How to help your cat with separation anxiety after lockdown.
Around the world we have found ourselves living through a strange and disconcerting time, in the midst of a pandemic. Anxiety about health and finances, the challenges of suddenly home-schooling our children and adjusting to not being allowed to meet friends and family, are just a few examples of causes of stress for us over the last few months. Many of us embraced and welcomed the slower-paced and quieter life during lockdown, and could feel anxious about returning to ‘normal’ life. These feelings of anxiety and stress felt by people undoubtedly affect our pets, who are very much in tune with our feelings and emotions.
When lockdown started our pets had to get used to the sudden change in our routines. This caused stress for many animals, especially cats who thrive on routine. Some animals, like my own cat, relished the company and attention. As lockdown eases and we start to leave our homes for longer periods, this too is a change that can cause stress.
There are many ways we can help our cats feel comfortable and safe at home.
Cats can demonstrate stress by fighting with other cats, soiling outside litter trays or keeping to themselves.
To reduce stress, cats should be allowed to move freely within the home, and ideally with free access outside. It is true that we cannot keep our cats completely safe from outside dangers such as the road, dogs and other cats, but in terms of stress, other cats - in the home, or in the neighbourhood - are by far the most common, and biggest, cause of stress in our cats.
Cats are, by nature, solitary animals and would naturally live alone. Feral cats choose to live in groups for safety, but each individual would have their own core territory which would be respected by the other members of the group. Cats do, however, love to live with humans, and we love living with them just as much; making multi-cat households, and large numbers of cats in our neighbourhoods, more and more common. Generally, cats are also highly territorial and have had to adjust to coping with smaller territories.
In a multi-cat household, the best way to reduce stress is to remove competition between cats. They might be happy to share resources with each other, but they want to have the choice - not to share because they have to. Provide each cat with their own sleeping area where they can rest without being disturbed by other animals (or humans!), their own separate eating area, and many scratch boxes. These resources should ideally be completely separate from the other cats’ resources, in different rooms on different levels of the home. If that is not possible you could create different levels within the same room using shelves and elevated spaces such as the top of a cupboard for cats to ‘escape’ the others. Provide multiple water bowls in the home, and outside, because cats do not like to eat and drink at the same time, or in the same place.
Scratch posts or boxes enable your cat to mark their territory, making them feel safe and secure in their environment. Additionally, endorphins are released when cats scratch and sharpen their claws, resulting in a feeling of well-being. Having many scratching boxes throughout your home will be greatly appreciated by your cats. My cat has 5 scratch boxes all to himself and he uses them all gleefully. Corrugated cardboard scratch boxes are perfect – cats love cardboard, the boxes don’t take up much space, are long lasting and good value for money.
Going to toilet can be a surprisingly stressful event for cats. They are very private, and particular about it. Outdoor cats who are stressed and in competition with other cats in the neighbourhood may start to soil your home. A cat will only soil your home if stressed, or unwell. Your cat may have cystitis if they suddenly start urinating more frequently, show discomfort when urinating, or start urinating in an unusual place. Cystitis is potentially very dangerous for male cats and your cat should be checked over by your vet if you suspect a problem. If your cat is soiling your home it is necessary to provide a litter tray for your cat, even if they choose not to use it. If you have more than one cat at home it is best to provide one litter tray per cat, plus one extra tray to prevent any competition between the cats. Changing the type of litter in the tray can also be very stressful for your cat and should be avoided if possible. The trays should be placed in quiet, out of the way places in your home. What’s convenient for you, will be convenient for your cat!
Routine is very important to cats. Neighbourhood cats come to an understanding with each other in terms of who goes where when. There is a spike in the number of cat fights in the spring when fair weather cats start to venture outside again, and the breeding season starts. Likewise, there can be a lot of fighting if a new cat moves into the area, or even if a cat leaves the territory. After a few weeks the fighting lessens as the cats work out their territories. If your cat has had free access outdoors while you have been home during lockdown, that should continue when you start to spend more time away from home to maintain the cats’ routines.
Cats are most active at dawn and at dusk. Allowing them access outside during at least one of those times is ideal. Many cats do accept being kept indoors overnight. This is much safer in terms of road accidents, as most accidents happen in the early hours of the morning. My cat knows that he comes in for dinner after dark, and is allowed outside first thing in the morning after breakfast. The other cats in the area then come into our garden late at night, confident they will not come across my rather feisty feline. Again, is it keeping the routine that is important.
Valerian root spray is particularly helpful for cats because you don’t have to get them to eat something they don’t want to eat! I use Pet Remedy: https://petremedy.co.uk/
Calming supplements containing L-tryptophan, the precursor for the body’s happy hormone Serotonin, can be helpful too.
Calming essential oils such as lavender is another option, but do be very careful with essential oils as many are harmful for cats.
Feliway spray for cats is the synthetic version of the pheromone released by a cat when rubbing their face on furniture, or you. When the cat smells the pheromone they left behind, they feel safe and secure in their territory. I find the sprays to be more helpful as the diffusers can fail to get up to concentration with open doors and windows, or an open-plan home. It should be sprayed daily in places important to your cat such as cat flaps, window sills your cat sits on, feeding areas and so forth.
Finally, if your pet has become ‘stuck’ in a state of anxiety or stress and is not responding to what you have tried, a holistic approach is recommended. A homeopathic consult with a qualified homeopathic vet takes into consideration everything about your pet - their physical health and appearance, personality, diet, environment and life experiences - to find a suitable remedy that is individually chosen for your pet. A well-matched remedy can support the body to heal on a very deep level, to improve physical and emotional health in a very gentle way.
You can connect with Ingrid at: Ingrid@andersonvet.co.uk