What do cats dislike more than anything else? Bet most of you know the answer: CHANGE. Around the holidays, change may be all there is. Your schedule is topsy-turvy, and the doorbell rings with people visiting your home far more often.
Oh, and how about the stress? True enough, your cats don’t have end-of-year work deadlines, and they don’t require finishing a holiday shopping list. However, they connect with us, and our stress is contagious – and there’s sure no vaccine for that.
Just give in. Understand that this is a stressful time of year, and prepare yourself and kitty.
If a parade of visitors will be entering your home with gifts for family members, suggest that they also bring some goodies for your cats. While some cats are unfazed, and even seem to enjoy meeting new people, most cats may be initially cautious of stranger danger. If your family and friends are willing, showing up armed with cat treats might make a difference. For some cats, food is a direct link to trust.
Cats are control freaks — the secret is for them to feel safe at all times. By scampering up a cat tree or any high spot in the room, kitty can assess what’s going on and return to ground level when comfortable. Hiding places are also important, but we sometimes tend not to think about this, so cats are left hiding where they can, under beds and sofas. Manufacturers now make all sorts of hiding places. I suggest placing one — or even an empty box (which might not be quite as decorative) near the front door and in any room visitors to the house frequently go to. And never force a cat from a hiding spot.
For your cat, try a feline’s fun and natural stress release of choice — catnip. Or be preemptive, and plug in a Feliway pheromone diffuser weeks or more in advance of the holidays. Feliway enhances comfort for cats in their own environments by making them feel more happy and secure.
Exercise is a great anxiety buster for people and for dogs. The same is true for cats. Twice daily five-minute sessions with an interactive toy is all most adult cats require. Kittens need a tad more or they will make their own mischief. Senior cats may be content with attention, brushing and petting. Just make sure you set aside the time each day to do this.
If you’re hosting a party, relocate your cat to a “safe room” like a second bedroom or a den until the commotion ends. Not only will he feel more comfortable, but with so many people exiting and entering the house — losing a cat through an open door is possible. Plus, this keeps young children from engaging with your cats without adult supervision.
Cats do best with a structured schedule. And for many of us, our schedules are more consistent than we might think. However, that’s often untrue during the holiday season, and cats are left home alone more than ever. Some cats appear to care less. (Who knows what they’re doing when we’re away — ordering in pizza and FaceTiming friends?) Other cats can get distressed.
While separation anxiety is far more common in dogs, it does also happen to cats. If your cat has been anxious by your changing schedule in the past, contact your veterinarian or a certified cat behavior consultant for humane help before the problem escalates. One such helpful tidbit is to leave out various surprises, ranging from catnip to cat treats, around the home to keep kitty engaged.
If you intend on leaving for an entire weekend or longer, be sure that the trusted friend, relative or neighbor who is watching your cat is responsible. Arguably, you’re often better off with a professional pet sitter. No matter, daily, have someone scoop the litter box, provide food, change water, and — if your cat is willing — engage your kitty with play, petting and/or brushing. While cats are more independent than dogs, they still do depend on our companionship.
One last thing: As the family gathers to open presents, include all family members, even for those with four legs and a tail. Oftentimes, pets will easily sniff out which gifts are for them. And moreover, you’re teaching children that all lives and all family members matter.