1. Condition Diagnosis
[pets_name] has been diagnosed with environmental fear, anxiety, and/or stress. Fear, anxiety, and stress are often referred to as FAS. While each of these states of emotion have their own definitions, what is most important to recognize is that FAS is detrimental to your cat’s health and quality of life. When your cat is stressed, whether they are hiding, hissing, or urinating outside of the litter box, there is a storm of neurochemicals in their brain and body causing changes from the tip of their nose to the tip of their tail. That is why the primary treatment goal is to lower your cat’s stress.
What stresses your cat is unique to their life experiences and their genetic make up. Anything can be a stressor from an experience, environment, person, another animal, or even inanimate objects like a new piece of furniture. For your cat, there is something in the environment which is causing them to feel stressed and engage in the behavior for which you are seeking help.
When a cat experiences a stressful situation on a regular basis (e.g., a new cat to the household or a dirty litter box) they can develop chronic stress. This can lead to suppression of the immune system, gastrointestinal issues, and urinary tract disease.
If only there were a magic pill that eliminated all stress! We would all be taking that pill. Even though there isn’t one magic cure for what your cat is feeling and doing, there are real treatments that can help your cat live a happier life.
2. Medical Treatment Plan
Behavioral and Environmental Modification Plan
At Dutch, our goal is to deliver long-term happiness to all pet parents and their pets. Medications are only part of the solution for long term mental happiness. To create lasting change, enhancing the world around your cat will give them, and you, the tools and confidence to live their best life. Pay close attention to the Optimizing the Environment recommendations. These help you build a strong relationship with your cat and can help quickly reduce stress. Those should be implemented first.
Sometimes, it can take up to 2 weeks for a cat to adjust to changes in their environment. For that reason, give each recommendation about 2 weeks before determining effectiveness, while also implementing no more than 3 recommendations in any given week. This will help ensure that your cat isn’t overwhelmed. Some of the recommendations below may be familiar to you. We encourage you to try each recommendation even if you have tried it previously. This may be the first time that your cat has a complete treatment plan combining neurochemical modulation (supplements, medications) with environmental management and behavioral treatment. Each part of the plan affects the success of the other parts of the plan. Approaches that weren’t effective before may be effective now, so give them a try!
Optimizing the Environment - Litter Boxes:
- Avoid scolding your cat for urinating or defecating outside of the litter box
- Ensure the litter boxes are of adequate size. They should be 1.5X the length of the cat from the tip of their nose to the tip of their tail. (e.g. if your cat is 30” from nose to tip of tail, you should aim for a litter box around 45” long)
- Scoop the box a minimum of once daily
- Have 1 more litter box than the number of cats that you have (e.g., If you have 2 cats, you should have at least 3 litter boxes)
- If you’re unable to have 1 more litter box than number of cats, use very large boxes
- Use uncovered boxes
- Place litter boxes in different rooms and on different floors
- Place 3 inches of litter in each box
- Don’t put boxes where the dog can get to them, in pathways, or loud areas (e.g. washer, dryer, dishwasher, furnace, water heater)
- If you can’t have large enough boxes, increase the number of small boxes
- Avoid making any changes to litter type at first
- Dump and clean with dish soap and water once monthly
- Block all inappropriately soiled areas by confining the cat away from them, using aluminum foil, contact paper sticky side up, carpet runner flipped over, or a closed door
- Block off any access to outdoor cats - use window film at a level that prevents your cat from seeing outdoor cats
Optimizing the Environment - Lounging, Perching and Hiding:
- Hiding and resting places are essential for cats.
- Each cat in your household should have a place in each room for rest or to hide, where they can get away from the family and the other cats in your household.
- A resting place can be as simple as access to the top of an armoire, the upper shelves on bookcases, or a closet. Paper bags and boxes can also be used. Some cats particularly like cat beds, others do not.
- Cat hiding and resting places, and cat trees and condos specifically designed for this purpose, can be purchased at local stores or online. Many of the cat trees have built-in scratching posts.
- Encourage your cat to frequent these places by leaving special food treats, catnip, and novel toys there often.
- Add a cat bed or hammock near a window so that your cat can view some of the outside while you are gone.
- Care should be taken to ensure this does not cause additional stress for your cat. (For example, if they now have a better view of the neighborhood cats who upset them.)
- Add cat-safe grasses and plants to your home for your cat to eat.
- Some examples are:
- Wheat grass
- Spider plants
- Silver vine
- Cat thyme
- Always ensure safety and avoidance of stressors such as children.
Food for Fun & Enrichment:
- Feed your cat 1/2 of their food out of food toys to keep your cat happy and occupied. You can find them online and can put their cat treats, cat food, catnip, or silver vine into toys.
- Provide multiple kinds of feeding enrichments and rotate them in order to keep your cat’s interest.
- Containers with holes in them can be pawed and nosed to dispense food. Take a cardboard box, plastic bottle, toilet paper roll, or pvc pipe and cut holes in the sides. If needed, tape the ends closed. Make the holes big so that it is easy for your cat to get the food out. When the cat is used to playing with it, you can add small balls to make it more difficult to get the food out, or make new toys with smaller holes.
- Some cats like to find food in small spaces. Put kibble or treats in paper bags, empty tissue boxes, or cardboard boxes.
- The number of treat boxes around the home should be adjusted depending on the number of cats that you have (a good rule of thumb is to have as many boxes as there are cats plus one, like with the number of litter boxes).
- Scatter treats or kibble around the house so that your cat can hunt for them.
- Toss kibble across the floor so that your cat can chase after it. Toss them one at a time.
- Increase the number and type of toys available to your cat.
The Importance of Toys:
- Always monitor your kitty for safety when playing with toys.
- Rotate your cat’s toys by putting some of them away each day. Give them different toys each day. Keep each set out of rotation for 5 days.
- Always leave some toys out for your cat to play with even as you rotate their favorites.
- Schedule play time for your cat each day. Ideally, these times would be just before they usually get aggressive and/or playful. This is often first thing in the morning and late evening (around twilight) as this is when cats ‘hunt’.
- Appropriate toys do not encourage play near or with your hands.
- Toys which are attached to a string on a dowel/stick can be good for interactive play. The dowel and string help to keep your hands/arms out of reach. Make sure you use toys which have long enough dowels so that your cat is unlikely to hurt you.
- Laser toys can be a good choice, but they also have the potential to frustrate your cat. Always give your cat “something to attack” at the end of any laser pointer play session such as another toy or a small pile of food.
4. Further Reading
- Online Resources:
Decoding Your Cat: The Ultimate Experts Explain Common Cat Behaviors and Reveal How to Prevent or Change Unwanted Ones by American College of Veterinary Behaviorists
The Trainable Cat: A Practical Guide to Making Life Happier for You and Your Cat by John Bradshaw and Sarah Ellis
Your home, their territory : creating the right habitat for your indoor cats by Tony Buffington