With many people working from home, kids being home from school, and the whole schedule changing, many cats have had their routines turned upside down. Eventually we will try to return to “normal” life, whatever that will be like, but how can we help our cats adjust?
While dogs might think it’s cool that their owners are home a lot more, it seems cats are not dealing well. At all. Across the country, veterinarians have seen a significant increase in cats presenting with urinary tract disease (idiopathic cystitis) and the worst-case-scenario, blocked cats (urinary obstruction) This syndrome is associate with stress. The more stressed out the cat, the worse their symptoms. We treat by addressing the stress as the underlying cause… not sure how possible that is now.
To a lesser extent, veterinarians around the country have also seen an increase in phone calls about cats with upper respiratory symptoms (AKA kitty head colds). Well, guess what. Another feline disease that is brought on by stress is herpes. They’ve had the herpesvirus the whole time, but stress can suppress the immune system just enough to cause a flare-up. This usually looks like a runny, squinty eye, or sneezing.
So clearly our cats wish we’d all go back to wherever it is we go all day, and leave them alone.
Even though you might not think your cat is stressed, and if they fortunately are not manifesting these health issues, there is probably a bit of anxiety going on. Think about it… do you really know what your cat does all day when you’re gone? Sure, he sleeps. But what’s his rotation of beds and perches? What’s his room of choice? Are there kids now in the room he prefers to nap? Did you set up your work station along the path to his litter box? Or do you have smaller children who just want to pet poor Fluffy all day and he’s had it!
It’s important to give our cats plenty of breathing room. Think about where he likes to get his “me time” and try to give him space. Heck, if he has a favorite room and you want to close the door and give him a few hours of quiet, he might thank you! (Of course, if he wants out, that’s totally defeating the purpose).
Most importantly, watch your cat for signs of anxiety. Be cool about it, so he doesn’t know you’re watching. 🙂 Signs of anxiety can include the obvious, major ones, like peeing or pooping outside the litter box, blood in the urine, or a herpes flare-up. Other signs can be more subtle, like over-grooming. If you notice hair loss in weird places (the belly is a top choice) that can be a cry for help. Some cats get stress diarrhea (OK, there’s a sign that’s hard to miss). Others might not be eating as much. If you have multiple cats and just have the food down all the time, this can be a subtle sign that’s almost impossible to notice. But be stealthy and make sure everyone visits the bowls every now and then.
Anxiety can manifest between cats as well. When cats are being jerks to each other, the bullying can be very subtle. Sure, hissing, puffing up, and growling are the obvious signs. Most bullying in cats takes the form of a tail flick, or a look in the eye. In multi-cat households, make sure someone isn’t guarding a litter box or food bowls by lying in a strategic spot. All she has to do is lie there and give a look, and that can make another cat not want to even enter the room!
If you think you are seeing any of these signs, or aren’t seeing them but don’t want to risk it, there are several good products out there to help promote calm and decrease anxiety. Pheromones can be purchased as a plug-in diffuser or a spray, and can go a long way to help a cat feel more at ease. Some pheromones are for individual cat stress, while others are for inter-cat anxiety. There are even supplements like Solliquin, Anxitane, or Composure, to name a few, that are flavored like a treat and might help give your cat some coping skills. They cannot hurt, so never a bad idea. Your veterinarian might have a favorite, so if you think your cat is stressed, always worth a phone call for suggestions too!
While those things can help, what our cats really want is space. Time to be alone with their thoughts. I know these are stressful times for everyone. Try to keep an eye out for signs of stress in your kitty, and give the poor guy more breathing room if he’s asking.