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.

Feline Urinary Tract Problems

cat-in-litter-box

We see many cats with urinary tract problems such as cystitis all throughout the year and it is a fairly common complaint in both male and female cats of all ages.  Cystitis (which literally means inflammation of the bladder), Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD) and Idiopathic Cystitis are terms that are used by veterinary surgeons to describe the problems associated with the bladder or difficulty urinating.

Urinary tract problems are usually very painful and distressing for a cat, so if you suspect your cat has a problem please get him or her to see the vet as soon as possible.

Common Urinary Tract Problems

Urinary crystals or stones: These grow in the bladder and can obstruct the urine flow. This is very painful and sometimes life-threatening condition for the cat, because any blockage of the urinary tract by stones or crystals can lead to a dangerous buildup of toxins within the body, not to mention the severe pain from a full bladder that cannot be emptied.

Urethral plug: This is usually seen in male cats, when there is a buildup of proteins, cells, crystals and debris in the urine that combines together to form a ‘plug’ that cannot be passed and often prevents the cats from urinating.

Muscle spasm of the urethra: This can occur with severe inflammation or irritation

Idiopathic cystitis: This is the term for Cystitis that is not linked to an obvious cause, such as a bacterial infection or crystals.

Cancer: In older cats with urinary problems, the possibility of a tumour affecting the urinary tract needs to be investigated, although it is not very common.

Bacterial infection: This problem is not often seen in cats but is usually the cause of cystitis in dogs and humans.

Common Causes Of Urinary Tract Problems

The cause of these problems are not always apparent but may be related to

Stress – this could be caused by a new cat in the neighbourhood, disputes with the other household cats or changes to home life i.e. a new baby, moving house, building work. (we often see an increase in cases around the Christmas holiday season, which may be linked to an increase in visitors or the increased activity around the home.

Obesity – many of the cats we see suffering from urinary tract problems are also overweight

Holding on to urine for long periods – there are many reasons for this including no access to the outdoors or the litter tray, arthritis or old injuries causing pain when the cat squats. A  cat may also have little or no access to a litter tray due to a closed door, inappropriately placed tray, another cat in the household preventing access (resource blocking!) or simply because one has not been provided.

Inappropriate diet – some diets may change the urinary pH causing the urine to become more alkaline or acidic than normal, which can lead to crystal and stone formation or infection.

Illness – this can be a cause of stress to the cat or the pain from the illness may make them reluctant to pass urine.

Not drinking enough – cats that become dehydrated will urinate less often.

We often see urinary problems in overweight cats

We often see urinary problems in overweight cats

Signs To Look Out For

The symptoms of a urinary problem will vary from cat to cat depending on the severity of the problem but some these are some of the more common signs a cat may display

  • Frequent trips to the litter tray
  • Straining to pass urine (this can often be mistaken for constipation because the cat will squat for long periods of time in the litter tray)
  • Urinating onto walls because it is a more comfortable position for a cat in pain (this can be mistaken for territorial spraying)
  • Blood in the urine
  • Excessive genital licking
  • Crying when urinating
  • Crying when near the litter tray
  • Urinating indoors when they normally toilet outdoors
  • Urinating in unusual places around the house – behind or on the furniture or even on top of kitchen counters or cookers. This may be because they are associating the litter tray with the painful process of urination or it may just be because they are getting ‘caught short’ and needing to urinate more often and more urgently.
  • Irritability or behavioural changes due to the pain of the condition
  • Strong smelling urine

If you notice any of these symptoms it is very important that your cat sees the vet; a cat that cannot urinate properly can become seriously ill very quickly and may even go into kidney failure because the body is unable to remove waste in the urine and the toxins build up in the blood stream. This is often seen in cats that have bladder blockages caused by urinary crystals or stones.

Normal and abnormal urination (pictures courtesy of Hills Pet Nutrition)
Normal and abnormal urination
(pictures courtesy of Hills Pet Nutrition)
IF YOU THINK THAT YOUR CAT IS NOT ABLE TO PASS ANY URINE AT ALL IT IS AN EMERGENCY AND YOUR CAT NEEDS TO BE SEEN BY A VET IMMEDIATELY.

How Urinary Tract Problems Are Diagnosed

Your vet may perform a few or all of the following examinations and tests depending on the severity of your cat’s problem

  1. Thorough health check and examination  – the vet will also palpate the cat’s tummy to feel their bladder.
  2. Urinalysis – the vet or veterinary nurse will examine a sample of the cat’s urine in the laboratory to look for bacteria, blood, pH levels and urinary crystals.
  3. Cystocentesis – If a fresh urine sample cannot be obtained from the cat using a litter tray, the vet may obtain a sample of your cat’s urine by inserting a needle into the bladder and collecting some urine into a syringe. It sounds scary, but this procedure is fairly quick and straightforward (as long as your cat is cooperative!) and results in an uncontaminated urine sample.
  4. Blood test – To check for any infection as well as the function of the kidneys and other organs
  5. Ultrasound or X-ray – to check for inflammation, bladder stones or other possible causes of cystitis
  6. Biopsy – a small tissue sample from the bladder may be obtained under a general anaesthetic, to be examined at a laboratory.

urinalysis-large

How To Obtain A Urine Sample From Your Cat

A fresh urine sample can really help the vet with your cat’s diagnosis.

The easiest way to obtain a sample is by using a specially designed cat-litter which does not soak up the urine in the same way as normal cat litter. These types of litter should be available from your vet, in larger pet stores or online. Katkor or Mikki Non-absorb cat litter are used at castle vets – we throw them out after they have been used, but if your cat is prone to problems then both of these litters can be cleaned, sterilised and reused at home. You can also try an empty litter tray with no litter at all.

Urine samples should be stored in a clean container with a lid. A sample pot can be provided by your vet or you can use a container from home, but make sure it has been thoroughly cleaned with boiling water and that you have rinsed any detergent away.

Ideally the sample needs to be at the veterinary practice within 2 hours of it being passed and should be stored in the fridge until then. This is because changes to the sample can occur over time such as bacteria can multiplying or crystals dissolving or forming; all of which can lead to inaccurate test results.

Don’t panic if you cannot get a sample from your cat – Many cats will just refuse to pee as soon as they get suspicious about what their owners are doing! In this case your vet can get a urine sample through a procedure called Cystocentesis in which a sample is collected via a needle into a syringe.

Treating Urinary Problems

Treatment  of a urinary tract problem will depend on the severity and the cause of the problem for each individual cat.

  • If your cat has become completely blocked and cannot pass urine at all, he or she may need to have a urinary catheter placed temporarily and/or surgery to remove the blockage.
  • Intravenous fluids may be required to treat shock and dehydration
  • Your cat may require hospitalisation for a few days to be closely monitored.
  • Medications such as anti-inflammatories, antibiotics, bladder-wall protectives and anti-anxiety drugs may be prescribed.
  • Dietary changes or a special prescription diet may be advised so that any crystals can be dissolved in the bladder and prevented from re forming. It is very important that these prescription diets are introduced very slowly (over a 2 week period)  and only once your cat is back at home with you, to ensure that they take to the new food.
  • Weight loss will be important for overweight cats suffering from urinary tract problems.

What You Can Do To Help Your Cat

1. Increase your cat’s water consumption by making a few changes around the home

  • Have more water bowls and put them in various places around the house
  • Place water bowls well away from food bowls and litter trays (most cats prefer this)
  • Change the water twice daily
  • Consider using a cat water fountain because some cats prefer to drink moving water
Encourage your cat to drink more water

Encourage your cat to drink more water

2. Consider your cat’s food and eating habits

  • Your vet may have recommended a special diet, this should gradually be introduced over a 2 week period by mixing it with your cats current food until he or she is completely onto the new food.
  • Increasing the amount of wet food will increase your cat’s water consumption as tinned foods and pouches often contain a lot of water. This is particularly useful if your cat does not like to drink much water.
  • Place food bowls away from water bowls and litter trays. Give each cat in the home a separate food bowl that is well away from the other cat’s bowl.
  • If your cat is overweight he or she may be more likely to suffer from cystitis, so consider reducing calories by cutting down on treats or feeding a low calorie diet. Enrolling your cat onto our Healthy Weight Clinic will help ensure you get the right advice about their weight loss.

    Microchip reading food bowls are great solutions for cats on special diets

    Microchip reading food bowls are great solutions for cats on special diets

3. Lower stress levels by improving your cat’s Core Territory (see my Core Territory article

  • Make sure there are lots of hiding places that your cat can retreat to if he or she is frightened.
  • Add extra feeding stations (there should be at least one per cat in a multi cat household) and place them well away from each other.
  • Add another litter tray to the house (perhaps upstairs) so the cat has a choice about where to go to the toilet depending on how busy the household is. This is especially important in a multi cat household.
  • Consider using a covered litter tray to give your cat more privacy.
  • Feliway diffusers can be great for helping to lower anxiety levels. We can give you advice about their use if you speak to one of our veterinary nurses.
  • Cats feel secure in high places so consider adding some perches or shelves for them (cat towers work well too) or make a space on top of a wardrobe for them.
  • Make sure that your cat is getting enough exercise, even if he or she lives indoors.
    If your cat is spending large amounts of time indoors for any reason ( he or she may not want to go outside because of poor weather or perhaps you need to confine them for another reason) make sure that you provide a litter tray.
  • If you have 2 or more cats, spend some time watching their behaviour towards each other. Cats have very subtle body language and bullying or resource blocking could be going on without you even being aware of it. A cat can prevent access to a resource with just a warning stare! Examples include sitting between the other cat and it’s food/litter trays, staring at the other cat or hissing and swiping at the passing cat.
  • More information can be found in our article on How to create a stress-free environment for your cat.
Sanctuaries

The availability of good hiding and resting places can really do a lot to reduce stress and illness in cats

If you have any questions about feline urinary tract problems, or if you are concerned that your pet may be unwell, please contact your vet