Sometimes change is unavoidable for our cats, like moving into a new home, bringing home a new baby, having house guests, or adopting a new dog or cat. All of these can truly rock a cat’s world and trigger behavior changes. Sometimes even the slightest change can cause some cats to become uncomfortable, fearful, stressed, and anxious. Here’s how to create a happier, stress-free environment for your cat and ways to enrich their environment at home.
Cats are very vulnerable to changes in their life, and they will often show us when they are feeling anxious and uncomfortable by hiding more often, obsessively licking or vocalizing more, uncontrollably chewing or drooling, sleeping all day or more than normal, urine marking or even potting outside the litter box. Sometimes external changes in the cat’s home environment can even negatively impact your cat’s overall health and quality of life.
Identify Causes of Behavior Change
First, identify the situations or changes in the environment responsible for your cat’s new behavior. Always talk with your veterinarian first about behavior changes and schedule an examination to make sure the behavior changes are not health related. If you get a clean bill of health and there are no physical problems associated with their new behavior, then here are some ways to help your cat become calmer, more comfortable and happier.
Making Your Home More Comfortable
Make sure that your home provides some outlets for your cat to express their natural behaviors and keep them stimulated. Providing an opportunity for your cat to climb, perch, run, play, hide, and observe life—will increase your cat’s happiness factor.
Tall Scratching Posts
Tall scratching posts allow cats to stretch, strengthen their leg muscles and use their claws. Find posts that are at least 3 feet high or higher, so cats can get a good extended stretch, and make sure that the posts are strong, stable and preferably made of sisal or rope. Place the posts in strategic locations where your cat likes to spend time. Think about adding multiple tall scratching posts in different rooms or places. Cats like to perch, so consider finding a post that has a platform on top. You can buy dried catnip and wipe it on the sisal or material for some added stimulation and playtime.
Cat Trees & Cat Furniture
Cats love to climb and be in high places, and if you have a multi-cat household, cat trees and climbers provide an easy way for your cat to get some alone time and be independent. Cat trees, wall planks, ladders and window ledges all work to add more vertical real estate to your home and give your cat more freedom to move. Today, you can find a wide variety of cat trees and cat furniture online and in pet stores—from wall mounted shelves to more elaborate cat gymnasiums. There are simple cat door climbers that attach to the backside of a door that have platforms for cats to climb. There are foldable cat ladders that extend from the ceiling to the floor where cats can skillfully climb up and down. Using the wall, you can add cat stairs or ramps that run along the wall up to the ceiling, with various places to sit along the way. Window perches and window shelves offer cats a way to watch life outside and sleep in the sun. There are a multitude of well-designed cat condos and cat beds for the floor, and attractive hanging pillow cat trapezes that hang from the ceiling for cats to climb and slumber on. Simple cardboard boxes can be stacked for cats to play in and hide.
All cat trees and furniture should be strong, well constructed, stable, safe, and easy to clean. Consider being creative and go to the hardware store and make your own cat furniture that will fit your sense of style and design at home. Cat trees, perches, shelves, ladders, and planks all provide additional real estate inside the home, use vertical space, and give cats more safe places to hide and be alone.
Lots of Play Toys
Try to build in playtime with your cat on a daily basis. Add 15 minutes to your daily routine, before you head out to work and after you come home, to play with your cat. Playing stimulates them, reduces boredom and stress, and gives them some needed physical exercise. This is also a great time to brush them, most cats really enjoy being softly brushed.
Fishing-rod type toys with long strings and a ball at the end (you can make these yourself) or teaser wands are great to dangle or run with. Cats love to chase after red laser lights that shine onto walls and along the floor. Adding some catnip toys, like the felt mice, provides a safe and great diversion for them when you’re away. Since catnip toys lose their strength and potency, make sure to replace them after a few weeks. Small rubber balls can provide endless fun, or make your own by wadding up paper. You can make an easy, fun toy for them by taking an empty cardboard paper towel roll and stuffing it with some dry food kibble. Fold up the ends tightly and let your cat try to figure out how to get to the food! They can spend hours with it.
Build Outdoor Cat Enclosures
Adding a safe, protected outside enclosure for your cat is a great way to let you cat enjoy the outdoor world, while keeping them safe from all the potential dangers and hazards outside. These enclosures, also called Catios, can range in size from small screened-in vertical spaces with shelving—to more elaborate kennels. Once built, you can add shelves, planks, steps, stairways, cat trees, and chairs for them to use for more vertical space.
Create Quiet Sleeping Areas & Hiding Spaces
Cats are happiest when they have their own spaces that are safe, quiet and undisturbed away from people and pets. You can make quiet spaces for them inside closets by placing a cat bed on the floor or in the closet corners or add beds to the top shelves, then run a ladder or plank up to the shelf. Unfolding simple cardboard boxes and adding them to closets with a soft blanket inside is perfect, as long as closet doors are always kept ajar. At home, we have several large cat beds under our bed, and our cats love to hide and sleep there. The more private, the better.
Provide Access to Windows
Since cats are safer indoors, give your cat plenty of window space to watch life outside. You can mount window perches or ledges, or build in a windowsill and add cat cushions. Or simply place a tall cat tree next to your window.
Play Quiet Music & TV Entertainment
When you’re not at home or you’re at work all day, playing some soft, quiet music can be very relaxing for them—research on animals has shown that classical and solo instrumental music is most effective in reducing pets’ heart and respiration rates. Music should be a slower speed and have lower tones. Harp music is also thought to be optimal for cats and dogs. Playing classical or quiet, calming music has been shown to result in dogs and cats that have less disease, have fewer destructive behaviors, experience less stress and anxiety, are healthier and happier, and are more relaxed overall. Research also has shown that pop and rock music, and loud and fast music, has just the opposite effect on pets.
Sometimes leaving the TV on with no volume or on low volume, can provide visual distraction and interest. Our cats love watching Animal Planet on TV, and sometimes we leave the TV on all day with the volume turned off.
Use Calming Products
There are several safe and effective calming products on the market today that use natural herbs, extracts or pheromones to help reduce a cat’s stress and anxiety and create a sense of calm. Here are a few:
- Feliway Plug-In Diffuser and Refill (by Comfort Zone) – The diffuser contains calming pheromones to reduce stress and is effective for one room. Plug into a wall outlet and the diffuser releases natural and safe pheromones all day. Allow four weeks to see improved behavior. They need to be replaced in four weeks.
- Feliway Spray (by Comfort Zone) – The spray contains calming pheromones to reduce stress and can be sprayed onto furniture, cat beds, car seats, walls, chairs or any surface, but never spray on your cat.
- Rescue Remedy Spray or Drops (by Bach) – Rescue Remedy contains different flower extracts including helianthemum, clematis, and impatiens to calm and relax. This is a very safe product. Drops can be added to water bowls (4-5 drops in small to medium bowl), rubbed onto the inside of their ear or the pads of their paws where blood vessels are located, or drop a couple drops onto cat’s tongue. The spray can be sprayed on surfaces but not directly on the cat.
- Bach Flower Remedy Essences (by Bach) – Flower essences can be blended for a cat’s particular needs and behavior. They may be combined with herbs in some cases, depending on the particular benefits needed.
- Herbs – There are herbs that are effective in calming and reducing anxiety including Cherry Plum, Elm, Valerian, Chamomile, St. John’s Wort, Kava Kava and Skullcap. Correct dosage is critical, and some herbs should never be given to cats. Contact a holistic vet who specializes in creating the proper herb therapy.
- Calming Collar (by Sentry) – Personally I’m not a big fan of these, though I know many people in rescue who are. The collar works by releasing sustained calming pheromones. But the powder that coats the collar comes off on their fur and materials and cats can lick the powder, which can be a health concern, not all ingredients are noted.
- Nature’s Miracle Calming Spray (Nature’s Miracle) – A non-sedating blend of natural pheromones and herbal extracts work to soothe and calm. Spray near the cat, on cat beds, inside the car, but never spray on the cat.
- Chews, pastes and treats – Be careful of anything that can be ingested that delivers calming or sedation. Active ingredients can include natural extracts and herbs, but some could be possible allergens. Be sure to check the ingredients on the label, many of the inactive ingredients can contain chemicals that may be unhealthy.
Use Holistic Therapies
The many holistic healing therapies that benefit people—also can greatly benefit our pets. These modalities done through touch and energy work can help bring balance, relaxation and healing on all levels and work toward changing behaviors and bringing stress relief. They work to realign and restore the body’s normal function, release tension and stuck energy, and restore emotional and physical well being. These can be done at home with some training or research, or by using a trained practitioner:
- Therapeutic Touch (TTouch) Therapy – TTouch therapy is a manual method using hands with circular movements on the body at varying pressure ranges.
- Accupressure & Therapeutic Massage – Both work to soothe, comfort and relax your cat.
- Animal Reiki – You can learn Reiki for animals through a Reiki practitioner, book or course. It’s a gentle and effective technique for tapping into the animals’ natural healing energy to relax them, and works to improve physical and emotional well being.
- Food & Diet – It’s best to avoid giving stressed cats any food with grains (dry or wet); give them more canned food or food that is high in protein, and give them a good probiotic that can be added to food on an empty stomach. The best probiotics include live natural plant enzymes (you can get these at Whole Foods).
Veterinary Prescribed Drugs
Getting a prescription from your vet should be the last resort in most cases. But some cases it may be necessary. It’s better to work on enriching your cat’s environment to align it with their natural innate behaviors by providing them more outlets to express themselves, than to use altering medications (like Xanax® and Valium®) that have some serious side effects. In some cases, if you’ve exhausted all possibilities and environmental enrichment, calming aids, and holistic therapy has not helped, your vet may prescribe a medication.
There is a newer drug on the market available through a veterinary prescription that is effective at reducing stress in cats. It can be used short-term or several weeks, and has very minimal side effects:
- Zylkene by Vetoquinol – Zylkene is a powder that comes in capsule form and can be mixed in your cat’s wet food or in a liquid. The dosage depends on your cat’s weight. It can be given just prior to anticipated stressful events that trigger behavioral problems or if behavior problems persist and aren’t resolving.
By trying different ideas, you can find the right combination that is optimal for helping your cat enjoy life. Sometimes it’s by trial and error to find the best solution. Some of these ideas work great together, but each one on its own will help your cat relax, be happier and enjoy life!
Photo credit: New Kittens via Photopin.com (creativecommons.org/licenses)