As a veterinarian, cat lover, and cat owner, I like many, would love to believe my cats would love my constant attention, but alas cats, like us, need their space. Cats like a consistent environment, and a consistent routine. When there is a change to their environment or routine, it can cause them stress and anxiety.
Part 2: Cats
In Part 1 of the blog post series, we touched upon how recent changes due to COVID-19 have affected our canine companions, and how to provide outlets to satisfy their needs. In Part 2, we address the needs of our feline friends.
There have been many recent changes to our cats’ lives, such as owners working from home, more contact/attention than before, more or less people now residing in the house, kids at home longer than normal, changes in their feeding routine, changes in their diet depending on the stock in the store, in addition to sensing a change of emotions/stress within the household.
This stress can present in a number of different behaviours, with some of the more common ones listed below:
- Inappropriate urination or defecation
- Over-grooming, or pica (ingesting items that aren’t their normal food, often fabric)
- Defensive or redirected aggression towards people or other animals
- Hiding and/or increased sleeping, lack of playing
- Decreased appetite and/or grooming
- Extreme vigilance and heightened startle response
- Increased facial rubbing and scratching on surfaces
*Please note, it is always important to discuss any changes you’ve noticed in your cat with your veterinarian to rule out an underlying concern. To ensure there is nothing medically wrong, your veterinarian will ask a complete history, conduct a physical exam and may want additional diagnostics such as bloodwork and/or urinalysis to rule out any UTI’s, metabolic diseases, skin diseases etc. Once your feline companion has been given a clean bill of health physically, you can narrow in on possible causes of stress.
Cats require a basic set of environmental needs that as owners, we should strive to meet (as per the AAFP/ISFM).
A Safe Place — cats require their own sanctuary. A place they can get away to recharge, or retreat when they feel threatened. This allows them to feel in control. It should be private and secure, and also provides a resting place to relax. These spots could be raised, like on top of a cupboard, or hidden like under a bed. Providing cat boxes or cat trees so they feel covered are good options. Providing a soft cat bed in a room that doesn’t have much foot traffic could provide a quiet sanctuary for particularly anxious cats.
Key resources — food, water, litter boxes, scratching areas/play areas, resting spots. Each aspect in this list is in itself important, but also to provide multiple and separated options for each. This last point is important, especially when there is more than 1 cat in the household. The rule of thumb is for each resource, you should supply the same number of cats plus 1. So if you have 2 cats, you’ll need 3 food bowls, 3 water bowls, 3 litter pans etc., all in separate areas. In times of stress, its beneficial to look around your home to ensure you have the proper amount of these resources and that they are in the correct locations.
Opportunity to play and exhibit their natural predatory behaviour — this can include playing with toys, exploring new areas, hunting for food, and interactive play with owners. Providing a variety of toys that can stimulate cats is important for playtime. Toys that crinkle, have catnip within them, made from different materials, different shapes, offer more enrichment. Versus interactive play, which utilise wand/fishing rod type of toys, providing movement. Try and move these toys in a manner that simulates prey! Exploring new areas could be as simple as a new cardboard box to hop in or a paper bag. While hiding kibble in either a puzzle feeder challenges our cats and rewards them with a treat! All of these options provide enrichment, but please ensure any of these toys, puzzles, boxes etc. are free from anything they can ingest!**
Human-cat bonding — The amount and type of interaction will change from cat to cat, so allowing them to control this contact, allowing them to approach you or leave when they feel necessary is important. Finding the type of interaction, they enjoy, whether it’s a scratch under the chin, to a full body pat, its important to respect your cats’ limits. Look for signs of enjoyment such as purring, chirruping, head bumping, facial rubbing, an upright tail, and soft eyes. This particular section is probably the one most affected by recent events. Family is around more often, making more contact with the cat, and their normal routine is most likely changed. Try and stick to normal working hours so cats have as close to normal morning and evening routines. Create a work station away from your cats normal resting areas so as not to disturb them. Look back to the three previous requirements to ensure they have been met during these unprecedented times.
Providing a scent appropriate environment — avoid strong smells such as perfumes and utilize enriching scents such as catnip. Cats also like to mark objects with their scent. Scratching posts are a great way to provide areas to mark in addition to scratching for enjoyment. There are also products that utilize synthetic pheromones (a chemical secreted to impact behaviour of the same species). Feliway utilizes pheromones to lessen anxiety experienced by cats and comes in a spray or diffuser. This is a great option for cats currently experiencing stress from current changes in their environment or routine.
Every cat is unique, and thus trying different tactics might be required to find the right fit for your feline friend. Trying to attain each of the above environmental needs can help lessen any stress cats are currently experiencing with recent changes. The most important aspects are to rule out any underlying medical conditions, ensure any of the enrichment tools used can’t be ingested, and allow your cat to choose the amount and type of interaction they can tolerate!
By: Dr. Laura Hartman