Did you know vets and behaviourists around the world are bracing ourselves for the wave of post-pandemic separation anxiety cases coming to hit us in the next few months?
Reason is simple, many of us have been at home with our cats for months at this stage! In Ireland and around the world, the lockdown restrictions are slowly being lifted, and many people are returning to work.
Although we know that cats are reasonably independent animals, the sudden drastic changes this year (both directions!) can still be a dramatic experience for them.
Government regulation varies, depending on where you are, if where you are is still pretty “restricted” with you spending most of the time inside, you might want to read the previous “during the pandemic” post.
If where you are is “opening up”, then this post now is what you need.
As a cat behaviorist and cat parent myself, I know how important it is for cat owners to make their feline family members happy! And I want to help you and your cat cope with 3 useful tips for post-pandemic feline separation anxiety:
1. I’m sure your cat received tons of attention and extra love from you the past few months! And now that you’re going back to work, they may be expecting the same amount of attention. It’s important that you establish a routine for your cat so they when to expect attention from you. Studies shown that having a routine is helpful for all forms of anxiety – both humans and cats! You don’t need to make it super complicated. Try to incorporate the cat’s routine with your routine. For example, play with them a couple of minutes before and after work everyday. The key is – be consistent.
2. Your cats have also got used to the noise around the house and having people around. Another tip is to have a timer on your TV or radio, so it can be set up to turn on and off at certain times in the day when you’re not at home. I have clients who use voice recording of their own voice. You might want to explore that option if you can use voice recording to incorporate with your smart home technology so that your voice will come up a few times a day.
3. Try to use a cat camera! Camera is a bit of a misnomer at this point as pet “cameras” these days can serve many functions. Some of them allow you to play with laser pointer games your cat (always stop your laser point on a toy so that your cat can successfully “catch” their prey in order to prevent frustration) There are also cameras where you can drop your cat treats using an App on your phone. This will be a great interactive way to see what they’re up to, talk with your cats during the day so they can hear your voice. Check out this one and this one.
4. Think about hiring a cat sitter for a few weeks to do mid-day drop in. Not only you are giving your local cat sitter some much needed work (they haven’t worked for several months at this stage!) it will also help your cat slowly “wane” off human attention.
5. Some workplaces are required to do that due to social distancing rule and that they can’t have full staff back in the premises yet. If possible, explore the option to work from home part of your week.
6. Keep your cat busy by doing “hunting games” with them. Use commercial food puzzles like this or this or DIY options.
7. Spending quality time with your cat when you can. Catnip, treats, playtime can do always do a lot of good.
8. If you notice significant anxiety, think about Feliway.
9. If you are in need of professional assistance, contact a behaviourist. I now offer virtual consultation globally to anyone who is in need of help. I offer 10 minutes FREE assessment before you decide if you want to book for a full hour consultation.
More resources: I explained more about post-pandemic anxiety and gave some extra tips on my Youtube channel. You can check the video here.
A lot of vets are implementing COVID-19 pandemic policies. These changes are meant to protect you, your pet, and the entire veterinary staff. For example, some policies that are seen in many vet practices are: No human inside the clinic, drop off and pick up outside the door, no cash payment, etc.
PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE follow these instructions. This is to protect your beloved vet clinic staff. You don’t want them to be sick. If they are sick, they can no longer take care of your animals. So PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE call them ahead of time and follow their instruction to the T. I can’t emphasize this enough.
Animals and COVID-19
Even though there is no evidence that cats and dogs can catch COVID-19, certain precaution is necessary:
Include your pet in social distancing. Do not allow them around anyone when they are outside. Someone who is a silent carrier could touch your pet and you will be at risk if you touch your pet afterwards.
Decide on an Emergency Pet Guardian. This is someone who will take care of your pet if you are not able to take care of them. Please download this FREE document, give it a serious thought, speak to a suitable person and follow the included checklist accordingly.
If you become sick, have the person listed above start taking over your pet as soon as possible and have them give your pet a bath. Cats and dogs can’t catch COVID-19, but their fur could be carrying droplets, the same way your hands can be carrying droplets.
Keep a 4 week supply of food and medications on hand for your pet.
If your pet requires home-cooked meals, consider finding a commercially available alternative or freezing meals ahead of time.
If you do not have anyone to take care of your pet, please let the doctors/nurses/government know that you have a pet. Consider carrying a card like this.
Make sure your pet is up to date on vaccines, this has nothing to do with COVID-19, this is to keep them healthy if they have to be boarded somewhere.
Cat specific tips:
Cats love their routines, and obviously there is a drastic change in our routines right now. If you are working from home and the kids are off school, cats could be stressed by the extra noise and extra movement at home. Please make sure there are places for cats to hide if they want to be away from it all (don’t we all sometimes at this stage?) High places, extra cardboard boxes for hiding. If you have a spare room, consider making it a “cat room” so that the cats can go in there if they need some quiet time alone.
Working from home with a cat has its challenges, it takes coworking and hot-desking to another level. You might need to consider a decoy keyboard…
On another note, it is important for us to stay healthy so that we can take care of our furry friends. You need to help yourself before you can help others. Thankfully, our furry friends are giving us strength by being always there for us. However, if you feel you need to speak with someone, please check out the list of phone numbers of this link. We are all in this together.
I must have answered this question a million times, so I decide to put everything down in writing once and for all.
A lot of first time cat parent imagine this – they adopt a cat from the shelter, they took the cat home, the cat will be overjoyed to have a new family. They will run straight into the home, jump around exploring, run back into their arms, give them a big hug, purring because they are grateful to be given a new home. And they live happily ever after…
Basically, Hollywood style happy ending.
It could potentially be the case with a dog, but I can guarantee you in 99% of the cats, it wouldn’t be the case.
It will be more like this…
Yes, – you open the cat carrier, they might smell around for a few second, dash to seek cover, and end up behind the sofa.
When Adam in Tallinn took Laima home from a shelter, he didn’t expect Laima to be hiding behind the sofa like this. He contacted me through Facebook and asked me for advice.
That’s the wonderful thing about the internet, I can get to connect with cat lovers around the world and help them with their cat problems!
I explained Adam, hiding is a normal cat behaviour when moving to a new family, we need to let them hide until they feel secure. The more we try to get them out of hiding the more they will retreat. The only thing we could do is make Laima’s hiding experience more comfortable.
So I asked Adam if it is possible to set up a quiet room for Laima for her to settle down. A lot of cats need to hide to feel secure. They will eventually come out to explore when they feel they are secured (i.e. they slowly realise no one is going to kill them!) She will come out to join the rest of the family when she is ready.
Funny enough, in a very Estonian style, the only quiet room in the house is the sauna!! The rest of the house is modern open plan design!
I explained to Adam, if he wants Laime to come out from behind the sofa, he needs to make the ‘cat sauna’ super attractive from a cat point of view. It means, cat cave, food, water, litter tray, maybe even toys though most cats don’t feel like playing at this stage since they are too nervous.
So Adam and I worked together to set up the first ever cat sauna in my career!
Of course, we wouldn’t turn the sauna on due to safety reason, but the sauna is in a quiet part of the house, the light is dim and the atmosphere is cozy. So Adam did this…
As you can see in the picture, a cat cave bed is set up, scratching post, food and water.
Ideally, a cat room like this should be set up before the cat’s arrival, so that we can open the cat carrier and let the cat straight into this.
However, Adam already missed the boat, so now the question is, how to get Laima out from behind the sofa and moved into this beautiful cat room/sauna?
There are two ways to go about this, we could either actively pick up Laima and moves her or we can let her go into this room in her own accord.
Obviously, the latter is preferred. Not only trying to pick up a nervous cat newly come out from shelter might give you a few scratches, it will also increase their anxiety level. You don’t want to start your relationship with your cat on the wrong foot!
So we decided to go for the second option – luring Laime to move into this cat room/sauna/paradise (haha).
To make it super attractive to Laima so that she will come out from behind the sofa and move into this sauna instead, I advised Adam to make a box cat cave as well. We all know cats LOVE boxes. Adam was puzzled because he got a beautiful store brought fluffy cat cave already! I said to him, Laima will probably use the fluffy cat cave in the future, but a box, for some reasons will do some magic.
I also advised Adam to put down some extra yummy food to attract Laima to move into the sauna. Extra yummy food could be things like – luxury wet food, tuna, chicken breast, etc. Not things they eat on day to day basis but food that cats very rarely can resist.
As I have predicted, very shortly, Laima came out from the sofa and moved into the cat sauna.
I was overjoyed when Adam set me this above photo shortly after our chat on Facebook!
In a few days time, Laima settled in the new family really well. The photo is below is take just 2 days after.
As you can see by her body language, she was still a bit anxious. But she was not hiding anymore. Her facial expression was still shy but curious, which is a good sign towards the right direction.
A few days after…Laima was finally HOME.
One month after…
Laima now sleeps on Adam’s bed every night and she is not spooked whenever Adam walked past her anymore.
As for the cat cave Adam carefully picked up and spent money on?
We cat lovers have all been there, welcome to the club, Adam!
And now is a happy ending.
So to recap…
How to introduce a new cat to your home:
Set up a cat room before your cat’s arrival
Set up food, water, litter tray, cat bed, cat hiding places. If you don’t have a store bought cat cave, use a box and put in some blanket.
On cat’s arrival, let him/her in the cat room
Close the door behind you to let him/her settle down if cat is very nervous
In a few hours time, you can leave the door ajar. When cat is ready, he/she will come out to explore.
For at least the first few days of the settle down period, make sure this cat room is accessible to them as they might retreat back to this room if they feel anxious again. If you are not lack of space, consider to leave the cat room set up for longer period of time.
Cat room is also a valuable practice during festival period, or when you have house guests, or you have builders in to do work around the house or having a newborn baby, etc.
A special shout out to the shelter where Adam got Laima.
Just like most animal charities around the world, funding is never enough. Please pop over and give them some support.
Did you know there are lots of products at Ikea which are not meant to be for cats but make great cat products? They are reasonably priced and they will merge into your house decoration without screaming ‘cat stuff’! (Not that there is anything wrong with that!) Plus, since these items are not made for cats, it can serve other purposes too!
1. Step stools
Steps are great for cats who might have difficulty jumping up to their favourite windowsill or climbing up to the sofa or bed. Elderly cats, cats with arthritis or cats start to lose their sight will find these very helpful. Since these are not special cat stands, you can use these for other purposes! Getting the books on the top shelves? No problem!
I don’t actually childproof for my human child. I started teaching him about safety since the moment he started to crawl. As a result, he managed to navigate the stairs since he was 10 months old. However, I do have a few childproof items at home for the cats!
These are super useful in making sure to leave a gap for doors that you want your cat to have access to. e.g.. the room where they have their litter trays or their favourite room where their cat beds are, etc. These fingerboard will leave a big enough gap for your cat to push the door open and go through.
These could serve the same purpose as the fingerguard too, but I prefer the fingerguard because you don’t need to leave the door open forever with the fingerguard. With these, it takes more effort to remove them so to close the door. Not handy for places like bathrooms where you need to close a couple of times a day.
Ikea’s various wall shelves are super handy for any catification projects you might have.
Like this one, for example. You can see you can use shelves with different length to suit the situation in your house. Plus, IF your cat don’t use it, you can always put books! (We always need a Plan B when it comes to cat stuff since they very often don’t like what we buy them! UGH!!!)
Yes, these square things…classic Ikea item. They are super handy to make a cat tree. The advantage of this is its versatility. If the cat is not using the square, you can always put books and other stuff. You can even change things up whenever you want!
Here are a few examples how you can catify these units.
A complex cat tower with feeding area, steps, cat beds, cat litter, everything!
Don’t forget to check out many more cat projects using Ikea products on Ikea Hackers. If you type in ‘cat’ on the search, you will get 1950 results of cat related Ikea-hack projects! Some of the cat parents out there are really really creative! Check it out!
Have you got any Ikea item that you use for your cat? Comment below! I would love to see your idea!
As a cat sitter and behaviourist, I have the privilege to hear a lot amazing cat stories from my human customers. It never fails to open my eyes and remind me how much we all underestimate the cat’s ability.
Puddy is one of the legendary cats I have come across.
He came into my life when his human scheduled a meet and greet on 2011 and wanted to use my cat sitting service. Puddy was 6 years old at the time.
As always at one of these meet-and-greets, I asked the human how they find out about my service and how did they manage their holiday before. If they have always used a friend or family members, or maybe they have used another company before, how did that go, etc. It helps me to get some background story and gauge how the cat is going to handle being alone etc.
Here is Puddy went straight to bed after one of his many adventures.
As it turns out the reason Puddy’s human – Paul wanted to use my cat sitting service is because Puddy went missing the year before when Paul’s friend took care of him. Paul and his wife Claudine travel to Asia once a year and it’s usually over a couple of weeks. They would want to have a reliable permanent sitter for future years to come. Due to the incident the year before causing them so much stress, they decided they wanted to have professional sitter from then on and found me.
And then Paul told me this unbelievable story…
On winter 2010, Paul and Claudine had only just got Puddy for 5 weeks at the time when they were due to go on their annual Asian trip. It was their first trip away from him. A friend of Paul, who is also a cat lover, offered to help him out and took Puddy to his home. Unfortunately, Paul’s friend probably haven’t thought about the fact that he also had a toddler at the time. They don’t follow instruction well and tend to do their own thing! So at one point, the child opened the door, Puddy sneaked out, he was gone.
Paul’s friend texted and told them Puddy was missing. But since they were in Asia, there were very little they could do. They also figured that since Puddy wasn’t in his own house, he probably wouldn’t know how to get back to Paul’s friend. Of course, you hear all these amazing stories of cats finding their way back to their old house. But Puddy had only been living with Paul and his wife for 5 weeks, he came in their lives as a 5-year-old adult cat, they thought there is no way he felt attached enough to them to try to find a way home. Plus, he wouldn’t know the direction well enough to do that.
On top of that, there is a big problem…
Puddy lived on Grand Canal and Paul’s friend lived on Sandymount.
Yep…not only the two places are 2 km apart from each other, but also there is a river in the middle of the two locations. Everyone thought there is just no way Puddy would know how to cross the river to get to a place he has only moved in for 5 weeks!
But Puddy had other ideas…
2 weeks after Paul was home, they have all given up on the idea of ever seeing Puddy again. Buddy was missing for 6 weeks at that stage. They even started talking about maybe getting another cat at some point.
But while they were watching TV peacefully one night, Puddy suddenly knocked on their window!!!
He asked to be let in, ate bit of food, went straight to the bed to sleep. In a true cat manner, he acted as if nothing happened.
Paul said he did look a bit more scruffy than before but nothing seems to be different than he last saw Puddy before his Asian trip 6 weeks ago.
WOW! Imagine that?
We figured it must have taken Puddy 6 weeks to finally find a crossing. He must have hunted for food and found shelter somewhere along the way to sustain himself during his journey home. There are two possible crossing places – one in Ringsend, one in Ballsbridge. It would have made the journey so much longer for Puddy. Plus it’s not like Puddy had a map! He must have tried to check along the river multiple times until he reached the point where he saw a crossing.
AND! This incident happened on December 2010!
If you live in Ireland, you should know about the memorable winter!
Cats got attached to their new home and their new human much faster than you think. People underestimate how traumatic it is for the cat when people adopt the cat from a shelter and then return them after. The chance is they already like you and feel abandoned when they got returned. Please think carefully before adopting a cat.
As for my experience working with Puddy, it was a delightful one. He was a teddy bear cat. So soft and cuddly and he was forever very calm. I could totally imagine after his 6 weeks adventure, he would just go straight to the kitchen to eat some food and went straight to bed as if nothing happened. He had that kind of personality. He also liked to ‘disappear’ for days on end going on his adventure, at times making me very nervous as his pet sitter. But Paul and I knew he would come back. He did manage to cross the river from Sandymount to Grand Canal, we trusted that he would be ok, and he always was!
Unfortunately, Puddy was diagnosed with FIV and then a tumour on his tummy on 2014. He passed away suddenly one day outside his home. The neighbour came tell Paul that Puddy collapsed outside. He has already gone to the rainbow bridge by the time Paul got to him. He was only 9 years old.
Puddy was an extraordinary character. He will be sorely missed. I will dedicate this post to my great friend Puddy. May you rest in peace. I have also put up this story and his photo on The Warmest Spot Cat Memorial page.