Does Our Anxiety Affect Our Cat’s Behaviour and Health?

Anxious Cat. Photo by Ding Yuin Shan

You often see it: people discussing how their cat feeds off their mood.  There seems to be some sort of extrasensory perception such that a domestic cat can sense our mood and pick it up so that they become anxious when we are anxious and relaxed and calm when we are relaxed and calm. Do you believe this? Do you believe that cats can pick up our mood without any physical signs?

Being of a reasonably scientific mind, I wonder whether this is more about a domestic cat reacting to our behaviour which is dictated by our mood. So, for example, if we are anxious we are more liable to be irritable and if we are irritable we are more liable to be angry on occasions which leads to arguments in the household or perhaps being less diligent about cat caretaking. A person’s anger may even be taken out on their cat. They may shout at their cat or their spouse.

Quite obviously at that point the cat will react and become anxious himself at which time an observer might say that the cat has picked up the anxiety of the person and reflected it.

I tend to favour my analysis rather than the less scientific analysis. As to health, it is certainly possible that a cat who is chronically stressed due to living in a stressful environment (perhaps because the owner is stressed and noisy, difficult and argumentative), will be more likely to fall ill. Therefore there is a logical connection between anxiety in a person and potential ill health in a cat.

Anxiety in people is a massive issue. A high percentage of people in any country are arguably anxious during part of any one day and it is probably getting worse. Anxiety will undermine a person in many ways.  For example, it can certainly lead to poor sleeping patterns which will exacerbate the problem which in turn can lead to neglect of things other than the person him/herself. That neglect may extend to the family cat. In addition, it may extend to failing to take care of household chores properly. It may lead to a less organised lifestyle. All of these impact upon the family cat in a negative way.

You could argue that the ultimate chaotic household is the home of a cat hoarder and we know how detrimental to the health of a cat those sorts of homes can be. Obsessive-compulsive disorder has been associated with cat hoarding and therefore right away we can see a link between a person’s anxiety and the behaviour and health of the cat or cats in their charge.

There have been two high profile cases recently of a cat being stressed (and stress is closely linked to anxiety) due in part to living with what I would say is with stressed people. This is one: Kush.

There are many situations and circumstances under which both the cat caretaker and the cat are liable to become anxious because certain circumstances can affect both at the same time. The classic situation which does this is moving home. Moving home is known to be one of the most stressful things that people are involved in; it is up there with divorce and losing your job. The homeowner will become anxious because of the problems of moving home and her cat will become anxious because he is losing his home range, the bit of territory that he understands, knows and which he has claimed as his own. Of course, divorce often leads to the sale of the family home so once again we have certain situations which result in anxiety for both owner and cat simultaneously. This muddies the water in assessing whether our anxiety affects our cat’s behaviour and health.

So, are cats able to pick up our mood without any additional signals such as our behaviour? I don’t think they can and I don’t think people can either. Every time a person picks up a mood change in another person they are doing it via subtle behavioural changes which are observed and digested instinctively. I wonder if cats are able to pick up the subtle changes in us. We don’t know, is the answer. Perhaps you have to be a human being to understand another human being’s mood through subtle changes in behaviour. It takes one to know one. Even humans have difficulty understanding the moods and emotions of other humans. I’m thinking mainly of the gender gap. There is quite possibly a species gap as well.

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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in a 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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