Saturday 8th August is International Cat Day!
However in these unusual times of COVID19 not only has it been a difficult and unsettling few months for us, but also for our fury felines.
Cats are believed to be typically fairly independent animals, but this will vary between breeds of cats and individuals. Cats are very much creatures of habit (much like ourselves) and they can struggle with changes in routine.
Imagine what some cats must have felt when at the beginning of lock down; suddenly the house was full and noisy with humans being around all day. In some cases people have noticed that their cat had ‘gone missing’ as they struggle to cope with the sudden changes.
It is important that cats have the option to take themselves off to a quiet place where they are left undisturbed, or get up high and hide, so providing them with lots of options will help them feel safer.
This scenario was so true of our cats; Luna, our little Burmilla had a crisis with her inflammatory bowel disease and needed veterinary intervention. However as a result of that and the lock down changes she also developed cystitis, which is often a stress reaction in cats, and she would be found tucked away behind some bit of furniture.
However the story does not end there as cats become increasingly attached to their owners as they start adjusting to the extra time spent together with their human family. This may result in more cats suffering from separation anxiety, once the lockdown is over and their humans start to return to work / school, etc,. The sudden increase in separation might be confusing and disorientating for these cats. Whether they are left alone for just a few hours or for longer periods. Separation anxiety can vary greatly in its severity and intensity and can be a real problem for some cats and their owners. Certain breeds of cat – usually the more exotic breeds such as Siamese and Burmese as well as house cats – may become far more bonded with their owners and therefore are more likely to suffer from separation anxiety.
Signs of anxiety in cats
While the symptoms of separation anxiety may differ from cat to cat, there are often some common symptoms that are displayed.
Cats suffering from separation anxiety might start spraying around the house, which is a common sign of stress.
You might notice that your cat constantly wants attention and meows if you’re not giving her enough. This may be a sign of over-dependence and may mean that your cat is distressed when you are not at home. Stressed cats can also sometimes over groom, or under groom.
In the case of our five cats, we had a situation where Luna started to regain her dominance as her inflammatory bowel problems improved. This coincided with us starting to spend more time away from the house as we prepared to return to clinic / office, etc., resulting in both a bit of spraying in a couple of places round the house and Percy meowing for attention.
How to help reduce the likelihood of separation anxiety after lockdown restrictions are lifted
There are several things a pet behaviourist might suggest:
- Look at your cat’s environment to make sure she has lots to do to enrich her life. A bored cat is more likely to look to her owner for stimulation. Cats like to be in control and one with a cat flap, with the freedom to come and go at will, may be less likely to suffer from separation anxiety.
- If there is more than one of you get other family members involved in caring for your cat, eg, feeding, playing, etc. Teach your cat that he/she can have these things from a variety of people to ease her reliance on you.
- Pheromone sprays and plug-ins, which are a man-made version of the substance a cat deposits when she rubs her cheek on your leg or furniture, can help in the home to relax an anxious pet.
- In a severely anxious cat, medication from the vet might be necessary to relax them enough so that they can learn it’s OK to not always be with their owner.
- Rather than give your cat attention every time she approaches you for a stroke, think about playing with her or getting a puzzle toy to put her food in. These are balls with holes in that you fill with kibble, which drops out as the cat plays with it.