The coronavirus pandemic has affected all of us – and that includes our cats. Whether they’re picking up on their humans’ stress or trying to figure out why they no longer have the house to themselves all day, some of our cats are having a rough time.
To get some expert advice, I chatted with Jackson Galaxy, renowned cat behavior and wellness expert, and host of Animal Planet’s My Cat From Hell. Here he describes some of the sudden behavior issues pet parents are dealing with and how we can help our cats through the pandemic. And don’t miss what he has to say about CatCamp and future virtual events!
Q: Have you seen any specific behaviors crop up due to the pandemic?
Yes, absolutely. From the day we started spending all of our time at home, cats began rebelling. That’s why we wound up having to make a new episode of My Cat From Hell that not only addressed some of the issues, but validated the fact that cats were definitely acting up. Specifically, we saw an increase in behaviors that we see often when cats are stressed or anxious, such as litter box issues, aggression issues, cats trying to escape the house, etc. While casting for the My Cat From Hell special, we saw a cat jump off the third story terrace just to get away from the loud music of a college student who was home because of the pandemic! Cats are incredibly sensitive beings, and I think COVID-19 has tested everyone’s sensitivities.
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Q: Have you found that clients’ cats are having issues with their pet parents being home all day?
Again, absolutely. Cats are not only energetically and exquisitely sensitive, but they are territorially protective of their ritualistic day-to-day rhythm. All of a sudden that rhythm has been shattered. Usually humans would wake up in the morning and most of us would get up, get dressed and leave the house, and then cats would settle into their daily routine of sleeping, looking out the window, exploring and doing what they will do when they have the quiet and the territorial openness to do so. With our worlds being as cramped as they are inside our homes, cats are squeezed to the periphery and squeezed to the limits of what they can accept territorially.
Q: What are some things pet parents can do ease their cats’ anxiety or behavior issues?
Of course any stress on our part leads to stress on our animals. Cats are energetic sponges. In the best of times, they pick up what’s going on around them and need to expel that energy. If you’ve ever had an argument with your significant other and looked over at your cats or dogs, you’ll see that they’re likely acting in a way they wouldn’t normally act, and that’s not just the volume of the discussion, it’s about the intent. With anxiety permeating our every day, whether that be just because we’re in the house more than we like or economic insecurity or we’re worrying about the future or scared about contracting COVID-19, that anxiety is absolutely transmitted and is picked up by our cats.
One way that we can deal with this is something I recommend to all my clients, which is self-care homework, whether that is meditation or exercise, or just leaving the house and taking a walk. Just get out of the territory that has, through circumstances beyond our control, become a little toxic.
Additionally, just as you would with your children, be aware of your short fuse. Be aware of how you’re reacting to things that normally you’d be OK with. I’ve heard a lot of my clients say that they handled situations more calmly before COVID-19. For example, when their cat would scratch the couch before, they would look at it and calmly try to solve the problem. Now, during COVID-19, it has become something that breaks them and they suddenly snap and yell at their cat. That’s not going to help anybody. If you want to modify your cat’s behavior and soothe their anxiety, look at yourself and recognize how you’re handling situations.
Q: Can our own stress about COVID affect our cats?
Cats are slaves to routine. Keep that routine intact. Just because you are home doesn’t mean you shouldn’t wake up and feed them in the morning, keep those meals consistent, and give them the space to move around like they would normally have. Make sure you’re not free-feeding your cats. Cats will emotionally eat, just like humans do. We’ve been talking about the “Quarantine 15” with humans, and cats are also susceptible to overeating or undereating when stressed. You just have to make sure you’re feeding meals at the same time and your cats are eating regularly. That helps them maintain a rhythm, both energetically and physically, throughout the day. Also, play with your cats! It’s an amazing energy release for you and for them, and it’s necessary for them to engage in interactive play every day. Take a few minutes out of your day to run around the house with an interactive toy that your cat can engage with, get their hunting instinct on point and solidify that positive bond between the two of you, all while getting a little exercise. That’s a win-win situation.
Also make sure that they have as many vertical lounging spaces as possible. In my opinion, every window should have a perching spot for your cat because they will follow the sun as the day goes on, and that keeps their circadian rhythm locked in.
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Q: For many of us still stuck at home, how can we make the extra time with our cats more special?
Think of all the things that you have wanted to do with or for your cat that you may have been putting off. That could be playing with them more regularly, getting them on a better routine or finally working on that catification project. It’s very important for cats right now to vertically be able to escape the territory that is now polluted with human traffic. Making cats compete with floor space along with humans, children, dogs and everybody else who owns the ground is not fair to them, so how about engaging in that building project that you’ve thought of all those years? I have some great tips for Catification tips in my books Catification: Designing a Happy and Stylish Home for Your Cat (and You!) and Catify to Satisfy: Simple Solutions for Creating a Cat-Friendly Home.
Beyond that, find any possible way to cement your bond with your cat, whether that’s more cuddle time, building an obstacle course and taking them through it, clicker training them, harness training them and taking them for walks every day since we need to get out of the house, too. Anything that’s good for us is good for our cats, too!
Q: CatCamp is going virtual this year – anything you want to tell us about it?
Anyone who has ever gone to Cat Camp before in New York knows what a special moment it is for the cat community, as well as the cat curious, of New York.
Although we were disappointed that we had to cancel this year’s Cat Camp events, we pivoted and embraced the opportunity that lies with a virtual event, which is engaging with the cat community worldwide. Borders, whether they be state borders or country borders, mean nothing when it comes to the love of cats! Our goal is to educate, entertain and empower by bringing in guests for panels who are special to the cat world, as well as hosting interactive content that includes making cat toys and watching a talented artist paint watercolors of your cat. It’s the same experience and the same energy you would expect at Cat Camp with the same counselors, and this will bring us together, even though we are apart. We spent a lot of time and effort to make it as much of an “event” as possible and not just another Zoom meeting. And thanks to the generosity of Petco Foundation, the event is FREE. Just register at CatCamp.com so you’re eligible for prizes and can attend all these great workshops and panels on Saturday, September 26.
A: Do you have any other events planned in the near future – virtual or otherwise?
Yes! Virtually, I absolutely have some things planned because, let’s face it, we had to pivot, and everything will need to be done virtually for the time being. Before COVID-19, my life was spent traveling to every place I could get to, whether that was for live performances, to visit shelters and rescues around the country, or to host fundraisers to raise awareness, and that just can’t happen right now. Hopefully we can get back on the road in 2021, but for now, Cat Camp is just the beginning for virtual events!