During this strange, uncertain time that we are all facing of social isolation and not going about our daily routines as we perhaps normally would, there have been more and more people coming forward saying that their cats are becoming increasingly stressed with having their owners at home permanently. Cats are notoriously routine based animals and this change in their owner’s routine is having an impact on their emotional and behavioural welfare, causing them to become stressed and act out of character.
However, it is not all bad news as there are plenty of things that we can do as owners to help support our feline friends throughout this period of us being around more!
In order to do this, we need to understand a little about our cat’s natural daily routines: Did you know that cats love to nap? The sleep requirements will differ between each individual cat based on their age, health, diet and environmental activity, but on average cat’s love to sleep for a whopping 13-19 hours a day! I don’t know about you but if I don’t get enough sleep, I can be rather cranky and not myself – sleep is super important for mental, emotional wellbeing in us and our animals. The rest of the time that they are not sleeping, cats like to groom – they are very clean animals and can spend large amount of time grooming themselves (its worth noting that excessive cleaning – over licking/ fur pulling can indicate stress or ill health). They also love to play, with you and on their own. In the animal world young animals learn to play with each other to form social bonds and to practise their hunting skills for later in life and the same goes for our cats! They like to observe their environment, watching birds out of the window or from the table in the garden, exploring around their territory and being nosey.
Cats like to have free access to fresh, clean water at all times and generally like to eat several times a day rather than one big meal. They can also be quite fussy about where they go to the toilet, liking to find private places that are clean and safe. Make sure their food, water and toileting area are all separate from each other, and in places the cat feels safe.
Cat Body Language
To help prevent our cats from becoming stressed it can also be helpful for us to know what they are saying, thinking and feeling. To do this we need to look at their body language and this is not always easy to interpret as can be subtle, but the more you watch and interact with your cat the better you will get! Practise makes perfect, so let’s look at some of the basics:
Happy, relaxed cat – relaxed body muscles and posture, relaxed face, squinty eyes when they look at you (saying hello), tail held loosely behind or around the body. May be accompanied with purring, head butting you in greeting and to elicit physical attention.
Happy, focused (in play or training) cat – tense body muscles engaged in activity, focused on the activity with ears up and forward, relaxes into and is happy to be touched/ interacted with in between play/ training sessions – be careful when playing/ training as they can get over excited and use their claws to catch things!
Worried/ scared cat – tense muscles in face and body, crouched position, tail tucked into body, ears to the side, lowered head, looking out of top of eyes with head dipped down, wide eyes, jumpy, licking lips. May try to hide away under furniture or move away slowly.
Angry/ unhappy cat – tense body and face, back can progress to being arched with hair standing up, ears facing flat to the side or back, wide dilated pupils, rapid lip licking and hard stares at the source of discomfort, mouth can be tightly shut or progress to being open with teeth showing – may be accompanied with a hiss and a swipe from the paw if subtler signs are ignored, tail flicking around.
It’s important to remember that fear and anxiety can quickly turn to anger if the cat feels that it has no escape route and is not being listened to. When interacting with your cat think to yourself (by observing the body language), is my cat really enjoying this interaction? If the answer is no or you are not sure, then stop and see if your cat re-engages with you or moves away, if they move away respectfully stop your interactions. Try to remember as well that each cat is an individual and what you can do with one cat you may not be able to do with another – for example my beautiful cat Toni hates being picked up. She will meow in protest and try to get out of your arms at the first opportunity. Therefore, we do not pick her up unless we have to, as she doesn’t enjoy it. Other cats that I have worked with thoroughly enjoy being picked up and will practically jump into your arms!
Ok, so now that we are a little more aware of what is natural for our cats and what they are trying to communicate to us, we can look at their environment and see if there are any improvements that can be made to help reduce stress. If you have an indoor cat, then this is especially important as they are more reliant on you to provide good surroundings for them.
Make sure there are different areas for them to explore. This can be rooms of different temperatures so that they can choose if they wish to be warm or cool, different floorings such as laminate, carpet, stone etc, different height surfaces such as the floor, sofa’s, windowsills or even cat walkways! These are platforms that can be put up at different heights along the wall for your cat to walk on. Make sure that they can remove themselves from human/ other animal company if they choose by going to a different room or retreating to a hidey bed, especially if there is a high traffic area where there is lots going on such as children playing, lots of noise and activity etc. – the living room and kitchen are usually hot spots for this. Using Pet Remedy diffusers can be a great way of promoting relaxation and calmness in your cat’s environment, make sure cat can ‘opt-in’ by only having the diffuser on in one room and allow your cat easy access to leave if they wish.
Considering your cleaning routine can also be important during this time as you may find that you are cleaning more regularly due to everyone being home more. Using bleach-based products can remove your animal’s scent and yours making the home seem less welcoming and homely too them. Also remember that bleach can be poisonous if ingested which can happen easily with cats as they will clean and groom their feet regularly!
Another important consideration to give your cats is to allow them to have their own space away from you and to have chill out zones around the house where they will not be disturbed. This can allow them to gain that much needed sleep and de-stress from other more hectic areas of the house. If your cat chooses to walk away and take themselves off to another room please respect their wish and let them be, instead of following them or trying to make them engage with you – we all need a little ‘me time’ every now and then, it’s nothing personal! – This can be hard for small children to understand so make sure you help them learn to give their cat space and why it’s important. In your chill out zones you can provide covered hot water bottles and cool pads for your cat to choose their ideal temperature id also recommend having a Pet Remedy diffuser plugged in or using the spray on a few of the pillows/ blankets in this area. Having a window that they can look out can help to provide added relaxation – it’s like cat T.V!
Let’s talk enrichment – there are so many ways that we can provide enrichment for our cats, the easiest way being food. As cats are sticklers for routine, try to feed your cat at the same time and in the same room everyday – I’d recommend feeding twice a day if you can as this provides two points of consistency in your cats day and if you have an outside cat two points where you can guarantee they will come home, enabling you to check that they are ok. When feeding you can present their food to them in a number of different ways, my personal favourite is with a Kong treat ball/ wobbler, as they have to use their paws to bat and pull the toy around using the material at the top to get the treats to drop out. Other ways include scatter feeding, snuffle mats etc. You can also use food to good use as a reward when training your cat and yes, you really can train your cat like you do a dog! They are incredibly intelligent and make keen students, small bits of ham and cheese are perfect little rewards to use. 10 minutes of training every day can provide great mental stimulation and exercise for your cats – especially indoor ones! The only thing to remember with cats is their attention span can be short, so keep each task short & sweet, ending on a win.
Another way to provide enrichment is with toys – cats especially love toys that allow them to exhibit their natural behaviours of hunting! Feather, string, fluffy toys that they can chase around and catch – be careful with laser pointers as this can lead to frustration because they can never actually catch the dot! Other enrichment that encourages natural behaviours such as scratch posts and ramps can be a fantastic way of giving your pet an outlet for their behavioural desires rather than taking it out on your furniture.
To sum up how to help your fur babies cope better during the coronavirus outbreak; try to keep your cat’s routine as close to normal as you can, with regular feed times and always have a bowl of fresh water available. In the in-between times, with respect to their natural needs, try to give them a balanced mix of alone time to nap somewhere quiet, contact from you and other enrichment, such as training or play, as well as allowing them to be in your company without being pestered. Also remember to use the fantastic products available to all of us out there such as Pet Remedy! – It’s the same as us taking rescue remedy to maintain calmness in stressful situations/ environments. Lastly, remember that our animals are much more perceptive to our moods and emotions that we are often aware of, if you are feeling stressed and anxious then your cats will be picking up on this too, therefore its really important that you take care of yourselves with some self-love and kindness during this challenging time too! We are all in this together, stay safe.
Liz Marden BSc(hons) Animal Behavioural Expert Nature’s Therapies: Animal behaviour & training
Liz Marden Bio
Liz Marden is a qualified animal behaviourist and trainer with a BSc(hons) degree in applied animal behavioural science and welfare, with the university of Greenwich. Liz has over 10 years of experience in the animal industry, working with a variety of species including cats (exotic & domestic). She has her own company – Nature’s Therapies and is also a qualified Sekhem Reiki practitioner offering Reiki to both people and animals. Liz only uses force-free, reward based methods in her work and has a beautiful black cat named Toni, who she adopted from the RSPCA.
To find out more about Liz & her adventures with Toni check out her website: www.natures-therapies.co.uk and follow her on social media (Facebook @naturestherapies, Instagram @natures_therapies and Twitter @naturestherapie). Nature’s Therapies also has a YouTube channel where Liz posts videos on training Toni the cat, animal behaviour & training hints & tips, as well as other fab content!
Liz offers the following services during the Corvid lockdown-
Services offered during the Coronavirus outbreak
Animal behavioural consults conducted via video call appointments:
60-90 minute initial consult including a full write up, liaison with other pet professionals such as vets, groomers etc. email & phone support. (£95)
On-going support sessions 60 minutes include write ups & the other support listed in the initial consult section. (£50)
1-2-1 animal training conducted via video call appointments:
60 minute 121 training session with your animal (doesn’t just have to be for dogs – e.g. cats love to train too!) includes write up. (£40)
Block book & pay for 6x sessions to receive 10% off.
Mixed ability dog training classes conducted via Zoom video call group meetings:
6-7pm every Thursday £10. Once you have paid via bank transfer each week Liz will send you the Zoom link, simply click on the link at the beginning of the session to join us! Learn basic obedience, trick training, doggy yoga and have fun with your dogs.