Cats can be very misunderstood creatures. Due to their independent natures a lot of people think that cats are aloof and unfriendly.
Cats are actually very complex creatures and they experience fear, anxiety, frustration and pain just like we do.
It is very important to the overall health of your furbaby to consider not only their physical health but also their mental health as well.
To ensure our kitty cats live a happy, healthy & fulfilling life we need to understand the behaviour and body language of our feline friends.
Anxiety and Fear
Your kitty cat may feel anxious when there is a possible threat to their safety and security. This turns to fear when that threat becomes real. Every cat will experience anxiety & fear differently. Genetics and upbringing will play a major factor in how your cat responds.
Some common sources of anxiety and fear for cats include:
Strange Animals and People
Bringing a new pet into the household or someone else's pet.- New pets should be introduced slowly to reduce feelings of anxiety. Ziggy has been an only child for 13 years and except for the 2 years we had Lemony in our lives Ziggy has not had much interaction with other animals. The couple of times she has we have introduced them slowly and given her space to go and hide if she felt uncomfortable.
Strange people coming in to your house can cause your cat to feel anxious - it is best to ensure that your cat has a place to go & hide if ever they feel unsafe. Just recently we had people stay at our house while we were staying elsewhere getting ready for our Wedding Day. Other people, especially my 4 year old nephew being in her territory made her feel very anxious. She spent the entire time in her little cubby house that we call the “chaircoon” which is her hiding space where she feels safe.
New Environments - such as a new home, veterinary clinic or boarding cattery
Cats are very protective of their environment so when things get moved around or you get new furniture in to your home - it may take quite some time for your fur baby to get used to it. Ziggy has moved house with me several times now and I noticed that as she is getting older the longer it takes for her to adjust. When moving house it is a really good idea to make sure that you take some old furniture with you that they are familiar with. For example from our old house we took 2 old dining chairs that she used to like sitting on - one of these have now become the “chaircoon” I described above. The other item we brought with us was an ottoman that Ziggy became attached to. She started to scratch at it and it was her spot to sit, lie and stretch out. So although it does not go with our new decor it is something that is hers and made her feel comfortable in our new house.
Cats have ultra-sensitive hearing so loud noises can affect them as they can hear very high tones. This is not something that we can always control for our kitty cats although we wish we could. Ziggy hates fireworks, thunder, storms, the bin man, the hoover and the lawn mower. My advise is that if a noise is something that can be predicted make sure that your kitty cat is out of harms way and can escape to one of their safe places like under the bed or their “chaircoon”
Strong or Unfamiliar Smells
Cats nose receptors are also very sensitive and therefore any strong scents could cause your kitty cat to feel anxious. Things like lavender, pennyroyal, citrus, banana, onion, household cleaning products, hair spray, perfumes and scented litter.
Cats can also experience visual overload so bright lights and moving images can light up their visual cortexes even if it appears as though they are snoozing at your feet while you watch TV they are actually in stand by mode for any potential threat.
Cats have receptors all over their body in the form of whiskers and they are connected to the muscular and nervous systems. Any change in sensations such as a floor or new carpet might bring about some anxiety for your kitty cat. Try introducing them to this new sensation slowly so that they can get used to it in their own time.
A cat will feel frustrated if they are unable to access something they want or need.
Common sources of frustration for cats are:
Not being able to access certain parts of the home
If your kitty cat is used to being able to roam around the house feely and all of a sudden they are not allowed to go into a certain room this may cause confusion for them. If there are things that belong to your kitty in a certain room that you do not want them to go into any more make sure you relocate these items to a place where your cat will be able to access. When we have guests come to stay it is usually in the room where Ziggy sleeps. So I always make sure that I remove everything that is hers and set her up in my office instead.
Unable to go outside when they want to
If you do not have a cat flap or similar that allows your kitty to come and go as they please, consider setting a routine of hours they they will have access to the outdoors. Ziggy has a routine of outdoor play time from a bout 6.30-7am till 6pm.
Unable to obtain food
It is a good idea to have set mealtimes for your kitty cat so they know when their food is coming. If this is not something you are able to do you could consider an automatic feeder so that your kitty cat has food when they need it. Ziggy has set meal times, she has breakfast at 6.30am and dinner at 6.30pm.
Inadequate toileting facilities
Your kitty cat needs at least 1 litter tray. If they are fully indoor cats then it is advisable to have 1 litter tray per cat plus 1 extra. Your kitty cat will get very stressed if the litter tray is dirty and overflowing with poop and this is when inappropriate toileting behaviour can occur.
Restrained and unable to free themselves
Your kitty cat needs to be able to move around freely. They should never be tied up or restrained in any way. Also kitty cats do not like to wear jumpers or coats as this can stop them from being able to move properly. There are exceptions to this rule but Ziggy for one is definitely not a fan of wearing anything except for a collar!
How To Maintain & Promote Mental Wellbeing
Learning to read our kitty cats behaviour and body language helps us to understand how they are feeling at any particular time. If we notice that our fur baby is experiencing emotional distress we need to ensure that whatever is causing that stress is minimised or removed. This may be a change to their environment or a change in the way we interact with them. If these things don’t help then we may need to take a trip to the vet to see if there is any underlying issues that may be causing pain or discomfort.
Cats use their behaviour and body language to maintain safety and to communicate, which allows us to interact with them. If you can recognise what a calm, relaxed and contented kitty cat looks like then this will help to interact with them appropriately.
Content & happy cats choose to approach a person or situation. Look out for these signs:
- Soft facial expressions
- Loose relaxed body movements
- Upright tail with a gentle question mark curve at the top
- Slow blinks
- Neutral or slightly forward ears and whiskers
- Lying on their backs with paws in the air - this does not mean they want belly rubs though!
- Head Bumps
- Paws relaxed off to the side of the body and claws withdrawn
Cats can be described as “high frequency, low intensity interactors” so little and often is what they generally prefer - whether that be play, social interaction or handling.