As we reflect on Mental Health Awareness Week, we are full of gratitude to our cats for all the ways they enhance our well being every day. Whether it's the morning cuddle, their comforting purr or the way they make us laugh at their crazy antics, the benefits of cat companionship for both physical and emotional health are well documented.
But what if we looked at it from the other way round? What can we do to return the favour? How can we support the mental health of our cats?
Understanding mental health in cats
Cats don't have the same cognitive abilities as people, so luckily for them, they aren't going to get the Sunday blues trying to figure out the meaning of life. Even so, cats are highly sensitive and their emotional, psychological and social well being play an extremely important role in their overall health. The most common forms of emotional stress seen in cats are boredom, depression, frustration and anxiety.
Every cat is unique and understanding them as individuals goes a long way towards helping them to live their best life. Ask yourself the following questions:
What does your cat enjoy?
Some cats crave affection while others prefer playing or other forms of stimulation. Indoor cats especially require special consideration of their home environment to keep them entertained and engaged.
What kind of personality does your cat have?
Outgoing cats are easier to manage, while nervous cats may need a little help to keep them relaxed. You might make a quiet hiding place that they can escape to, or try a commercial pheromone product. (Check out our blog on pheromones here.)
Do your cats get along?
Conflict between cats can be an enormous source of stress so make sure that there are enough resources to go round. (Check out our blog on how to manage multi-cat households here.)
How to support your cat's mental health – our top tips
Cats thrive in an environment that provides both the safety of routine as well as lots of stimulation to keep them mentally and physically active.
Whether it's playing, grooming or enjoying a cuddle, it's important to spend some time with your cat every day.
Toys, activity centres, and boxes (it's our pleasure) help to keep cats entertained while you are out. A perch next to a window to provide a view outside and some sun should also be provided if at all possible.
Cats have a strong hunting instinct. If outdoor access is not possible, leaving a few Nibbles hidden around the house for them to find during the day can be extremely rewarding. Not only does this provide the stimulation of finding the treat, but also builds confidence by giving some independence and control over when they eat.
Be aware of what may trigger stress in your cat. This may be when people come to visit, or loud noises. Make sure that they have a private, quiet area that they can escape to.
How to recognise a problem
Cats show emotional distress in different ways.
Anxious cats may hide away for extended periods and become withdrawn.
Depressed or stressed cats may be lethargic or lose their appetite.
Bored or frustrated cats may eat excessively.
A common sign of distress is not using the litter tray as normal. Stressed cats may develop inflammation of the bladder which can lead to difficulty urinating. If the urinary tract becomes blocked, this can be a life threatening condition that needs urgent veterinary attention. Stressed cats may also urinate in unusual places if they are wanting to mark their territory.
Stressed or depressed cats may not groom as usual so their coat may become matted. They may meow excessively for your attention, or scratch the furniture more than usual in an effort to mark their territory.
What to do if you suspect a problem
If you suspect that your cat may be suffering from stress, the first thing to do is go for a check up at the vet to rule out any physical ailments. There is often no way to clearly distinguish between the symptoms of an illness and those shown in emotional distress, so it may be necessary to rule out any other potential causes with blood or urine tests.
Try to pinpoint when the problem started as this can help to identify the trigger. Did anything change in the home? Did another pet come into the house or did one pass away? Is there a loud building site nearby?
Pheromones are very useful for managing stress. They come in collar, spray or diffuser forms and help cats to feel more comfortable and to cope with various challenges.
If your cat is really struggling, it's best to speak to an animal behaviourist. They may need to come to your house to assess your cat's daily routine and the dynamics within the home. With this understanding they will be able to advise you on any changes you need to make, or prescribe medication for your cat.
If you have any suggestions or stories about how you support your cat's mental health, please do share them with us in the KatKin Club House. We'd love to hear from you!