I still vividly remember the moment, almost 25 years ago, when I decided that I wanted to work with cats. Well, maybe “deciding” is too strong a word for what happened in that moment. I was sitting in my living room on a Sunday afternoon. Feebee was purring away in my lap. I looked around all the cat stuff on my shelves, the cat paintings on the wall, the cat book I was reading. I was dreading going back to my corporate job the next day. And I found myself thinking “how cool would it be to get to work with something related to cats!”Continue Reading
I consider my cat sitter one of the most important people in my life. After all, she’s in charge of Allegra and Ruby when I can’t be there to care for them – what job could be more important? I’m fortunate that my cat sitter is also a close friend. My girls love Rita – Allegra probably a little more than Ruby, who sometimes gives Rita a bit of that “you’re not my mom” attitude… The peace of mind I feel, knowing that the girls are in the best possible hands while I’m away, is priceless.
I’ve also been fortunate that I’ve never had to hire a cold sitter “cold.” My cat sitters have always been friends, or were referred to me by a trusted friend. I realize that not everyone is that lucky, and hiring a cat sitter can be a daunting task. After all, you will trust this person not just with your precious cats, but also with your home.Continue Reading
I previously introduced you to Rudy and Fanny, my New York City friends’ new kittens, after I met them for the first time in August. I fell in love with both of them at first sight. And yes, I’ve come clean about this to Allegra and Ruby, and they grudgingly accept that they now have New York cousins. Continue Reading
Although separation anxiety is often associated with dogs, it’s also a problem that can occur in cats. Knowing how to deal with separation anxiety in cats can be difficult, and it can become frustrating to manage this issue. To help simplify things for you and your cat, we’ve put together some of the best ways to manage separation anxiety.
First, we will go over how to help cats manage separation anxiety, and then we will look at how we as humans can manage the anxiety that can occur when we are away from our felines.
How to Manage Your Cat’s Separation Anxiety
1. Provide a Nice View
Enjoyable perches that provide your kitty with a nice view, like window perches, can help decrease separation anxiety by keeping them entertained with something they enjoy. Allowing your cat to watch the birds or even the comings and goings of your neighborhood can help your cat stay distracted from your absence, making it easier on them when you’re gone. Secure catios can have a similar impact, although it’s important to make a catio that is secure enough to keep your cat safe and that allows them to come and go between indoors and outdoors.
2. Try a Pheromone Diffuser
Pheromone diffusers are a commercial product that release pheromones that will help soothe and comfort your cat. Oftentimes, these pheromones are similar to the pheromones associated with nursing mother cats. These diffusers can be a little bit pricey, but they’re a lifesaver that many people, including vets, swear by. Pheromone diffusers can also help your cat adjust to changes in the home and help grumpy cats get along with each other. Make sure to select a plug that is near the areas where your cat spends the most time to provide them an extra sense of safety and security while you’re out.
3. Set a Soundtrack
There are many sounds that your cat might find enjoyable, from birds to classical music to TV shows you frequently watch. Try to identify sounds that are soothing to your cat and play them when you’re going to be out. It can be especially beneficial if the sounds are similar to sounds that occur when you’re home, like specific TV or radio stations. There are a variety of options for soundtracks that can be enjoyable for your cat, with many free soundtracks available through YouTube channels and even Alexa devices.
4. Come and Go Quietly
Try not to make a big deal about your comings and goings from the home. Most of us are guilty of announcing to our pets that we’re leaving, and even more of us are guilty of making a big deal about coming back into the house. For cats with separation anxiety, though, this can exacerbate their anxiety by causing a greater sense of importance when you come and go. For anxious cats, it’s best to not intentionally announce our departures and arrivals, instead keeping the moments before and after calm and low key.
5. Help Your Cat Burn Excess Energy
A cat full of excess energy is far more likely to experience anxiety than a cat that is well exercised. Spend time every day playing with your cat to help them burn any excess energy they may have. This doesn’t just burn energy, but also builds a sense of trust between the two of you. This will help your cat feel safe when you leave because they trust that you’re going to come back. It’s likely that you know what types of games and toys your cat likes the best that also burns the most energy.
6. Provide Safe Spaces
Your cat needs spaces throughout your home that feel safe and comfortable for them. These spaces should be away from other pets, as well as allow them to get away from small children and visitors that may make them uncomfortable. Most cats enjoy places that are high up and allow them to keep an eye on things, but a variety of spots at different levels can work well. Your cat may feel extra safe and comfortable if you put one of your shirts that still has your scent on it in their favorite spots so they can still feel close to you when you’re out of the house.
7. Provide Toys and Puzzles
Toys and puzzles aren’t just beneficial when you’re home to play with your cat. Provide your cat with a rotation of toys to keep things fun and interesting. Puzzle toys with treats and kibble in them are a great way to encourage your cat to play, even when you aren’t home. You can also hide your cat’s kibble throughout your home in small containers, like cupcake liners. This encourages your cat’s natural hunting instincts and keeps them busy when you’re not home.
8. Spread Out the Cues of You Leaving
Not only should you avoid making a big deal when you’re walking out the door, you should also avoid doing every step of leaving at once. For example, you might normally put on your shoes, grab your lunch bag, pick up your keys, and then leave. If you can break these steps up and spread them across a longer period of time, it can distract your cat from you getting ready to leave and help the process of you leaving the home feel more natural and comfortable. If every step of you leaving happens quickly, it can be overwhelming and stressful for your kitty.
9. Try a Pet Sitter
If your cat has separation anxiety that doesn’t seem to be resolved through the other ideas, then consider hiring a pet sitter to stop in when you’re out of the house. This can be especially beneficial if you’re gone for long stretches of time, like if you work a job that requires 10 or 12 hours of work per day. A pet sitter can come by and play with your cat and ensure that they have everything they need and are comfortable. Just make sure to walk your pet sitter through the steps you have already implemented to manage your cat’s separation anxiety so they can continue with the positive conditioning.
How to Manage Your Anxiety When Away from Your Cat
Your cat might not be the only one experiencing anxiety when the two of you are apart. It’s not uncommon for people to have anxiety when away from their pets, especially if you’re going out of town or your cat is going to be boarding or hospitalized for multiple days. Your anxiety likely won’t lead you to scratch the furniture or pee on the floor, but it can lead to unpleasant thoughts of worry and sensations of racing thoughts and a racing heart. How can you best manage your own anxiety when you’re away from your cat?
Trust the Environment Your Cat is in
If your cat is staying with a pet sitter, meet them ahead of time and take time for them to get to know your cat and you to get to know them. If your cat is staying with a boarding facility or vet clinic, make sure you’ve toured the facility and feel comfortable with the workers and environment. Check in on them as often as you feel is necessary. Nobody is going to be upset with you for checking in on your kitty!
Meditation is a great way to manage acute and long-term anxiety. It helps to slow racing thoughts and relax the body. Regularly making time for meditation has shown the ability to help build tolerance to anxiety and reduce negative reactions to stressful situations. Guided meditations are available everywhere, including on YouTube and apps, making them available to you anywhere at any time.
Work on Deep Breathing
Like meditation, deep breathing exercises can help relax your body and your mind. Deep breathing stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for your body’s physiological responses to stress. This helps relax your muscles, slow your heart rate and breathing, and redirect and slow your racing thoughts.
If you’re sitting at home or in a hotel room doing nothing but thinking of and worrying about your cat, you’re going to continue to feel more and more anxious. Not only is this unproductive, but it’s unhealthy for your body and wellbeing. Keep yourself busy when you’re away from your cat, whether it’s through exercise or going on outings on vacation.
Focus on Nutritious Food and Drinks
Heavy, greasy foods, sugary foods, caffeine, and alcohol can all lead to feeling pretty icky. These foods also provide minimal nutrients to your body, and alcohol and caffeine can cause changes in your heartrate and breathing. The combination of heaviness in the food and lack of nutrition can increase feelings of anxiety in some people. By focusing on foods that provide you with high-quality nutrition can help you feel much better. If you’re on vacation, this can be difficult, but try to keep at least one meal per day on the healthier side.
Talk to Your Doctor
If feelings of anxiety are common for you, then you should talk to your doctor about it. While everyone has some level of anxiety from time to time, consistent anxiety is not normal. Chronic anxiety can be difficult to deal with and can limit many aspects of your life. Therapy and medication may be necessary to manage chronic anxiety, and it is not likely to resolve without significant work on your part and possibly medical interventions.
Separation anxiety can be a real challenge to manage, especially if your cat has a severe case. It may take multiple steps and lots of time and positive reinforcement to help your cat feel happy and comfortable when they’re home alone. Make sure to practice patience and be willing to work through things with your cat. If all else fails, talk to your vet about options for managing your cat’s anxiety.
Cat mom to Ivy – a feisty little rescue kitten that is her one and only child. For now! Throughout her life, she has been introduced to the special love that can be found in the bond with a cat. Having owned multiple felines, she is more than certain that their love is unmatched, unconditional and unlike any other. With a passion to educate the public about everything, there is to know about felines, their behavior, and their unique personalities, Crystal is devoted to making sure that all cats and their owners know the importance of conscious living – and loving!
This article was originally published in Pet Boarding and Daycare Magazine. While the article was written for operators of cat boarding and grooming establishments, the tips I provided can also help cat guardians in choosing a good boarding facility for cats.
Cats have a reputation for being independent, which often leads people to believe that they’ll do just fine on their own when their guardians have to go away for a few days. As long as someone comes in and leaves fresh food and water, that’s all they need, right? Nothing could be further from the truth. Accidents happen. Cats could stop eating while their guardians are away, or become ill. Cats need more than just food and water to thrive – they need human interaction, and a chance to play.
Generally, there are two options cat owners who have to travel: having a friend, neighbor or professional pet sitter come to the house, or boarding the cat at a boarding facility. Since cats dislike change, boarding can be a stressful experience. Boarding facilities who wish to attract cat owners need to be aware of cats’ unique needs, and take measures to reduce stress for their feline guests.
Select a boarding facility designed for cats
Providing a low-stress environment for cats starts with the selection of the actual boarding kennel. When Elizabeth Colleran, DVM, designed the boarding section of her cat clinics in Chico, CA and Portland, OR, she made sure that all design decision and selections were made with cats’ needs in mind. “We have a large boarding room with sleeping benches in each enclosure, and a view of the garden from the back of each enclosure,” says Colleran.
Cat kennels or condos should be spacious enough to accommodate separate areas for the cat’s litter box, food, and lounging areas. In order to minimize noise as well as stress, cat boarding areas should be separate from dog boarding kennels. Most cats will find the sound of barking dogs distressing. Cat boarding areas should also be kept away from the main traffic flow of the facility. Cats should not be able to see other cats from their cage or condo. Since cats are territorial animals, the sight of another cat can be stressful and cause aggression toward kennel staff and other cats in the facility.
Environmental enrichment features
Enriching the kennel with features such as resting boards, cardboard hiding boxes, bedding and toys can go a long way toward making cats more comfortable. Offering a view of the outside can be an added bonus: “Bird TV” can keep cats entertained during the day. Playing soft music throughout the day can provide a “white noise” effect. Studies have shown that classical music, or music specifically designed to calm pets, can have beneficial effects on cats’ stress levels.
Pheromone sprays and plug ins can help reduce anxiety in kennel areas. Cages and bedding should be sprayed every day. The use of pheromone plug ins in all areas of the kennel where cats will be housed can help keep feline boarders calm. Holistic remedies such as Rescue Remedy or Spirit Essences Stress Stopper can be beneficial as well.
Common social areas – yes or no?
If a boarding facility provides common social areas for cats, it is critical to only allow cats from the same family into the area at the same time, and only if prior approval is obtained from the cat’s owner. Common areas, as well as individual cages, need to be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected between cats to minimize the potential for exposure to spread illness Even seemingly healthy cats can be carriers of feline viruses without exhibiting signs of disease. “There is a balance between cleanliness/disinfection and the elaborateness of the enclosures and common areas,” says Dr. Colleran. “I chose to keep them very simple so that we would never have a problem with viruses.”
Give cats time to acclimate
A boarding facility can be frightening for cats, especially those who have not been away from home before. Cats will need time to acclimate to a new environment. Most cats will adjust with two or three days. They may not eat much during the adjustment period, and it is critical that food intake is monitored closely. A cat who doesn’t eat for more than 24-48 hours is at risk for hepatic lipidosis, a potentially life-threatening condition.
Staff needs to be trained in proper handling of cats
Staff should be trained in proper handling of cats and in how to read a cat’s body language to avoid inadvertently stressing cats. “We watch for the behaviors we know indicate that cats are settling in,” explains Dr. Colleran, “especially how soon they eat, where they sit in the enclosure and how willing they are to curl up and sleep.”
Cats are highly sensitive to energy. A study conducted at the Ohio State University School of Veterinary Medicine demonstrated a connection between stress and illness in cats. Researchers found that they had to manage their own stress levels when they were around the cats. “I had to be careful if I was having a bad day so it didn’t rub off on the cats,” says Judi Stella, PhD, a post-doctoral researcher at Purdue University, who participated in the study. Staff should approach cats slowly and speak in soft voices. They should understand that forcing human contact does not accelerate a cat’s acclimation period. Cats need to be allowed to relax at their own pace.
Personal belongings with the scent of home
Allow cat owners to bring their cat’s personal belongings. “We invite people to bring familiar bedding and familiar toys, food or treats,” says Dr. Colleran. A blanket, article of clothing with the owner’s scent on it or a favorite toy may go a long way toward making a cat feel more secure.
Consider installing web cameras in cat boarding areas so clients can monitor their cats while they’re away. Webcams are easy to set up and allow cat owners to watch live streaming video of their feline family members on the boarding facility’s website. Most pet parents love being able to see their cat while they’re away from. “The web cams give me the opportunity to check on my cat Smoky 24/7,’ says Maureen Carnevale, who boards her cat at Olde Town Pet Resort in Springfield, VA. “Additionally, I can also observe the staff and the care Smoky receives in my absence. This gives me a lot of comfort and peace of mind.”
Boarding facilities can greatly reduce stress for their feline clients by keeping cats’ unique needs in mind during facility design and when developing operating procedures.
Cats have a reputation for being independent, which often leads people to believe that they’ll do just fine on their own when their guardians have to go away for a few days. As long as someone comes in and leaves fresh food and water, that’s all they need, right? Nothing could be further from the truth.
Accidents happen. Your cat could stop eating while you’re gone, or become ill. Having a cat sitter visit at least once a day can avoid disaster. In addition to caring for your cat’s physical needs while you’re gone, a good cat sitter will also spend time playing with and petting your cat. This is especially important for only cats. You may think your cat is used to you being at work all day, but when you’re away, she won’t even have your company in the evenings and overnight, and you end up with a very lonely cat.
If you have a trusted friend who knows your cat well, and who doesn’t mind going to your house at least once a day during your absence, that may be a perfect solution. But if you don’t, or don’t want to impose on your friends, then a professional cat sitter is your best solution.Continue Reading
We’ve always had great luck with cat sitters. For almost 20 years, Ronnie took care of my cats. All my cats, going all the way back to Feebee, loved her. She went far above and beyond what I’d expect from an ordinary cat sitter. When she retired, I thought I might never be able to travel again, but once again, we’ve been fortunate: Valerie, the woman Ronnie sold her business to, has quickly become our new best friend
She doesn’t just feed Allegra and Ruby and clean out their litter boxes when she comes over. She also spends time brushing them, playing with them, and just hanging out with them. She often stays a little longer than her normal half-hour client visit if she feels they need a little extra attention.
I don’t like to travel because I miss my cats too much when I’m gone, but when I do, I feel more relaxed knowing that they’re in Valerie’s capable and loving care.
However, even though Valerie has been caring for my cats for several years now, I still leave her written instructions for each visit.Continue Reading