The Secret To Happy Cats

Cat

Stress and anxiety related cat behavioural problems and illnesses are occurring more frequently than ever before; this is mainly due to the ever increasing cat population that sees our cats living in multi cat households or being forced to share territories and live in close proximity with strange cats. Behavioural problems and illnesses are not only stressful to the cats, they can be very upsetting for owners and are one of the leading causes for cats being put up for adoption or euthanased.

Stress and anxiety may lead to unwanted behaviours such as urination and spraying in the home or stress-related illnesses such as idiopathic cystitis and over-grooming; some cats may excessively groom, sleep or eat as a means of self-soothing.

Problems usually occur when a cat does not feel secure and relaxed in his or her own home and may be due to many things including

  • Problems with other cats – both within the household or from neighbouring areas
  • Changes to their usual routine
  • Changes to the normal household routine , for example the owner changing working hours, a new baby or new pet, new neighbours and/or their pets, visitors, arguments in the home, decor changes, building work etc. (The list could go on and on!)
  • House move – not only are they in an unfamiliar home, they also have to figure out their territory allowance with the other neighbourhood cats.
  • Illnesses such as urinary problems, skin problems, stomach upsets and over-grooming are all commonly linked to stress and may exacerbate stress, or sometimes stress can exacerbate the illness.
  • Lack of mental stimulation (boredom),
  • Lack of exercise

Multicat Households

Multi-cat households are homes where two or more cats live together. For most cats everything is fine and they get on well, but occasionally something will happen that upsets the balance of the social groups within the home and leads to problems.

It is vitally important as an owner, to know whether or not your cats are bonded and in the same social group. Cat behaviour can be very subtle and just because your cats are not actively fighting or hissing at each other, it does not necessarily mean that they are the best of friends. Sometimes cats living in the same household do not perceive each other to be in the same social group, but they may tolerate the presence of others in order to access a resource such as food or comfy resting areas.

Social groups can be complicated for example in a 3 cat household you may find that you have 1, 2 or no social groups at all!

Bonded cats within the same social group will

  • Sleep curled/piled up together (or in very close proximity)
  • Head bump and body rub each other
  • Make greeting noises at each other
  • Groom each other
  • Play together

Non-bonded cats may

  • Stare at each other from across a room
  • Block passage to other areas e.g. by sitting in the middle of a doorway, sit at the bottom/top of the stairs and may also hiss or swipe at others going past
  • Chase another, sometimes ending with a swipe or bite (which a surprising high number of owners think is playing)
  • May have their ears back and tails tucked under (or swishing) when another of the household cats is nearby
  • May sleep in the same vicinity, but not curled up/touching one another

The body language our cats display can be very subtle and cat’s that don’t like each other will not always demonstrate this easily for owners to see. This Feliway Friends Or Foes link demonstrates the signs very well.

Bonded cats will demonstrate mutual grooming, body rubbing and sleep in very close proximity

Bonded cats will demonstrate mutual grooming, body rubbing and sleep in very close proximity

How you can help your cat(s) feel more secure 

If you can meet the environmental needs of your cats, you can avoid some of the potential causes of stress and anxiety in their lives that may lead to behavioural problems and impact on their physical and mental health. It is always impressive to see how much more relaxed and less anxious cats can become once these needs have been taken into consideration, even little changes can help a great deal.

1. Create Safe Havens 

We often overlook the need for cats to have safe havens or sanctuaries within the home. Your cat can use these places to hide away if frightened by something in the environment or just to relax out of reach of people and other animals in the home. In multi-cat households the availability of hiding places in all the different areas within the home is very important, because while they may often choose to be in there together, your cats may also need their own individual space at some point.

Your cats may already have their favourite go-to places, so you can make these more cosy and add something for them to hide behind, such as a piece of card or a cloth cover. Examples of good safe places include

  • The top of a wardrobe or cupboard
  • A high shelf/perch (putting a small lip on the shelf will make your cat feel more hidden)
  • Space under a bed or in a cupboard
  • A box with a bed in it behind the sofa or chair (you can also use a cat carrier).
  • Secure a box to the top of a cat tower
  • Cat Tunnel or similar
  • A comfy bed/box in the shed or garage

When your cat is in the safe haven, he or she should be left completely undisturbed by everyone; no talking no touching, no enticing. When your cat is out and about you can talk to, stroke and interact with him or her.

Cats can really benefit from having a total sanctuary like this where they can escape from everything (we know many people do too) and it can be especially helpful for nervous or reactive cats. The thing to remember is that even after hundreds of years of domestication, cats are ultimately solitary animals and sometimes desperately need their own space – even from their loving owners.

Sanctuaries

2. Position Resources Carefully

The vital resources your cat needs include

  • Water
  • Food
  • Litter trays
  • Beds / Resting Areas
  • Scratching posts
  • Play Areas and Toys

Make sure that these resources are spread out and that food, water and litter trays are not near each other or near windows, doorways and cat flaps, particularly where another cat may be able to see or sneak up on your cat while he or she is using them. If there is no option but to put resources in these places, try to create a bit of camouflage for your cat in those areas using a curtain or frosted window coverings for example.

Cats prefer their water source and food sources to be separate from each other, so bear this is mind while you are planning where to put things.

In a multi-cat household make sure you provide resources for each social group as far away as possible from the other to reduce the risk of conflict and relationship breakdown. If you don’t have much space, think about using shelves, work surfaces or other slightly higher places to create separate feeding stations for your cat.

Use surfaces on different levels to create separate feeding stations in Multicat households

3. Litter Trays

Litter trays can be invaluable resources for anxious and stressed cats as having to go outside to eliminate can add to their problem.

  • For multi cat households it is recommended that you have one tray per cat plus one extra. This is not always possible in smaller spaces, so look at the social groups within the home and try to have at least one per group.
  • Make sure trays are placed in quiet, secluded areas in your home and not in busy places like the kitchen or hallway; if you can’t put the tray in a secluded area, put it behind some sort of screen i.e. a piece of cardboard or a curtain (nobody wants to go to the toilet with an audience!)
  • Trays should be as big as possible, preferably 1.5 times the length of your cat from nose to base of tail. For older, ill, or injured cats that may have trouble squatting, a tray with higher sides, but a lower entrance may be necessary and in these cases converted plastic storage boxes or large seed trays may be helpful.
  • The tray should contain a depth of at least 3cm of cat litter in them. If your cat is having any urinary tract-related problems, then he or she may require deeper litter.
  • Remember that cat litter is marketed at owners rather than cats and your cats may not appreciate strong smelling de-odorizing cat litter!
  • Don’t use tray liners, they can get caught up in your cat’s claws while they are raking the litter.
  • Trays should be scooped out at least once daily (more frequently for cats with urinary problems) and topped up with litter as necessary. Covered trays may also need to be scooped more frequently as they will hold odours inside, which can be quite unpleasant for cats.
  • Litter trays should be thoroughly cleaned every 1-2 weeks using soap and hot water (avoid using strong smelling soaps, strong chemicals or ammonia based products).

Low sided litter trays can be great for older cats.

4. Make Time For Play And Hunting Games

Play and mental stimulation is sometimes overlooked once our cats reach adulthood and boredom can intensify usually normal behaviours that could potentially lead to problems such as obesity, destructiveness and over grooming.

  • Remember that cats prefer short but frequent bursts of activity so keep your play sessions to around 2-5 minutes.
  • Make sure that your cat gets the opportunity to win games by catching the ‘prey’ otherwise you will end up with a very frustrated kitty!
  • Individual play can be with small toys and balls. While interaction with the owner can involve the use of fishing rod type and moveable toys.
  • Using cat food/treat dispenser systems, games or making your own can be a great way of providing mental stimulation – Several toilet roll inners stuck together on a board with dry food placed into the tubes works well in both an upright or flat position.
  • Encourage food foraging by placing food parcels around the house in packages, boxes or on ‘cat shelves’.
  • Cardboard boxes can provide lots of entertainment for cats; try cutting some different sized holes in them, body sized and paw sized for extra entertainment. Scrunched up newspaper in the bottom of a box with a few pieces of dried food or treats can also be fun.
  • High shelves and cat towers are fun to play with and can also give cats a sense of security when they are up high.
  • Scratching posts/places are really important for cats (especially indoor cats and those that don’t go far when outside), they provide a place to mark territory and sharpen claws and give cats an opportunity for a proper stretch of their limbs, muscles and spine. Cats often like a variety of scratching places, so try to include a vertical and horizontal surface. Remember to ensure that upright scratching posts are secure and won’t topple as the cat is using it and that they are tall/long enough to allow the cat to stretch out fully.
  • In multi cat homes, create a play area for your cats that contains things to play in and around, for example fabric or cardboard tubes, boxes, cat towers, bags etc. as this will often prevent quarrels.
  • Cats of different social groups may need an area to be able to play individually and with the owner.
  • Rotate toys regularly to keep interest levels high

When using food and treats with toys, it is important to remember to reduce your cat’s daily food allowance for his or her main meal appropriately to avoid obesity.

cats at play

5. Secure Your Cat Flap

It is really important to ensure that other cats in the neighbourhood are not coming into your home and causing further upset and stress to your cats. Investing in a microchip-reading cat flap is a really sensible idea to prevent this.

cat flap

How relaxed would you be if a stranger kept wandering into your home?

6. Use Feline Pheromones

The use of pheromone diffusers can really help stressed cats.  At Castle Vets we recommend FELIWAY® for cats that are being bothered by Strange cats and are generally unsettled in the home and FELIWAY® FRIENDS for multi cat homes, as it is proven to help reduce tension and conflicts between cats in multi-cat households. Both of these products can be used together, however, it is no good just plugging them in and assuming they will do the job! Unless you make some or all of the recommended environmental changes mentioned above, your cat will very likely still be anxious and stressed.

If you think that your cat is having problems with stress and/or anxiety or you would like any further information please contact Castle Vets for advice and/or to make an appointment to see Clare Espley RVN.

How To Make Your Home A Stress-Free Environment For Your Cat

Stroking cat

Stress and anxiety related cat behavioural problems and illnesses are occurring more frequently than ever before; this is mainly due to the ever increasing cat population that sees our cats that sees our cats living in multi cat households or being forced to share territories and live in close proximity with strange cats. Behavioural problems and illnesses are not only stressful to the cats, they can be very upsetting for owners and are one of the leading causes for cats being put up for adoption or euthanased.

Stress and anxiety may lead to unwanted behaviours such as urination and spraying in the home or stress-related illnesses such as idiopathic cystitis and over-grooming and some cats may excessively groom, sleep or eat as a means of self-soothing.

This problem usually occurs when a cat does not feel secure and relaxed in his or her own home and may be due to many things including

  • Problems with other cats – both within the household or from neighbouring areas
  • Changes to their usual routine
  • Changes to the normal household routine – owner changed working hours, new baby, new pet, new neighbours, visitors, arguments, decor changes, building work etc.
  • House move
  • Illnesses;  urinary problems, skin problems, stomach upsets and over-grooming are all commonly linked to stress and may exacerbate stress or, sometimes, stress can exacerbate the illness.
  • Lack of mental stimulation (boredom), lack of exercise

If we can meet the environmental needs of our cats we can avoid the potential causes of stress and anxiety in their lives that can cause behavioural problems and impact on their physical and mental health.

Multicat Households

In multi-cat households, where two or more cats live together, it is vitally important to know whether or not your cats are bonded and in the same social group. Cat behaviour can be very subtle and just because your cats are not actively fighting or hissing at each other, it does not necessarily mean that they are good friends. Sometimes cats living in the same household do not perceive each other to be in the same social group, but they may tolerate the presence of others in order to access a resource such as food or comfy resting areas.

Social groups can be complicated for example in a 3 cat household you may find that you have 1, 2 or no social groups at all!

Bonded cats within the same social group will

  • Sleep curled/piled up together (or in very close proximity)
  • Head bump and body rub each other
  • Make greeting noises at each other
  • Groom each other
  • Play together
Bonded cats will demonstrate mutual grooming, body rubbing and sleep in very close proximity

Bonded cats will demonstrate mutual grooming, body rubbing and sleep in very close proximity

How you can help your cat(s) feel more secure 

1. Create Safe Havens  

We often overlook the need for cats to have safe havens or sanctuaries within the home. Your cat can use these places to hide away if frightened by something in the environment or just to relax out of reach of people and other animals in the home. In multi-cat households the availability of hiding places in all the different areas within the home is very important, because while they may often choose to be in there together, your cats may also need their own individual space at some point.

Your cats may already have their favourite go-to places, so you can make these more cosy and add something for them to hide behind, such as a piece of card or a cloth cover. Examples of good safe places include

  • The top of a wardrobe or cupboard
  • A high shelf/perch (putting a small lip on the shelf will make your cat feel more hidden)
  • Space under a bed,
  • A box with a bed in it behind the sofa or chair (you can also use a cat carrier).
  • Secure a box to the top of a cat tower
  • Cat Tunnel or similar
  • A comfy bed/box in the shed or garage

When your cat is in the safe haven, he or she should be left completely undisturbed by everyone; no talking no touching, no enticing. When your cat is out and about you can talk to, stroke and interact with him or her.

Cats can really benefit from having a total sanctuary like this where they can escape from everything (we know many people do too) and it can be especially helpful for nervous or reactive cats. The thing to remember is that even after hundreds of years of domestication, cats are ultimately solitary animals and sometimes desperately need their own space – even from their loving owners.

Sanctuaries

 

2. Position Resources Carefully

The vital resources your cat needs include

  • Water
  • Food
  • Litter trays
  • Beds / Resting Areas
  • Scratching posts
  • Play Areas and Toys

Make sure that these resources are spread out and that food, water and litter trays are not near windows, doorways and cat flaps, particularly where another cat may be able to see or sneak up on your cat while he or she is using them. If there is no option but to put resources in these places, try to create a bit of camouflage for your cat in those areas using a curtain or frosted window coverings for example.

Cats prefer their water source and food sources to be separate from each other, so bear this is mind while you are planning where to put things.

In a multi-cat household make sure you provide resources for each social group as far away as possible from the other to reduce the risk of conflict and relationship breakdown. If you don’t have much space, think about using shelves, work surfaces or other slightly higher places to create separate feeding stations for your cat.

 

3.  Provide Litter Trays

Litter trays can be invaluable resources for anxious and stressed cats as having to go outside to eliminate can add to their problem.

  • For multi cat households it is recommended that you have one tray per cat plus one extra.
  • Make sure trays are placed in quiet, secluded areas in your home and not in busy places like the kitchen or hallway; if you can’t put the tray in a secluded area, put it behind some sort of screen i.e. a piece of cardboard or a curtain (who wants to go to the toilet with an audience?)
  • Trays should be as big as possible, preferably 1.5 times the length of your cat from nose to base of tail. For older, ill, or injured cats that may have trouble squatting, a tray with higher sides, but a lower entrance may be necessary and in these cases converted plastic storage boxes or large seed trays may be helpful.
  • The tray should contain a depth of at least 3cm of cat litter in them. If your cat is having any urinary tract-related problems, then he or she may require deeper litter.
  • Remember that cat litter is marketed at owners rather than cats and your cats may not appreciate strong smelling de-odorizing cat litter!
  • Don’t use tray liners, they can get caught up in your cat’s claws while they are raking the litter.
  • Trays should be scooped out at least once daily (more frequently for cats with urinary problems) and topped up with litter as necessary. Covered trays may also need to be scooped more frequently as they will hold odours inside, which can be quite unpleasant for cats.
  • Litter trays should be thoroughly cleaned every 1-2 weeks using soap and hot water (avoid using strong smelling soaps, strong chemicals or ammonia based products).

 

4. Make Time For Play And Hunting Games

Play and mental stimulation is sometimes overlooked once our cats reach adulthood and boredom can intensify usually normal behaviours that could potentially lead to problems such as obesity, destructiveness and over grooming.

  • Remember that cats prefer short but frequent bursts of activity so keep your play sessions to around 3-5 minutes.
  • Make sure that your cat gets the opportunity to win games by catching the ‘prey’ otherwise you will end up with a very frustrated kitty!
  • Individual play can be with small toys and balls. While interaction with the owner can involve the use of fishing rod type and moveable toys.
  • Using cat food dispenser systems, games or making your own can be a great way of providing mental stimulation – Several toilet roll inners stuck together on a board with dry food placed into the tubes works well in both an upright or flat position.
  • Encourage food foraging by placing food parcels around the house in packages, boxes or on ‘cat shelves’.
  • Cardboard boxes can provide lots of entertainment for cats; try cutting some different sized holes in them, body sized and paw sized for extra entertainment. Scrunched up newspaper in the bottom of a box with a few pieces of dried food or treats can also be fun.
  • High shelves and cat towers are fun to play with and can also give cats a sense of security when they are up high.
  • Scratching posts/places are really important for cats (especially indoor cats and those that don’t go far when outside), they provide a place to mark territory and sharpen claws and give cats an opportunity for a proper stretch of their limbs, muscles and spine. Cats often like a variety of scratching places, so try to include a vertical and horizontal surface. Remember to ensure that upright scratching posts are secure and won’t topple as the cat is using it and that they are tall/long enough to allow the cat to stretch out fully.
  • In multi cat homes, create a play area for your cats that contains things to play in and around, for example fabric or cardboard tubes, boxes, cat towers, bags etc. as this will often prevent quarrels.
  • Cats of different social groups may need an area to be able to play individually and with the owner.
  • Rotate toys regularly to keep interest levels high

When using food and treats with toys, it is important to remember to reduce your cat’s daily food allowance for his or her main meal appropriately to avoid obesity.

cats at play

 

5. Secure Your Cat Flap

It is really important to ensure that other cats in the neighbourhood are not coming into your home and causing further upset and stress to your cats. Investing in a microchip-reading cat flap is a really sensible idea to prevent this.

cat flap

How relaxed would you be if a stranger kept wandering into your home?

 

6. Use Feline Pheromones

The use of pheromone diffusers can really help stressed cats.  At Castle Vets we recommend FELIWAY® for cats that are being bothered by Strange cats and are generally unsettled in the home and FELIWAY® FRIENDS for multi cat homes, as it is proven to help reduce tension and conflicts between cats in multi-cat households. Both of these products can be used together, however, it is no good just plugging them in and assuming they will do the job! Unless you make some or all of the recommended environmental changes mentioned above, your cat will very likely still be anxious and stressed.

If you think that your cat is having problems with stress and/or anxiety or you would like any further advice contact your veterinary practice. 

Travelling with your dog

Image

We travel with our dogs for a variety of reasons; it may just be for the occasional short trip to the vet or the park, but occasionally we also like to take our dogs on longer journeys or away on holiday with us. At Castle Vets we often get asked about the best way to transport dogs and how to prevent travel sickness and distress. The vast majority of dogs travel very well, but for some dogs travelling can be incredibly stressful, so here are a few tips and tricks that you may find useful.

Top tips for easy travel

  • Make sure that your dog is secure in your car. Your dog could cause an accident if it decides to jump into your lap while you are driving, and what happens to them if you have to hit the brakes and stop suddenly? There are many options available for safe travel, for example a car harness or a carrier on the back seats, or you could put them in the boot of the car behind a safety net or guard.
  • If possible, put a blanket or a towel under your dog as this will help them feel more secure and give them something comfortable to lie on (it will also help keep your car cleaner)
  • Exercise your dog before travelling so that he or she has had chance to go to the toilet and feels more relaxed.
  • Keep your dog’s lead on in the car, so that you have something to grab if he or she decides to race out the second you open the door.
  • Make sure your dog has an id tag on his or her collar and is micro chipped in case he or she escapes while you are away.
  • Sun screens on the rear windows will provide shade and help keep the car cooler while you are travelling.
  • If you are making a trip to the vets take some treats with you (as long as your dog isn’t poorly or having an operation) to ensure the car trip stays a positive experience.
  • Don’t forget to make sure you take some water and a water bowl for your dog. Dogs can get quite warm in the car, even over short distances, and especially if they are a little anxious about travelling, so they may require more water than usual.
  • If you are going on a long journey, make sure you have plenty of rest stops so that your dog can stretch its legs and go to the toilet. Also make sure that your dog has access to water at each stop.
  • Dogs die in hot cars! It can get unbearably hot in a car on a sunny day, even when it’s not that warm. In fact, when it’s 22°C outside, the temperature inside a car can soar to 47°C/117°F within 60 minutes. Make sure you keep the inside of the car as cool as possible. In a hot stuffy car dogs can’t cool down – leaving a window open or a sun shield on your windscreen won’t keep your car cool enough. 
Image

There are lots of options available to keep your dog safe in the car. Car harnesses are a good investment, but if you have a slightly nervous dog then a carrier or crate may be a better option.

Distressed dogs and Travel sickness

For most dogs, travel sickness is related to stress and anxiety rather than the motion of your car but like humans, dogs can also suffer from motion sickness which can very quickly lead to stress and anxiety, which in turn can make them feel sick, making it all a bit of a vicious cycle.  Symptoms may vary from dog to dog and they may show some, all, or a combination of these behaviours.

  • Constant drooling and looking miserable for the whole journey,
  • Shaking/Trembling
  • Barking and crying for the whole journey (although some dogs will bark out of excitement, especially if they usually end up at the park!)
  • Vomiting and/or diarrhoea during or after the journey.
  • Frantically trying to escape the car

To help prevent this, the first thing you need to do is to try and help your dog associate car journeys with positive and good things. This is not always a ‘quick fix’ and with some dogs and can take a little while. Don’t be tempted to move on to the next step until your dog is completely comfortable in the car and if you are having no success it may be wise to contact a dog behaviourist (your vet can recommend a good one) to help you with the situation.

  1. Get your dog used to just being in the car without it going anywhere. Initially this involves just sitting in the car for short periods and being rewarded with treats, cuddles and praise.
  2. Next try and put them where you want them to travel i.e. in their car harness on the back seat, or in a crate or in the boot of the car. Start with a few minutes and gradually build up this time over a week. Again offering praise and treats for calm behaviour.
  3. The next step is to turn on the engine, but don’t go anywhere. Repeat the above steps for a few days until your dog seems comfortable and relaxed.
  4. Go for very short journey (5-10 mins) with a really positive experience at the end of it – usually this would be a nice walk or a game of fetch at the park. It’s a good idea to have someone else in the car during these initial journeys, because they can sooth and distract your dog if he or she starts to get anxious. When you get home remember to create a fuss and play a short game and offer some rewards.
  5. Gradually build up the travelling time but if your dog is starts showing signs again, reduce the length of the journey so that it ends before they are sick.
  6. When your dog is able to do 30 minute journeys without stress, anxiety or sickness, you have been successful.
$(KGrHqNHJFQFDyuRE1ueBQ9HfqVMF!~~60_35

Offer treats or toys to reward calm behaviour in the car

Motion sickness remedies

  • Travelling on an empty tummy can definitely help in a lot of cases, so with some dogs you may need to use praise, cuddles and toys rather than treats.
  • Exercise your dog before travelling so that he or she has had chance to go to the toilet and feels more relaxed.
  • Make sure the car is kept as cool as possible, either with the air conditioning or by opening windows slightly to create a good air flow.
  • Some dogs prefer to be able to look out of a window and some dogs find this terrifying, so you could try experimenting with an enclosed carrier to see if this helps.
  • There are quite a few remedies available from the veterinary practice or from pet shops. Some of our patients have had success with Scullcap and Valarian tablets which are available at the practice. Ginger is also a good remedy for soothing an upset tummy. I have had success when my own dog was travel sick puppy by giving half a ginger biscuit about 20 minutes before travel and half when we arrived at our destination (although, as I look back now, it could well have been the anticipation of a ginger biscuit that became a positive association with travel for my dog and therefore solved the problem!)
  • Adaptil spray, which is available at Castle Vets, is useful for helping your dog feel more relaxed and can be sprayed onto some bedding in the car about 20 minutes before you leave. For more anxious dogs the Adaptil collar provides constant reassurance wherever the dog is.
  • Always check with your vet before using any human remedies to ensure they are safe and given at the correct dose.
  • Make sure you initially try any remedies on a separate occasion to travelling to make sure your dog is not sensitive to any of the ingredients.
travel sickness remedies

Ask your veterinary nurse about which travel sickness remedy may best suit your dog

If you have any questions about travelling with your dog or you think that your dog is suffering from travel sickness, please contact the surgery and we will be happy to help you.