If your cat shows persistent or significant behavior changes, take the cat to the veterinarian. Illness may be the stressor that is producing the behavior changes and any medical issues should be ruled out first. If the cat has a clean bill of health, then it is up to you to determine what may be stressing the cat. If you are aware of the stressor, and you can remove it, the solution is simple. For example, if the stressor is the neighbor’s cat who likes to sit outside the window, the shades can be pulled during the time of day that the cat is most likely to appear or maybe the neighbor can be convinced to keep his cat inside. Other stressors, such as a change in owner’s work schedule or the daughter’s sudden absence from the home when she leaves for college, can often be compensated for by giving the cat more attention when you are home. Gentle grooming or massage combined with an interactive play session a couple times a day has solved many stress-related behavior problems.
Cats find consistent routines and predictable environments very comforting, so try to keep your cat’s activities on a schedule. Playtimes, mealtimes, and bedtimes should occur at approximately the same time every day. If the household is unusually chaotic due to visitors, the holidays, or a planned move, the cat should be given a room where he can feel safe and secure and where he will have all his necessities (food, water, litter box, favorite toys, a sunny window, etc.) until the commotion is over. Remember that cats find familiar scents – their own or their favorite person’s – very reassuring, so put some of your worn, but not washed, clothes in the cat’s room. (Feliway, an environmental spray that can be purchased from most pet stores, has been proven to have a calming effect on cats when sprayed on objects in the room.) When used according to the directions, it is also effective in solving territorial spraying problems.
When you talk to a stressed cat, use a slightly higher than normal pitch to your voice and speak very softly. Deep voices create fear and loud voices can be grating on the cat’s sensitive ears. You can “calm” your cat with your voice and this can have a wonderfully soothing and healing effect on your pet.
If the stressor cannot be removed from the cat’s environment, for example when the source of the cat’s anxiety is the new baby, by rewarding the cat with food and attention as you expose him to the feared stressor. Through this process, the cat learns to associate a pleasurable experience (food and attention) with the object he fears.
To illustrate this method, in the case of a baby, the scent of the baby can be introduced to the cat by putting baby blankets in the cat’s sleeping areas. Then tapes of the baby crying can be played (at low levels at first) while the cat is eating something delicious. Finally, when the baby is in the room with the cat, Kitty should be petted, played with, and given food rewards. Give them lots of attention.
Whether the anxiety producing stimulus is a baby, another cat, or the vacuum cleaner, these suggestions will reduce, and eventually, eliminate the cat’s anxiety. Instead of a pet that is hissing, hiding and possibly soiling the house, your efforts will be rewarded with a confident, friendly, and relaxed member of the family. (See our article “Bringing Home Baby”).
This process involves exposing the cat only to parts of the feared anxiety which are so mild that little or no anxiety is provoked. The intensity of the anxiety is then increased in gradual stages until, finally, the level of the anxiety which originally provoked the unwanted behavior can be presented without inducing massive anxiety. This is best achieved by first relaxing and distracting the cat through feeding or petting. Slow, soft voices. Reassure the cat there is nothing to fear. Changing the environment that is stressing the cat. Adding a little more attention to redirect the cats stress will help greatly, try not to get angry it will only make things worse. Go slow!
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