Emotional Sponges

When we're stressed, our cats are stressed. Hear what happens.

Binga was throwing up – and she never throws up. Sparkle didn’t want her dinner. The cats were acting out. And I was at the root of all the feline upset in my household.

Let me explain. I had a rough few days – my computer began having issues right in the middle of a big project I am working on. Between getting the computer fixed and trying to keep from falling too far behind, I had to cancel several plans and one friend got really (and unfairly) mad at me. I was so stressed out and sleep-deprived that it was making me feel physically ill. My cats responded, not with comforting purrs and affection, but by becoming ill and irritable themselves. I was neither surprised nor disappointed by this. Cats are emotional sponges, so of course they picked up on what was going on with me, and they responded accordingly.

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As much as we wish our cats could lend a sympathetic paw when we are feeling down, that doesn’t always happen. Cats don’t have the complexity of thought to understand that they should act as de-stressors when events are dragging down their humans. They just see that something bad is happening to the person who is responsible for their food and care – and often they panic too. This is how they see it, from an instinctive point of view: at the very least, their beloved routines are being upended; at worst, their survival is possibly threatened.

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There is a phrase for this phenomenon of stress absorption when it happens between human beings: secondary stress. And why couldn’t that happen between our cats and us, considering how in tune they are to our behavior and emotions?

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This is not to say that the cats freak out or become ill every time I have a bad day. In fact, Binga often steps up to comfort me or my fiancé … as long as she feels safe. When she sleeps on the bed with us at night, I find it interesting that she always seems to curl up next to whoever seems to need it most, whichever of us had the more stressful day. And perhaps that is also why on this particular week, her tummy was acting up, and when it wasn’t, she was leaping around and causing trouble – my fiancé happens to be out of town right now. With him away, Binga and the rest of my feline family have only me to rely on. They can’t afford to have me down for the count! If something happens to me, who’s going to take care of them?

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Whether you are a human or a cat, uncontrolled stress is a bad thing. So pause. Take some deep breaths (something I forgot to do while I was having my bad week!). Take a walk. Do something nice for yourself. And spend time with your cats and let them know you are there for them, no matter what. Everyone will feel better.

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