Humans just don’t necessarily make the connection that stress is what is causing them to be unhealthy in many areas.

      Agreed. I believe there is more stress amongst the domestic cat population than cat owners realise because the human environment can often be inherently stressful for a cat for various reasons one being the domestic cat is barely domesticated.

      I wonder if cats suffer from things like cholesterol.

      I have never seen that mentioned and I have read a lot about cat health from books and internet. It should be discussed.

      Tucker the cat in the photo was I believe euthanised after his strokes and heart attack. I think picture was taken at the vet’s. I could be wrong but cats do survive strokes a lot but strokes are dealt with rather vaguely I feel.

      I agree we (good cat caretakers) and somewhat alone in taking proactive steps on cat health. Pets are money making objects and that means not necessarily focusing on health and proactive care.

    • Exactly there are some things you can do. My sister has done training, on how to do some Simple animal things at home e.g like when one of her cats had abscess on his back, the vet said he would die of it. She managed squeeze them out and he was still alive. Shes hoping to do some animal Care training, but there are some basic things you can do to make your cats life better. I dont really understand how tough things are for everyone overseas. Here in New Zealand things are abit more fairer. The only prob is a lot of animals esp dogs are being stolen and thanks to that Gareth Morgan who wants to rid NZ of Domestic Cats. Most Vets are pretty good and understanding. We also have a lot of trained people from Overseas which is a good culture thing.

  3. Yes i agree, with what your all saying im sure there is a link between stress esp pro-longed over time Stress with heart attacks and strokes. Esp with all animals. Especially with dealing with major changes in their environment i.e new cats coming in, having to move, etc. I remember Cassy had a constant worry with a dog that would always try and chase her, and she was always very timid and worried. That kitty in the pictures looks so adorable hard to imagine a cat having that illness. Poor baby.

  4. I agree that stress can cause heart attacks and strokes in cats, and humans, and probably other species as well. Stress also causes cystitis in cats as we know, cats feel things deeply and can so easily be affected by stress in their household. I think the days of regarding the cat as an easy to keep pet who more or less looks after his self with minimum care needed are long gone, people are at last realising that cats are as complex and important as dogs which can only be a good thing.

    • I have know some people who have recovered from both stroke and heart attack. Its about keeping yourself well. The same i believe goes for Cats as if you look after yourself well you can look after your cat well.

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