Sadly, many pet cats live in stressful environments. We try our best as owners, but our homes and way of living can cause them anxiety.
Cats don’t need social interaction as we do. They are adaptable and do form social bonds, but they don’t have to. So, being forced into a social situation – like living with other cats - can be stressful.
Cats like to have their own territory which they mark with scent. When there is plenty of space, other cats smell the scent and keep away.
When cats are housed close to one another, like in a busy residential street, they are forced into each other’s territories. Cats find this stressful.
Cats will have an area within their territory where they feel safe enough to eat, play and sleep - peacefully and in private. For pet cats, this is usually our home.
If that ‘safe’ space doesn’t feel safe anymore, cats can become stressed. Other cats, noise, boisterous children, or strangers can disrupt a cat’s sense of ‘safe’.
Some pet cats are very content in their homes, but our lives can still cause them stress. Things like building work at home, visitors, parties, or us going on holiday are common causes of stress in cats.
Did you know pet cats mainly meow to talk to us – not to each other! Cats talk to each other by sending chemical messages released into the air, called pheromones. Pheromones aren’t noticeable to us or dogs, they are only picked up by other cats.
Cats can send ‘happy’ pheromone messages by rubbing their face on things in their territory and home, where they feel relaxed.
Mother cats send ‘harmony’ pheromone messages when feeding kittens, creating calm co-living between her babies.
Artificial cat pheromones are available to help calm cats at home. The most well-known brand is Feliway, which comes as a plug-in diffuser or spray. Both ‘happy’ pheromones and ‘harmony’ pheromones are available. ‘Harmony’ pheromones are specifically for helping cats live together. ‘Happy’ pheromones can help cats in a range of situations.
Diffusers are plugged in a room and spread the pheromones throughout the area – totally undetectable to us but relaxing for our cats.
Sprays can be used in more specific locations – like in the cat basket before a trip to the vet, or in your cat’s favourite hideaway on bonfire night when the noise might be scary.
Catnip is a plant in the mint family. In around 75% of cats, catnip causes cats to roll around and appear relaxed. They can also dribble, meow, and rub on the catnip. Catnip affects a cat’s brain a bit like a pheromone.
Catnip can be a great short-term stress reliever. If your cat gets stressed by visitors, why not give your cat a catnip toy as you go to answer the door? This is a great way to help them feel calm.
Herbal products can work very well at calming cats. There are lots of herbs that are reported to have calming effects. Herbal calmers are not as well-studied as pheromones and catnip, but they have been used to great effect. It’s important to use products with ingredients in the right amounts – designed for cats – so they don’t sedate your cat or make them ill.