By Dr. Amanda Rouen
While our indoor cat companions are undoubtedly living longer and healthier lives, they are restricted to houses/apartments where they must interact with other pets and people. These new living arrangements can make it difficult for our “feline friends” to flee from stressors if feeling uncomfortable, which is a far cry from their previous lifestyle of roaming and hunting outdoors. This change in lifestyle can lead to medical and behavioral signs of anxiety and stress such as: inappropriate urination and painful bladder conditions, increased marking with their claws, persistent hiding, and over-grooming to name a few. A question becomes “are our cats feeling like the caged lions at the zoo?” Zoo animal welfare has greatly improved with the implementation of environmental enrichment, and the same concept can be applied to our indoor cats.
What are 10 things we can do to help decrease stress and anxiety?
1.Utilize our space in feline friendly ways like having 1 food bowl per cat in different locations. Add an extra water dish and place it in a different location.
2.Create more vertical space for cats to climb- like a cat tree, shelf, window seat, etc.
3.Have at least one litterbox per cat plus an extra to encourage appropriate elimination in a low-traffic area.
4.Purchase mentally stimulating toys that encourage cats to “hunt,” food puzzle toys or even a cardboard box with holes for them to get toys or treats out of.
5.Play with your cat! Laser pointers, cat feather toys, balls- every cat has a preference for different toys and remember to reward them with a treat when they do.
6.Have a safe place for the cat to escape- it can be a carrier left out or a cardboard box that is on a raised perch so they can feel safe and protected and rest peacefully.
7.Stimulate them with music, a view of a bird feeder, fish tank, TV show, etc.
8.Provide appropriate scratching surfaces to allow cats the natural instinct to stretch their body, shed their outer nail surface, and feel good. There are many types of scratchers like horizontal and vertical shapes, sisal rope, cardboard and wood seem to be preferred over carpet. Make sure they are located near where the cat sleeps so they can scratch when they wake or put it near the undesirable object (e.g. your couch) and reward them when they use it!
9.Cats have a great sense of smell and synthetic feline pheromones such as Feliway can be a natural way to calm a cat without us humans even knowing it’s there since we can’t smell it!
10.Remember that cats need positive interaction with us- grooming, play, petting and talking to them all count!
Is your house cat friendly? Click here for a checklist.