Coping with Change – How to help your cat prepare for the end of lockdown

animal behaviour, cats, Lockdown -

Coping with Change – How to help your cat prepare for the end of lockdown

Last week we wrote about how coming out of lockdown could be a ‘ticking time bomb’ for dogs that have become used to having their owners at home with them. The Dogs Trust suggest that many dogs will suffer from separation anxiety once lockdown eases and people begin to return to work - and we looked at different ways to help your dog prepare for being left alone. This week the RSPCA has issued a warning that cats are also going to struggle with the changes in routine when we start getting back to work and have issued some guidelines to help them cope. 

Bengal cat - Photo by Kim Davies on UnsplashYour cat may be upset by changes to their routine - Photo by Kim Davies on Unsplash

You may well have seen a few memes about how much dogs love having their ‘people’ at home whilst cats can’t wait for them to leave – but this is not always the case. Speaking to the BBC, Clinical Animal Behaviourist at Pet Sense, Rosie Bescoby explains:

“I think that meme is related to the fact that dogs are ‘obligate social creatures’, meaning they require company for their emotional health. Cats have always been seen as fairly independent, but this will vary between breeds of cats and individuals. Cats can struggle with changes in routine.”

Ginger isn't bothered - Photo by Iz & Phil on UnsplashGinger isn't bothered - Photo by Iz & Phil on Unsplash

Every pet has responded to lockdown in different ways – those that have always had a flexible routine and are used to seeing their owners at home may be coping well but others may be confused by the changes and cats may be just as upset by a return to ‘normal’ as dogs are. Just as your cat has got used to having you around to feed them, cuddle them and binge Netflix together, they may be left feeling bereft when things change again and may not necessarily be waving you off at the door. A change of routine may upset your cat, however they feel about you.

Luckily, the RSPCA has issued some helpful guidance with some steps you can take to help your cat cope with any changes they might experience as lockdown starts to ease.

Chin tickles - Photo by Yerlin Matu on UnsplashChin tickles - Photo by Yerlin Matu on Unsplash

Speaking to Metro, RSPCA regional clinical animal behaviourist, Sarah Tapsell explains that however your cat may feel about you being at home, the change to their routine may cause stress which can be exhibited in a number of different ways:

“All cats are individuals and some may enjoy human companionship and time with people more than others. This means there will likely be some cats who are enjoying the increased time spent with their owners during lockdown whereas other cats may be happy to have more quiet time when you return to work. 

“Whichever kind of cat you have, cats can be sensitive to change, and so a change in routine can cause stress to your cat. It is important to make any changes gradually, whilst still ensuring all their needs are met.”

All cats are different. So it is important that you pay attention to your cat and observe any changes in their behaviour that results from you starting to go out more or pay them less attention. Sarah suggests gradually reducing the amount of interaction that you have with your cat before you return to work so they don’t feel left out in the cold:

“For some cats, a sudden reduction in interaction could lead to stress and frustration as the cat’s expectations are not being met, although others may be happier to have less interaction. It’s important to try and identify how your cat is feeling especially if they are doing something that is unusual for them compared to how they are normally.“

Tabby cat - Photo by Erik-Jan Leusink on UnsplashTabby cat - Photo by Erik-Jan Leusink on Unsplash

Steps for helping your cat cope with change

The RSCPCA recommends the following steps to take to ensure that your cat doesn’t experience too much upheaval caused by a sudden change of routine or reduced interaction:

  • Introduce any changes to your routine gradually, rather than all at once.
  • Create hiding places and elevated resting places for your cat. These can help alleviate stress by providing them with a safe place to sit and process their emotions.
  • Don’t over handle your cat when you comfort them. Being picked up, cuddled and followed around may cause them more stress – let them come to you if that’s what they want to do.
  • Slowly adjust your daily routine so that feeding, grooming and play times are the same as they will be once you return to work.
  • If you have an intelligent, inquisitive cat then think about getting them a puzzle feeder, interactive toys and scratching posts so that they can amuse themselves when you’re not home. These are especially important if you have indoor cats as they might start tearing up your houseplants or curtains instead.
  • Your life is sure to become busier once you get back to your old routine, but make sure you schedule some quality time for your cat every day – this will help your wellbeing as well as your pet’s.

Something that the RSPCA has not suggested on their list is using plugins or sprays such as Feliway to promote wellbeing. Many people say these can be effective in calming stress and if your cat seems particularly unsettled then it may be worth giving these a go, particularly if they are exhibiting extreme symptoms of stress.

Is your cat stressed? - Photo by Jae Park on UnsplashIs your cat stressed? - Photo by Jae Park on Unsplash

Signs of stress in cats

Sarah describes the types of unusual behaviour that may mean your cat isn’t coping very well:

“A cat who seeks more interaction from you and maybe plays more roughly with you may be frustrated or bored and struggling with the reduction in attention. A quiet and withdrawn, or more irritable cat may be stressed and in need of their own space. It can be useful to recognise this so you can give them their own time and a safe place to rest. If you know your cat well, you will likely know where their favourite places are.”

Cats may also meow more frequently, eat more food, eat less food, be more clingy or standoffish, they may be destructive or relive themselves indoors and in some cases start chewing their tails or grooming excessively, giving themselves bald patches in their fur. You know your cat better than anyone so it is important to observe them during your return to work and make sure they aren’t doing anything unusual.

Cat and dog - Photo by Glomad Marketing on UnsplashCat and dog - Photo by Glomad Marketing on Unsplash

Why do cats react differently to dogs?

Cat welfare expert at the RSCPCA Alice Potter explains why cats cope differently to dogs: 

“Compared to dogs, who are a highly social species, cats naturally live in small family groups and can often cope with a more solitary life. This means they can sometimes seem aloof to us and at times, just want to do their own thing without us. But even if your cat isn’t a fuss loving, attention seeking lap cat they can still get stressed from your return to work so take time to make the transition as smooth and stress free as possible.

“After spending so much time together during lockdown you’ll probably be excited to see your cat after a long day at work. Once you get home though, it’s best to keep things calm and give them time to greet you on their terms. 

“Look out for the cues that your cat gives to show they want to spend time with you, or if they’d rather have some alone time. For example, approaching you with their tail held up with the end pointed horizontally is a friendly greeting and a cat that is hiding needs to be given space.”

Your cat may need a safe place- Photo by Kate Stone Matheson on UnsplashYour cat may need a safe place- Photo by Kate Stone Matheson on Unsplash

How have your pets been coping with lockdown? Do you think they’ll be happy when you go back to work? Let us know in the comments section below!

Main Photo by P T on Unsplash

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