Why do cats act like they're sick when they're not? If you have a kitty who's faked an illness before, you've no doubt wondered why your precious pet tried to fool you. After all, it's not like your cat has school or work to avoid like humans. Luckily, experts have an explanation for this strange, catty behavior — and it actually makes perfect sense.
A 2011 study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association suggests that a healthy cat may act sick due to stress caused by changes in his or her environment. Known as "sickness behaviors," these responses can include regularly vomiting hairballs, refusing to eat, and leaving waste outside of their litter boxes. Researchers found that healthy cats were just as likely as cats who were actually sick to exhibit such behaviors after major changes took place in their routines.
The researchers looked at healthy cats and chronically ill cats and how they responded to "unusual external events," such as a change in their feeding schedules or caretakers. Results showed that both groups had the same amount of sickness behaviors afer these disruptions. Furthermore, both groups were at more than three times the risk of acting ill after the routine shake-ups.
"We are cautious about extrapolating these findings to the average home, but we will say that anyone who has a pet accepts the responsibility of understanding their pet's needs and providing them," said senior author Tony Buffington, PhD, in a press release. "And what we've learned is that all cats need to have some consideration of environmental enrichment."
Researchers noted that the most common sickness behaviors in cats often lead owners to take their pets to the vet for evaluation. So it's not surprising that they recommended vets to consider cats' environments while coming up with a diagnosis for them at the pet hospital. But how can cat owners do their best to prevent this problem from happening in the first place?
"I think a huge part of this is giving cats resources they can interact with and control," said lead author Judi Stella. "Litter boxes and food bowls go without saying, but I also think that equally important are predictable schedules and some semblance of control so they don't feel trapped. And their humans can focus on quality interaction rather than the quantity of interaction. Understanding how they live in the world can allow humans to interact with them more effectively."
That's every cat owner's dream, isn't it?
Next, see some adorable two-faced cats that make us do a double-take in the video below: