Categories: stress

Can stress cause anorexia in cats?

The first point to note about the question is that the word “anorexia” can be misconstrued by non-medical people. It means a loss of appetite but people can sometimes construe the word to mean human beings suffering from anorexia nervosa which is a severe loss of appetite and a mental health disorder. So the question is asking can stress cause a domestic cat to lose their appetite? And the answer is yes, which should not surprise us because humans lose their appetite when they feel stressed. You don’t feel hungry. You are perhaps too distracted to feel hungry or to bother about eating.

Stressed cat? Photo in public domain.

A study which looked at ways of stimulating appetite in cats suffering from stress-induced anorexia starts off their report by saying that stress-induced anorexia is common in cats. They tested a drug delivered intravenously called propofol at a level where it did not cause the cat to become sleepy. It works in that it increased appetite in the cats tested but only for a 30 minute period. Therefore, I would suggest that it is impractical as a treatment because you wouldn’t take your cat to your veterinarian for a jab to increase their appetite for 30 minutes. It may take you 30 minutes to get home!

The point of the article below is that if your cat is losing weight because they aren’t eating one possible cause might be stress. A cat owner can do something about that. They could start off a ‘home treatment’ by reducing the causes of stress. A second sign of stress in a cat might be over-grooming (this is a good sign). I would suggest that if you saw hair loss on the belly due to over grooming and a loss of appetite you could conclude that your cat is stressed or that that is likely and then go about doing some detective work. There are numerous causes of stress.

People should know what they are by now because they’ve been discussed endlessly on the Internet. Perhaps it is best to look at the concept of feline stress in the home by working backwards. If you take a cat living alone with their excellent, retired female guardian who is there all the time, in a nice home, with access to a beautiful catio you expect that cat not to feel stress provided that there are no interferences from cats outside the home. If you take away some of those elements your cat might suffer from stress. You can get some ideas by clicking on this link.

For example, multi-cat homes sometimes can induce stress in one of the cats who is timid. Moving home can cause stress. Not being in the home to look after your cat for long periods can cause stress, certainly. Wondering cats coming into the home or bothering your cat outside the home can cause stress as well. Shouting at your cat and losing your temper achieve the same result. In short, a relaxed cat will enjoy that state through a calm home full of routines, good food and plenty of love. That’s the objective. And of course some cats are less confident than others which predisposes them to feeling stressed. An awareness of a cat’s personality helps.

My personal viewpoint is that it is likely that domestic cats feel stressed more often than people realise. The problem is the classic domestic cat problem: it can be hard to read their minds. We have to rely on behavioural changes to diagnose. If I’m correct, cat owners should be sensitive to the possibility and do their best to prevent it occurring by working towards a stress free feline environment.

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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

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