We might not know it by looking at the faces of our enigmatic feline companions, but life can be pretty stressful for them. In fact they spend their lives evaluating possible threats that might be lurking around every corner! The reason for this is that cats are solitary survivalists and as such showing any emotion might give a potential competitor the advantage! In fact, their facial skeleton doesn’t have the number of muscles to allow them to create the types of expressions that dogs can!
So this means it can be difficult to tell when our cat is having a stressful time. The odd bit of stress every now and then is part and parcel of life but chronic stress can be very harmful to our cats and can kick-start physiological processes in their bodies that can precipitate the onset of disease.
However, there are lots of things we can do to optimise the home environment our cats are living in so that the chances of them becoming stressed are reduced:
Cats have adapted as solitary hunters and therefore prefer to eat at a ‘table for one’. So if you have a multi-cat household it’s a good idea to feed your cats in separate areas. If you usually leave a bowl of dry food for your cats to ‘graze’ on throughout the day, try splitting it into different containers left around the house. This can eliminate the stress your cats might feel by having to compete for their food.
Likewise, having various drinking stations around your home will reduce the need for competition and it might also stop your cats from having a surreptitious drink from the glass of water that you left unattended! Cats don’t necessarily associate water with food as we do, so keeping the two completely separate is a good idea.
3. Litter Trays
Even if your cat is the outdoorsy type and performs it toilet ‘duties’ in the garden (or in the neighbour’s garden!) it’s always a good idea to maintain some kind of toilet facility for him in a discreet location indoors. Cats are at their most vulnerable when toileting and it might only take one ‘mid-flow’ ambush from another cat to create a negative association with toileting outdoors. I always feel that it’s easier to maintain a litter tray than it is to try and get rid of the smell of cat wee from a sodden carpet! If you have more than one cat, then having at least two trays is important.
4. High Places
Cats like to be in control and when they’re up high this is how they feel! So providing lots of places that they can climb up to is really important for our cats. These could be shelves, wardrobe tops or the modular multi-level cat activity centres/scratchers that you can buy online or in pet shops. If you do decide to go for the latter, bear in mind that they should be stable, and if very tall, attached to a wall. If your cat is elderly, giving them a ‘stepping-stone’ so that they can access a raised comfy place such as the sofa or a bed will help to make them feel more secure.
5. Hiding Places
Sometimes our cats just need to get away from it all. Having a number of hiding places available where they can relax in peace is an essential part of reducing their overall stress. This could be on a blanket inside an open wardrobe, on a sleeping bag or duvet under a bed or even a cardboard box in a quiet place with something soft inside it. It’s important to try and avoid the temptation to disturb them whilst they’re having their ‘me time’!
From kittens to the elderly, most cats thrive on play! Whether it be self-play or interactive play with us humans. There are thousands of cat toys on the market but you needn’t spend a fortune and a scrunched up piece of paper or a shoelace can usually do the trick! However, each cat will have their own preferences when it comes to toys and I’m sure you’ll have quickly learned what floats your cat’s boat! Whatever you go for it’s important that the toy remains novel. Cats get bored very quickly and if you’re wondering why yours has stopped playing with that expensive motion-activated mouse it could be that he’s already ‘killed it’ and sees no point in going near it again! So having a number of toys in a sealed bag with some dried catnip leaves thrown in and rotating them by bringing one or two out at a time may help keep your cat interested. If you love being involved with your cat’s play, the long-handled fishing rod toys are great!
NB: The more high places, hiding places and toys you have, especially in multi-cat households, the better!
7. The Great Outdoors…
Can sometimes be a scary place for our feline companions, so making sure they have some high places in the garden from where they can survey their territory is important. If you don’t already have a cat-flap and are thinking of getting one, I would thoroughly recommend a microchip cat flap. This is one that can be programmed with a cat’s unique microchip number giving only the cats that should be coming into your home entry and exit rights! If your cat is nervous about going outdoors, having some camouflage such as outdoor pot plants around the front of his exit point will allow him to scan the garden from relative safety.
8. Interacting With Our Cats
Some cats are real ‘cuddle monsters’ whilst other can be slightly more disdainful when we attempt to gather them up and enfold them in our arms! The rule of thumb here is usually to allow your cat dictate the intensity and frequency of physical contact. Where they do indicate to you that they might like some petting then keeping these interactions short, for example a tickle around the head, cheek and chin will usually satisfy them. If you leave them wanting more, the chances are that they’ll keep coming back to you!
If you believe there to be any signs of tension amongst the felines in your home, or you have a particularly anxious cat then a de-stressing diffuser plugged into a room in which your cat usually feels relaxed can be very helpful.
…and most importantly, cats thrive on routine and predictability so keeping their routines as consistent as possible is incredibly important when it comes to allowing them to live as stress-free as possible!