Can your cat’s mental health problems affect its physical health? Diseases that can be attracted by mental debility
2023. March 28 - Photos: Getty Images Hungary
2023. March 28 - Photos: Getty Images Hungary
Although the link between mental state and physical health has been discovered in human medicine for some time, it has been rather slow to be integrated into veterinary medicine. The dual relationship between behavioural medicine and emotional and physical health is a very important aspect of general veterinary practice.
In human medicine, it has been established that any emotional disorder that results in a stressful physiological state can predispose to physical disease. It is also accepted that any physical condition leading to irritation and debility is a risk factor for altered emotional state. Chronic skin conditions and severe pain from orthopaedic conditions are the most commonly documented examples. One of the signs of chronic stress is recurrent ill health, and if there is a history of recurrent illness, emotional factors should be taken into account, as it is very common to attribute the problem to these. The same principles apply to animals. The behavioural history can be an important element in the investigation of medical conditions.
Initially, mental illnesses do not manifest themselves explicitly in symptoms in the same way as symptoms of more serious physical illnesses, but rather initially in behavioural changes. When mental illnesses occur, the first thing that is noticeable in the animal is a marked change in behaviour. This may be seen in cases such as a previously calm cat suddenly becoming aggressive or, conversely, overly disinterested. Furthermore, there may be constant stress, frustration and fear, as well as a complete lack of socialisation and petulance. If you notice any of these, you should consult a veterinarian immediately, as mental disorders can be overcome with the help of a professional. However, if this is not done in time, the problem can become more serious and can endanger physical health.
Staying with the analysis of behaviour, it is important to monitor the severity of these changes, as some behavioural changes may over time indicate a specific neurological problem. The recognition of these lies in the fact that the radical changes may already refer to a more serious health problem. For example, excessive aggression may indicate that the animal is in severe pain, while compulsiveness may indicate that a neurological disorder may be at work. Behavioural changes can give a very good indication of the level of pain the animal is in. This is particularly true if the change is sudden.
One of the keys to exploring the relationship between health status and behavioural changes is to examine the chronological history. This is because an interaction between disease and behaviour is very likely to occur, especially if it is sudden. In such cases, the onset of behavioural changes usually coincides with the onset of physical symptoms of the disease.
However, the link between the two is not always so clear-cut. The onset may be observed as a slow process. It is much more difficult to link them, but with some expertise it is possible to observe the back and forth effects accurately. For example, a cat that has been in an accident will be more easily aggressive because of pain. But even in more complicated situations, it has been shown that changing emotional states, for example, have a strong correlation with high blood pressure. Or, for example, severe pain disorders are almost always associated with anxiety, aggression and an increasing lack of social interaction.
Overall, it is extremely difficult to determine whether the mental condition has an effect on the physical illness first, or vice versa, whether the illness causes the serious behavioural disorder. However, what is certain is that the appearance of one almost guarantees the appearance of the other. So, if you notice a serious change in your cat’s behaviour, the first thing you should always do is to consider whether it could be due to some kind of physical illness. This is especially true if they are sudden and radical.
But equally it is true in retrospect. In the case of sudden illnesses or deterioration in health, it is also not worth ruling out the possibility that there may be emotional reasons, or perhaps more serious stress, frustration or fear. This is particularly worth paying attention to if these illnesses are recurrent, occur at certain intervals and do not respond adequately to the treatment given to the patient.