Thursday, July 4, 2019

Strategies for Helping Your Cat Remain Calm

It's that time of the year again! Loud noises from thunderstorms and fireworks are permeating our quiet little home and the cats are finding sanctuary under the bed.


Sweet Praline seeking shelter under the dresser during fireworks (circa 2010)

I’ve already heard some fireworks blasting in my neighborhood this week, which gave me reason to pause and think about meeting the needs of my cats when the larger explosions occur later this holiday weekend. 

Due to Truffle’s recent fear of loud noises, such as fireworks and thunderstorms and the connection of stress and anxiety to the occurrence of bladder stones, I’ve become more interested in finding effective strategies to help alleviate some of her fears. Brulee isn't as stressed with the loud noises, but loud fireworks tend to send her under the bed with Truffle. According to PetMD, there are three types of conditions in cats that may need assistance, treatment, or coping strategies: phobia, fear, and anxiety.


two silver shaded Persians under a chair
Truffle and Brulee feeling safe under the chairs in the examination room
We’ve all heard of people claiming experiencing a type of phobia, such as claustrophobia, agoraphobia, and others, but cats can also experience phobias. Have you ever moved a piece of furniture in your home and saw the reaction your cat had to it? She may slink around in the room, hide, or avoid the room altogether for a while. A phobia is a “persistent and excessive fear of a specific stimulus such as fireworks or a thunderstorm. When a phobic event occurs with an excessive anxiety response, any event associated with it or the memory of that event can generate a response” (PetMD, 2019). Up until about two years ago, loud noises didn't bother Truffle and Brulee.  In fact, Truffle would sit at the window and watch the fireworks display.  However, something happened about three years ago that scared Truffle and now she hates thunderstorms and fireworks and immediately seeks shelter under the bed or bookcase.  To make matters worse, the general public can purchase fireworks and shoot them in neighborhoods, so the noise is even louder, especially around Independence Day. There are times my house seems to shake because the fireworks are so close.

Fear is defined as having an instinctual feeling of apprehension resulting from a situation,person, or object that appears to present an external threat, whether real or perceived (PetMD, 2019). This is a normal behavior, but the context determines whether it’s normal or abnormal and inappropriate. Many believe that most abnormal behaviors can be unlearned with gradual exposure. I believe Truffle and Brulee experienced some fears with me leaving them alone when I was traveling so much for work. Bringing out the suitcase a few days before departure tended to cause some fear and anxiety in the girls. While I was traveling, we believe something happened to scare the girls, so they then associated the suitcase with something to fear. I believe my own anxiety about traveling also affected their behaviors. Every time I pull out the suitcase, both girls insist on resting on top of it or inside of it. I began pulling out the suitcases a week or more in advance to let my cats see there was nothing to fear because I wasn’t leaving them within a couple of days after it appeared. They do seem more relaxed with the pet sitter now and haven’t experienced any illnesses afterwards as they have in the past. Anxiety is nervousness regarding an anticipated threat (Fear Free Happy Homes, 2019) of future dangers from unknown or imagined origins that result in normal body reactions associated with fear. The most common visible behaviors in cats may be elimination (urination and/or passage of bowel movements), destruction, and excessive vocalization. The most common type of anxiety is separation anxiety where your pet may exhibit anxiety or excessive distress behaviors when alone. Cats can become anxious and fearful of car rides, especially if they’ve only been in a car to go to the vet. Your cats may suffer from many of the signs identified below because of fear, anxiety, or stress (FAS). Fear, anxiety, and stress is the result of a neuro-chemical reaction in a pet’s brain. It can be brought on by any number of situations, including a sudden change in their environment, past trauma, being left alone, certain medical conditions, and noises, such as thunder or fireworks.” (Levine, 2019). Kristen Levine, a pet living expert, founded the Pet Anxiety Awareness campaign (PAAW) and began Pet Anxiety Awareness Month each June to help alleviate FAS in pets. 


Brulee and Truffle hiding under the dresser

If you suspect your feline is experiencing fear, anxiety, or stress, you should talk with your veterinarian to rule out conditions that may cause the behavior and consider contacting an animal behaviorist if the behavior exhibited by your cat becomes extreme. Veterinary behaviorist, Dr. Lisa Radosta, states that cats may have as much fear, anxiety, and stress as dogs, but people who live with cats may not be aware of the signs because they don’t see all of the signs if their cat is hiding and doesn’t appear stressed. 

Here are a few possible signs of fear, anxiety, and stress you may observe with your feline (Levine, 2019; Moore, 2019; PetMD, 2019):

  • Yawning
  • Freezing in place of immobilization
  • Licking the lips
  • Cowering
  • Meowing excessively
  • Hiding under beds or in closets
  • Grooming excessively
  • Becoming reactive or aggressive when touched
  • Inappropriate elimination


Possible Solutions to Relieve Fear, Anxiety, and Stress




You believe your cat is experiencing some type of fear, anxiety, or stress based on your observations. Now what do you do? Below are some strategies suggested by animal behaviorists and my experiences that have helped with my two Persian cats. I was shocked to read from an infographic from Pet Amber Alert (2015) that Persians were the #1 breed of cat that runs away from fear and can be found in shelters. The sad part about this statistic is the 30-60% of lost pets are euthanized because they can’t be identified and returned to their owners. The key is to take steps to avoid your cat running away.

Graphic credit - Pet Amber Alert

Environment

Sometimes, adjusting the environment in your home is enough to calm down a stressed cat, especially during a thunderstorm or fireworks explosion. Cats are more sensitive to noise and can tune into high and low pitch sounds that human cannot hear.
  • Provide a Safe Place to Hide. Cats like to feel secure when they feel threatened. Having an easily accessible location in your home will provide comfort for both your cat and you. You know where she is and should the situation present itself, you can easily retrieve her and put her in a place of safety, such as a carrier or a bathroom. Truffle and Brulee’s favorite places to hide are under my bed, under the bookcase beside my computer, and inside their cat furniture. They do have other places they like to hide occasionally. It’s important to know those secret hiding places to you can get to them if needed. If you choose to let your cat’s hiding place be in a carrier, it’s important to acclimate them to the carrier long before a stressful situation. I do not recommend closing your cats up in a bathroom or bedroom unless your cat is already comfortable behind closed doors.
  • Keep Cats Inside. The Pet Amber Alert infographic (see above) highlights the alarming trend of 30% more pets becoming lost between July 4th and 6th than any other time of year (PR Newswire, 2015).Unless you live in a rural area, it’s always a good idea to keep your cats indoors. There are too many dangers outdoors, such as cars, wild animals, dogs, and “mean” people. Should you choose to allow your cats outside, you should bring them indoors when there is a threat of a thunderstorm or fireworks in your area.
  • “Drown Out” Outside Noises. If you usually leave your windows and doors open, it's important to close them during a thunderstorm or when there are fireworks. Some people recommend playing calm music to help quieten the noise.  I’ve found some great music on Apple Music and You Tube for cats. In fact, I play some of this music at night to help me relax and fall asleep. I leave the television turned on during the day and when I leave the house. Truffle and Brulee are accustomed to having the TV on, so I tend to turn the volume up slightly to normal programming to help drown out some of the outside noise.
Brulee hiding inside her Catit® Cottage

I also talk in a normal voice, so the girls feel comfortable.  I don't try to pick up the girls to comfort them unless they come to me.  I've read that overcompensating cats when they are fearful with excessive attention can encourage their fear. Sometimes, Truffle will want to climb into my arms and other times, she heads for her haven under the bed. 


Safety and Protection

With the large percentage of pets who become fearful and run away during blasting fireworks or loud thunderclaps, you should plan to protect your cat prior to such events. 
  • Identification Collar and Tags. There are a lot of devices and services available now to help you find your cat should be become lost. At a minimum, your cat should have an ID tag attached to her collar with contact information, especially if she has access to the outside world.
  • Microchip Identification. One of the most effective products you can use to reunite with your pet should she be lost. Microchips are tiny transponders that communicate your cat’s ID information through radio frequency waves. A study from the American Veterinary Medical Association (2007) found that animal shelters were able to reunite people with their pets if they were microchipped 74.1% of the time. If a pet is taken to a shelter or veterinarian, they use hand scanners to check for the presence of a microchip.

Brulee likes to watch TV

Human Behavior

If possible, you should try to be home if you know there is the chance of fireworks or a thunderstorm in your area. However, even if you are home, there are some strategies you should use with your cat.
  • Remain Calm. Cats have an uncanny ability to sense your emotions and if you are stressed, chances are, they will also be stressed. Do things that help you relax such as watching TV, listening to music, exercising, or reading. If you know you experience stress or panic with loud noises or storms, you should prepare. Your cats need you to be a strong role model for them.
  • Play with Your Cat. A tired cat is a more rested and less stressed cat. Pull out those wand toys and catnip toys and play with your cat. The interaction with you may help keep her mind off the noises occurring outside.
  • Act Normal. This goes back to remaining calm. Cats hate change. You need to act as normal as possible, so your cat doesn’t pick up on things being different. If you usually sit at the computer or watch TV in the evenings, you should carry on with normal routines.
  • Don’t Comfort Your CatThis recommendation may be totally opposite what your instincts tell you to do. If your cat displays signs of fear or anxiety and you pick them up to try and comfort her, you are reinforcing her behavior to the stimuli. I admit I did this when the girls first became fearful and I’ve had to wean myself from this reinforcement. As I heard fireworks this week, I was sitting at the computer with the TV on and Truffle came into the office and quietly slinked under the shelf next to my feet. She was in her comfortable and safe hiding place, yet she was close to me. I fought the urge to try and comfort her because she appeared comfortable.
  • Hire a Pet Sitter. If you must be away during an event that may cause stress, anxiety, or phobic behavior in your cat, consider hiring a qualified and professional pet sitter to stay with her. If your cat is comfortable with your pet sitter, this could be a great option to assist in helping her feel safe and less inclined to exhibit fearful behavior.

  
Adding flower essences to water may assist in calming your cat

Anti-Anxiety Products


Sometimes, you need additional help to provide a feeling of security and safety for your cat. These can be in the form of prescription medication, flower essences, pheromone sprays & diffusers, calming supplements, and calming shirts. If you find you need to use any of these products with your cat, a key piece of advice is to use these products during a time when there are no outside stimuli (storms, fireworks, trips to vets). Your cat may need time to adjust to the various products and you don’t want to cause more stress when your cat is fearful of outside noises or situations.


  • Medication. Depending on the severity of the behavior, a veterinarian may prescribe anti-anxiety medication for your cat. Many of these medications must be administered daily and in advance of a situation in order to be effective. Cats taking a prescription-calming medication should have yearly blood tests done to determine their kidney and liver levels. Some cats are not good candidates for this type of medication.
  • Natural Medications. If you believe your cat needs something to calm her for a short period of time, you may want to consider using a natural flower essence. Flower Essences are water that has been infused with the vibration healing of flowers. Different flowers aid in alleviating unwanted berhaviors, like fear, panic, or aggression (Coryelle Kramer, June 30, 2016). Coryelle explains that possible flower essences that may help are Rescue Remedy for stress, stimulus for known fears like fear of loud noise, or rock rose for panic. She continues to explain that one should put the appropriate flower essence in her pet’s water a week (or more) prior to a known date of fireworks or loud noises. This way, there will be enough of the flower essence in their system to help, especially on holidays like the 4th of July and New Year’s Eve. Coryelle believes that drops are more effective than sprays. However, if your pet is not a drinker, you may want to consider putting some drops on your fingers and gently rub into the skin of the inner ear. The natural calming medications usually last for a few hours to help relax your cat and there are no side effects. Natural calming medications don’t require a prescription from a veterinarian. However, if your cat is currently on medications or has a medical condition, you should consult with your veterinarian prior to giving your cat flower essences.
  • Pheromones. Synthetic pheromones mimic your cat’s natural facial pheromones, which helps your cat feel calm and safe when she inhales them. Synthetic pheromones are available in liquid sprays and electric diffusers. Some common brand names for cats are Feliway and Comfort Zone. The spray is recommended for carpeting, bedding, carriers and other surfaces your cat likes to rest. I tend to use a spray of Feliway in their Sleepypod Mobile Pet Beds prior to taking them to the vet. Our veterinarian also has the Feliway spray and towels in the waiting area for clients to use. Diffusers are plugged into the wall and the small bottles last about a month. I have 2-3 wall diffusers in areas of my home where the cats spend a lot of time. You may need to use additional products such as flower essences or calming treats during a thunderstorm or fireworks.
  • Calming Shirts. Thunderworks makes a calming vest for both dogs and cats. The ThunderShirt has a patented design that applies a gentle, constant pressure that has a dramatic calming effect on most cats. The ThunderShirt uses pressure to relieve anxiety in people and animals and is similar to swaddling human infants and the use of gentle pressure and weighted vests to help people with autism. You would definitely need to get your cat accustomed to the ThunderShirt prior to using it in a stressful situation.
  • Calming Treats. There are a lot of calming treats/chews on the market. I’ve tried many of them with some success on my cats. I’ve found a lot of these calming treats are a little larger than a normal treat for my cats, so I need to break them into smaller pieces. As with other treatments, you need to try these treats with your cat before they are needed. I can’t count the number of times I’ve tried to give Truffle and Brulee a treat once that first clap of thunder or blast of a firework occurred. They are too fearful to try something new and are usually seeking a safe place to hide. During events such as the 4th of July weekend or New Year’s Eve weekend, I’ve learned to give calming treats to my cats about an hour prior to sundown.
I recently reviewed the Tomlyn® Relax & Calm Chews. These chicken-flavored chews are easy to give to most pets, since they believe they’re getting a yummy treat. I’m lucky both Truffle and Brulee like these chews and I feel comfortable knowing they provide calmness due to the concentrated, high levels of L-Tryptophan. Relax & Calm Chews also contain chamomile, another ingredient which helps to promote a feeling of calm and relaxation. The third active ingredient, ginger, helps to settle the uneasy stomachs that often accompany anxiety in pets. The treats are a little larger and firmer than their normal treats, so I break them into smaller pieces to make it easier for them to eat. I'll continue to use these on Truffle during those stressful times and may encourage the pet sitter to give her one a day when I'm away because Truffle does suffer some separation anxiety.  The Relax & Calm Chews are also available for dogs.

Truffle hiding, as a kitten, underneath the stereo shelves

I do want to emphasize that all pets should be kept indoors, if possible, during thunderstorms and when there are fireworks nearby. Using a combination of some of the above strategies and products are helping Truffle and Brulee better cope with thunderstorms and fireworks this season. I want to stress that not everything works for all cats. You should talk to your veterinarian and/or animal behaviorist to see what works best for your cat and you.
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Giveaway

We're excited to announce that three of our readers have the opportunity to win a bag of Tomlyn® Relax & Calm Chews (cat or dog). No purchase necessary. The giveaway is open to residents of the United States 18+ years, except where prohibited by law. The giveaway will run from July 4-14 and ends at 11:59 pm ET. Three winners will be randomly selected by Rafflecopter (powered by Random.org) and notified via email. Winners will have 48 hours to claim their prize; failure to do so will result in forfeiture of the prize and a new winner will be randomly chosen. To qualify for the giveaway, a comment must be left on our blog post. Other entry options are available after a comment is left. Please check your email and be sure to add sweetpurrfections@sc.rr.com to your address book!  Good luck! 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

References

7 Fourth of July Tips to Help Your Dog or Cat Cope with the Fireworks - MyLap Pet Bed. MyLap Pet Bed. July 1, 2019. https://www.mylappetbed.pet/blog/7-forth-of-july-tips-to-help-your-dog-or-cat-cope-with-the-fireworks-mylap-pet-bed.



Fireworks and Your Pet: Tips for Staying Safe This Fourth of July. July 3, 2019. ASPCA. https://www.aspca.org/about-us/press-releases/what-if-your-pet-goes-missing-during-4th-july-fireworks-theres-app.


Kramer, Coreyelle. June 30, 2016. Helping Fearful Pets During the 4th of July. Coryelle Kramer: Seer, Healer, and Animal Communicator. https://coryellekramer.com/helping-pet-4th-july


Levine, Kristen. June 2019. Pet Anxiety Awareness Kicks Off June 2-8, 2019. Kristen Levine Pet Living. https://kristenlevine.com/petanxietyawareness/


Levine, Kristen. June 19, 2019. How to Help Your Dog or Cat Be Relaxed and Calm. Kristen Levine Pet Living. https://kristenlevine.com/pets-anxiety-calming-chews/


Moore, Arden. June 24, 2019. Boom, Bang, and Other Noises That Freak Out Pets. Fear Free Happy Homes. https://fearfreehappyhomes.com/boom-bang-and-other-noises-that-freak-out-pets/.


July 4th Fireworks – Keeping Your Pet Safe. July 2, 2015. Pet Amber Alert.com™. https://www.petamberalert.com/blog/july-4th-fireworks-keeping-your-pet-safe/

Preventing and Alleviating Anxieties 101. Fear Free Happy Homes Course Video. https://fearfreehappyhomes.com/lessons/preventing-and-alleviating-anxieties-101/

23 comments:

  1. There's a fireworks stand that sets up near my house for every holiday. So, my 18 year old isn't afraid of them. One of my deceased cats used to love to stand in the window and watch the Roman candles. I know, my cats are the exception. But when it comes to traveling by car, my cat is so stressed. I don't have any suggestions other than I play classical music for him.

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  2. Lots of great info! Thanks!

    The Florida Furkids

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  3. Great post! So comprehensive. No stone left unturned! Especially like the suggestion of turning up the noise level. Aw those are such sweet pictures of your kitties under the bed!

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  4. We dislike holidays due to fireworks, we cope okay but the ferals do not, poor sweeties.

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  5. Happy Fourth of July!
    WE purray there aren't too many fireworks here!!

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  6. Great post. My cats love hiding in the Catit cottage we won from you. Happy 4th! Xo

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  7. Great post and great advice ! Happy 4th of July ! Purrs

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  8. My cats have never been a problem for noise issues; it's always been dogs for me. Currently, I have a German Shepherd who is very reactive to the loud booms. I think she's frustrated because it's her instinct to protect.

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  9. Love this post, you've certainly covered all the bases. Thankfully I've never had a dog or cat who was bothered by thunderstorms or fireworks, but one cat I rescued as a 3 week old feral kitten. She was petrified of everyone except me. We discovered Feliway and the change in her was so dramatic I don't think I would have believed it if I hadn't seen it. We kept it plugged in where she spent more of her time, and in just a couple of days my husband was able to pet her. I highly recommend giving it a try if you have an anxious cat.

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  10. Sometimes we concentrate on our dog's anxiety over thunderstorms and fireworks that we forget about our kitties! One of my cats could care less about noise and the other feeds off the dog's fears; she'll hide for hours. I'm thinking calming chews might be something we want to experiment with - thank you for the great info!!

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  11. Great post and I always look back at the time I had 3 cats and what I went through with them before all this knowledge was out in the world and how they must have suffered. I feel guilty in a way but it was not my fault. With Layla, although a dog, I am so diligent with what I do to make sure she is as comfortable as possible and it seems to be working. I hate Fireworks and feel they should be banned

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  12. Excellent post! For all I know, there's so much that I didn't! Both my cats are a bit skittish. A couple years ago, before we had Ellie, some fools in our courtyard set off fireworks on and off from 2pm to 2am (also technically illegal). Bear couldn't sleep. As 2am, I just got really sick and tired of this crap and turned on my music (alternative) very loudly ... and I turned around he was passed out. I'm sure my neighbors didn't appreciate my noise - but my cats come first.

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  13. Aww.. poor kitties. Fireworks are so scary for lots of pets. My dog, Bastian, also suffers from major anxiety / stress seizures when it comes to loud fireworks. When he gets anxious, he pants, paces, his eye pupils get dilated, and sometimes he just starts peeing on the couch. He is in a very scary trans-like state.. I enjoy the fireworks, but I don't enjoy this part of it.. (From: Dachshund Station)

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  14. I heard good things about the Feliway. And it does make sense. I like treatments that make sense.

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  15. Ours hide in the bedroom furthest from the noise!!

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  16. Yeah, we just posted on that today. We like the TV ones, but not the ones next door!

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  17. I didn't know cats can be as fearful as dogs when it comes to fireworks/thunder anxiety. I know the exact day when my springer spaniel became fearful. It was when a severe thunderstorm hit early one August morning and the thunderclap was so loud it shook me out of bed. Dogs can be pretty annoying with constant pestering when they are anxious. I finally had to resort to drugs. I used Solliquin to take the edge off, which helped except when a storm was directly overhead, and then CBD treats during the storm. Fans set on high also help drown out the fireworks. I've had my dogs actually sleep through the fireworks grand finale!

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  18. These are great suggestions to help alleviate the anxiety that thunderstorms and fireworks often cause our pets. So far my dogs are not bothered by fireworks (but the dogs are inside, and the fireworks aren't too loud at our house.)

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  19. My cats aren't typically afraid of storms but my male cat doesn't like fireworks so I just let him hide under the bed and turn the fan on high to drown out the noise and I try to get him to play with his toys or leave him alone until he's ready to come out when he feels comfortable.

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  20. Stay home with your cat and try to avoid the noise by watching tv

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  21. If I know there will be fireworks or a bad storm predicted, I do what I can to help tire out my furbabies ahead of time. My dogs love taking walks, even if it's just a short one. I will also play with them in the house if taking a walk or playing outside isn't feasible. Same with my cats - well, one of my two cats. I will get out the laser light and distract her and help tire her out. It does really help - especially with the dogs.

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  22. I turn up the tv a bit louder then normal and since I have multiple cat home I make sure they have a nice little hiding cubby with cozy fuzzy covers to curl up in

    sallstun
    at
    hotmaildotcom

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  23. No issue with fireworks and thunderstorms yet.

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