Cats are sensitive, and that is never more apparent than when something happens to upset them. Your kitty could be innocently window-watching when a stray tomcat tries to attack him through the glass, scaring him into the far reaches of your bedroom. Or an attempt at nail trimming turns your sweet fluffy girl into a screaming wildcat, and from then on, she runs away when you so much as go near the drawer where the clippers are stored. Or maybe grandma comes home from the hospital, smelling strange and scary, and becomes someone to avoid. Or you could be out hiking with your adventure cat when a dog suddenly bounds toward him in an aggressive manner. You quickly grab your cat, so no physical harm is done, but was your cat frightened enough to destroy his enjoyment of any future hikes?
One aspect of cat training and behavior modification that does not get enough attention is coping with a cat who has been through a stressful experience. A cat’s reaction to these events, if left unaddressed, can have a negative effect on his quality of life, perhaps permanently. Instances of extreme emotional trauma always need to be addressed by a veterinarian or behaviorist, but what can you do for lesser circumstances or in the moments immediately following an incident?
“When cats are overly stressed and in a state of fight or flight, it’s a challenging mental state for them to be in,” says Mikkel Becker, Fear Free’s lead animal trainer. “Not only does long-term stress compromise the animal’s emotional wellbeing, but it can lead to behavior problems, such as increased likelihood of peeing outside of the litter box, as well as potential physical problems that can be detrimental to the cat’s health.”
It’s important to take measures right from the start. Animal behaviorist Eva Bertilsson says staying calm is crucial. If you are away from home, outside, or in a room when the trouble happens, leave.
“Sometimes people try to ‘fix’ the problem by staying in the situation, but in my opinion, that is pretty risky. It’s much better to repair the damage in a controlled setting later,” Bertilsson says.
When something unsettling happens to your cat, she needs to recover from the stress and adrenaline jolt. Place her in a familiar, quiet area and keep things calm. Avoid other irritants, such as vacuums, strangers, or other pets who have a history of friction with the cat. And absolutely no visual cues that remind her of the incident that just happened.
Your cat needs time and space to forget, says Bertilsson, before taking measures to help her overcome any behavior that may result from the incident. “Focus on enhancing relaxed and happy behavior,” she says.
How to Help
Once your cat has returned to a more normal state, eating and behaving close to her usual self, you can start to desensitize her to the object or situation that upset her. The key to counterconditioning is to go slowly, probably even more slowly than you think.
“It’s most valuable and likely to be more speedy when paired with positives the cat enjoys,” Becker says. That includes valued food they don’t get at other times, such as licks of soft cheese, low fat meats, or tiny tasty treats. Patience is essential. “Keep expectations realistic,” she adds.
Becker says to reintroduce the distressing object (such as nail clippers or carrier) or person gradually and from a distance. If a person, they should be lower to the ground, not towering over the cat, and silent at first. A room or space at home where an upsetting incident occurred also needs to be reintroduced slowly and gradually. Reward-based encouragement–treats, play, or affection–will help the cat during this process.
If the incident happened outdoors, gradually reintroduce your cat to being with you outside. Start with the leashed cat in a carrier, instead of walking on leash, and gradually move to an open carrier. Allow her to explore outside the carrier as she feels safer and more confident. Depending on how upset she was initially, this may take several trips outside. Again, use reward-based encouragement and don’t rush it. “When reintroducing situations that resemble the context where the cat got scared, do it in small steps, short moments, and with plenty of recovery time in between,” says Bertilsson.
If your cat is having a difficult time readjusting or the incident was truly traumatic, look to a behaviorist or your veterinarian for help. “Veterinary prescribed nutraceuticals and pharmaceuticals can be an important part of a treatment plan in combination with other behavior modification techniques,” says Becker. So can pheromone products.
Lastly, says Bertilsson, “Be kind to yourself, too! We are affected when our animals get spooked. We want to do the right thing by our animals, so we can get quite stressed even from minor incidents. Treat yourself with ‘happy, relaxed human’-inducing environments and activities.”
While you can’t foresee every negative experience your cat might encounter, you can take preventive measures to avoid or minimize them. Look around the outside of your house to see if you can make your cat’s favorite window less attractive for strays to visit. If you take your cat on walks, use a backpack carrier, and teach your kitty it’s her safe space so that she knows it’s her escape if she feels uncomfortable or threatened. Introduce your cat gradually to potentially triggering items such as cat carriers or nail clippers before they become an issue. Keep your cat in a safe, calm area away from gatherings, or when you are doing chores like using the vacuum.
Showing your cat you care about her safety and wellbeing and letting her feel in control helps build resilience. Susan Friedman, Ph.D., who helped pioneer cross-species application of behavior analysis, says, “With a full ‘bank account’ of empowerment, the occasional withdrawal that results from aversive stimulation can occur without bankrupting cats’ resilience.” So the more you develop your cat’s self-confidence throughout her life, the better she will be able to handle whatever life throws her way.
This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.
Janiss Garza is an award-winning writer, editor and small publisher. She has written two humorous books of cat advice and publishes the Rescued series of books featuring rescue cat stories from around the world. She also blogs through the point of view of her Instagram-famous therapy cat, Summer at www.sparklecat.com.
Article courtesy of Fear Free Happy Homes: https://fearfreehappyhomes.com/when-cats-are-distressed-how-to-help-them-recover/
Weirdo transformation & growth
This past year has been incredibly transformative for the Weirdo Cat Lovers of Cleveland. Between earning our 501 c 3 status, launching multiple programs within our organizations, and petitioning for Weirdo license plates, our beloved group seems ever evolving. This past week a shift within our Weirdo leadership team has occurred and there have been significant changes within our group’s leadership structure. Lesley Pontin, Christy O’Malley, and Rachel Choike are no longer part of the Weirdo Cat Lover of Cleveland’s leadership team, due to unresolvable differences. Megan Edwards has also stepped down in order to prepare for her new adventure in motherhood. We are so excited for her! Their ideas and compassion will be missed. We are grateful for their contributions to the organization during their time with us and we wish them the best with their future endeavors. There are also members who were involved in Weirdo leadership in the past who have returned, we warmly welcome them back. Our organization is working to improve and continue to grow. We are looking for ways to better ourselves and better serve our group members everyday. There are many changes happening within the group right now. We ask for your trust and appreciate your support. We believe that the outcome will please our members and continue to improve the lives of the felines that we serve.
In order to familiarize yourself with the Weirdo Leadership team, I would like to take the time to introduce each member, including their position, and a fact or two about them.
Brandy Dita Alderson
Brandy has many tattoos and has lost count of her grand total. However, 13 of her tattoos are actually cat related or “cattoos!”
Amber loves caring for her plants in addition to her cats. Amber spends much of her free time creating, whether it be through home improvement projects, graphics, or writing. Amber is a diagnosed Type 1 diabetic and advocate for its research.
Christy is an assistant to the treasurer for a public school district. She has three cats and is married to a fellow Weirdo! Christy and her husband love to axe throw for fun and help judge/referee during league season!
Cassandra Bean Ungvarsky
Secretary/Community Engagement Director
Cassandra is a very talented writer and spends much of her time writing informational and captivating blogs for our website. She has recently obtained her optician license!
Ivy is currently working to earn her Master's degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. She can also count to ten in five different languages!
Dawn has been trapping feral cats since 2009 and she still has the first cat she ever trapped, Minnow. Minnow doesn’t allow petting but loves her life as a house cat!
Grant Proposal Director
Mandi is actually the shortest WCLOC team member, at 4 feet and 10 inches tall!
Director of Compliance
Meredith was a member of the Peace Corps in Kazakhstan following the fall of the Soviet Union. It was there that she learned the importance of animal advocacy and rescue work and inspired her work today.
Hannah is involved with several animal welfare organizations and enjoys spreading positivity about animal welfare and rescue work. In addition to caring for animals, Hannah actually loves caring for plants!
Robert is a skilled painter and decorator and is a long-time musician, poet, and artist.
Amy Marie Filbert
In addition to 3 cats, Amy has 1 dog. During kitten season her and her family foster kittens for a local rescue.
Andrea is a Maine Coon and Scottie mom. She has been a professional makeup artist since 2007!
Stacey is currently finishing her Associate’s degree in Human and Social Services. She is raising a future Weirdo and has two cats, Jack Skellington and Taco. In her free time she loves to craft!
Jaqueline Von Duhn
Jaqueline has 4 cats and 1 dog. In addition to caring for animals, Jaqueline is an artist and loves gaming. She spends her free time cooking and baking.
Julia St. John
Julia is a mom, wife, caregiver, Girl Scout leader, and special education teacher graduate student. In addition to being a Weirdo, she is a Harry Potter fanatic!
In 2007 Heather joined a roller derby team, discovering her love for it. Since then, she has found passion in volunteering for various teams and organizations including 4 roller derby teams, 3 animal welfare organizations, and the Northeast Ohio Camaro Club!
As of late, Weirdos, there has been a threat to our health and wellness spreading globally. I wanted to take the opportunity today to propose an idea to help you and your pet during an emergency of any sort where you might be unable to properly care for your cat yourself. It is your duty as a pet owner to contemplate what and who will assume care for your animals in a situation that may restrict you yourself from doing so; today, I will be walking you through how to make an emergency plan for your animals.
I have written previously about what to do in the event that you must rehome your animals. I reinforced the idea that rehoming can be in the best interest of the animal, in some situations. However, in the blog today I want to strictly focus on steps you can take to ensure that if you are suddenly ill, injured, or otherwise involved in an incident that hinders your ability to effectively provide care, rehoming them immediately is not necessary.
First, it is imperative to evaluate your animal’s needs. Do you have animals that require special care? Daily medication? A prescription diet? Log everything that goes into a day of providing care for your pet and be sure to display it clearly, with the ability to easily read it. Record your daily routine in a fashion that best suits your animal, considers the person caring for your animal, and will overall be less stressful for both pets and people. It may be worth adding your pets preferences. You will want to add your regular veterinarian’s name and number, as well as the name and number for the closest emergency veterinarian to you. Include your pet’s pharmacy’s name and number as well, if your pet is on any regular medications or injections. During an emergency situation, being prepared will lead to the best results for both you and your animal. It is recommended to place a card or sticker on your door to alert any visitors or emergency responders of any animals inside your home (a link to an emergency care card by Adcat Designs will be linked below and is a great example).
Secondly, you will want to form an open line of communication with whomever may be caring for your animals and establish that they would be comfortable doing so. Have multiple people briefed and able to care for your pets, should someone else you previously considered be unable.
Lastly, be sure to display everything needed to care for your animal(s) and make it easily accessible. For example, provide a spare key that is obtainable by anyone you have chosen to care for your pets in your absence. If your animals need medication, a special diet, injections, etc. be sure to have an emergency supply with the name and number of your pet’s veterinarian and pharmacy. Making every item that is a necessity in your pet’s life and including other enrichment items easily identifiable will ensure your pet is receiving the best care and will provide the most stress-free transition.
Discussing who and what will happen to your animals if you are unable to care for them temporarily could be a frightening or off-putting thought. It is necessary to devise a plan, regardless, as it will provide a more positive outcome for both you and your pet. There is no doubt that shelters and rescues will be flooded with unwanted animals or animals that are no longer able to be cared for by the owner because they, or someone close to them, are sick. In an effort to keep animals in their homes, difficult discussions like this must take place. I encourage you to share the idea of creating an emergency plan with your friends, family, and neighbors. Below is a short list of boarding facilities for you to reference. An extended version is located on our website at www.weirdocatloversofcleveland.org.
Best wishes to you and your animals,
Inn the Doghouse
1548 W 117th St, Lakewood, OH 44107
Bartels Busack Pet Hospital Resort & Spa
6270 State Rd, Parma, OH 44134
INN to PETS
827 Bassett Rd, Westlake, OH 44145
The Barkley Pet Hotel and Day Spa
27349 Miles Rd, Orange, OH 44022
Good Morning, Weirdos,
This weekend I would like to discuss urinary blockage in male cats, a medical condition that we see often in the cats within our group. While this is in no way to say that our group is unique in seeing this condition, it is telling that within such a small population we see this arise time and time again. We have used Weirdo Emergency Funds for well over a dozen cats with urinary blockages and have seen at least a dozen more cases just in general on the group page. The ASPCA describes urinary blockages as “life threatening.” By discussing some details about urinary blockages and preventative care measures, we hope to help you lessen the chance of this happening to your cat!
So, what does “urinary blockage,” mean? A blockage in a male cat means that an obstruction has formed inside the urethra and is preventing the cat from being able to pass urine through his penis. While there are many types of blockages and reasons for them, the focus of my blog today will be on “struvite crystals.” These crystals begin in the bladder and then move into the urethra where they become stuck. The forming of the crystals may be happening over time without symptoms, but once the crystals have moved from the bladder into the urethra it becomes a very serious medical emergency. The cat will have to have a catheter placed into the urethra in order to flush out the crystals to open back up the urethra and allow the cat to urinate. Catheter placement usually will go on for a few days while the cat is monitored at the vet to be sure that all of the blockage is cleared. Because of the blockages, the bladder will inflame and cause pressure on the kidneys, which causes potassium levels to rise and toxins build up in the kidneys. This toxin build up can damage the kidneys beyond repair sometimes and this is why this condition is considered life threatening. While the blockage is being taken care of, a complete blood panel work up will be done to check on the damage to the kidneys. Also, once a cat has already had a urinary blockage due to struvite crystals, his chances of developing them again are very high. A follow-up visit to the vet to draw a new blood panel is necessary to be sure that the kidneys are healing and functioning at the appropriate levels.
Here are some symptoms to look out for and you should take in your cat immediately for vet care if you see him exhibiting any of these symptoms:
While ensuring a wet food diet and promoting water intake will not guarantee that your cat will never develop struvite crystals, it is at least an inexpensive way to take a proactive approach to your cat’s health and well-being.
The information and advice given in my blog today is NOT intended to replace the recommendations made by your vet. If you think your cat may be suffering from this issue or are concerned that your cat is at risk, please consult your vet for their professional recommendations and guidance.
Many well wishes to you and your cats,
Cassandra Bean Ungvarsky