Is Your Home Environment Stressing Out Your Cat?
Cats may be better protected within four walls than they are in the great outdoors – their natural habitat - but are they really 'at home'? Unlike dogs or other domestic animals, cats are solitary hunters in their natural environment. They seek out small prey and protect and seek refuge in their territories. In your home, these natural behavioural patterns can translate into unwelcome ones, such as scratching, climbing and marking. If these instincts aren't properly channelled, they can cause stress – not just for you, but for your cat too.
Stress impacts upon cat behaviour and can even make them susceptible to health problems. "Just as stress is known to affect our health, it can have the same effect on cats. While it may not be a direct cause it does make them more likely to develop various ailments such as Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD), the number one reason why cats see veterinarians1," said Dr Guy Fyvie, Veterinary Advisor to Hill's Pet Nutrition.
But how can you tell if your cat is stressed? Cats exhibit stress in different ways depending on their personality type, but the following are often signs of anxiety or stress in cats:
· Withdrawing or hiding is the most common – if you haven’t seen your cat around much recently it could be reacting to stress by hiding away
· Changes in relationship with other household pets or family members
· Behavioural changes e.g. spending more time indoors irrespective of the season
· Inappropriate urination or defecation, e.g. accidents or spraying indoors
· Meowing or yowling – excessive vocalisation
· Defensive aggression towards cats or people (hissing, growling, swatting etc)
· Extreme vigilance and heightened startle response
· Over-grooming or excessive licking (to the point of hair loss)
· Pacing back and forth
· Loss of appetite
· Less playful or not at all playful
Ten Steps to a Cat-Friendly Home
Creating a cat-friendly home means accommodating your cat's instinctive needs to help reduce the potential stresses of a life lived indoors:
1. Scratching: Satisfy your cat's natural urge to scratch by having at least one scratching post in your home. Scratching releases pheromones, which make cats feel happy and relaxed.
2. Litter: Provide one litter box for each of your cats. Make sure it is clean and big enough – at least one and a half times your cat’s body length.
3. Play: Cats need to be active and engaged, so create a play area with toys and other items to keep yours busy.
4. View: Indoor cats can get bored, so make sure yours has a window seat with a view of the outside world.
5. Climbing: Cats love to climb up high and look down – this makes them feel secure. Create safe high places like a perch or an empty shelf that your cat can use as a vantage point.
6. Refuge: Sometimes cats need to get away from it all, just like we do. Create a place of refuge where your cat can feel safe, like a hiding hut or den.
7. To Each His Own: If you have more than one cat, make sure you have enough food, water, litter boxes, and safe places for each animal.
8. Separate 'Toilet' and 'Dining Room': Cats are fussy about the location of their litter. Place litter trays far from food and water bowls and in quiet places.
9. Fresh water should be easily accessible, preferably in metal or ceramic bowls or from a kitty fountain (whichever is your cat’s preference).
10. Nutrition: New Hill's Prescription Diet c/d Urinary Stress, a complete food available from veterinarians, that includes ingredients L-tryptophan and milk protein hydrolysate which are clinically proven to help reduce stress in cats. If your cat appears stressed this special diet may help.
As well as creating a cat-friendly home environment how you interact with your cat will also have a huge impact on stress levels. Some other ways you can keep your cat relaxed and happy:
1. Fitness: Lean cats are at lower risk of stress. Be your cat's personal trainer and keep her fit and easily able to move and jump.
2. Praise: Always praise cats for good behaviour, like using the litter box or scratching post, and never punish them for accidents.
3. Interact: Last but definitely not least, spend quality interactive time with your cat. It needs your companionship, particularly during times of change or stress.
Is your cat stressed? Take the Kitty Stress-O-Meter test to find out www.hillspromo.co.za/stressometer .
Hill’s™ Prescription Diet™ c/d™ Urinary Stress comes in great-tasting dry kibbles and a tasty salmon pouch from veterinarians nationwide. To find out more visit www.hillspet.co.za/urinary-health or speak to your vet for expert advice.