The COVID-19 pandemic has affected all of our lives. From illness or even tragedy among loved ones, the anxiety of not knowing what will happen next, to the boredom from staying in our homes and socially isolating, to the financial strain many of us are feeling from being unable to work, life is not the same as it once was.
This crisis is impacting the lives of our cats, as well. However, there are several things we can do to ensure this experience doesn’t result in the development of behavioural problems, take this opportunity to improve our bond with our feline companions, and ensure that our cats have a safe place to go in case we do fall ill.
It is important to remember that anxiety is contagious. Research has shown that cats mirror our behaviour and mood1, so try to keep calm – if not for your benefit, for the benefit of your cat. Fortunately, they can help with that! Many studies have shown that pet ownership can help reduce stress, likely through social support and a classically conditioned relaxation response2.
A great tip for helping to keep anxiety levels low for both you3 and your pet4 during this upheaval, is to maintain a regular daily routine. A daily routine can help you build healthy coping skills, and help cats to anticipate certain activities. This can help fearful cats feel more secure and help bold cats predict playtimes, making them less likely to initiate play when you are trying to accomplish other things.
Staying home more during this crisis can make your regular activities lose their luster. There is only so much screen time you can tolerate. This is a great opportunity to improve the life of your cat! Consider home improvement projects to “Catify” your house, such creating a continuous pathway your cat can use to move around the room without touching the floor or new comfortable places for them to perch or sleep. This is also a great time to teach your cats some tricks! Trick training can increase confidence in shy cats, burn off extra energy for active cats, and is a great way to bond with your pet.
There is reason to believe that when this crisis is over, an increased number of dogs may show signs of separation anxiety as they have gotten used to spending more time with their owners. This problem is less likely in cats. One study reported that after adoption 10.9% of dogs exhibited problem behaviours when left alone, while this was only exhibited by 1.4% of cats. However, even with the reduced risk of this crisis leading to the development of separation anxiety in cats, it is still wise to incorporate some quiet time alone into your cat’s daily routine – just in case.
The lack of stimulation inherent in social isolation can also be hard to bear. Cats can be great companions. This is a great time to foster or adopt an animal! Both you and your new furry friend will benefit from the relationship, plus you’ll be helping shelters deal with the unique challenges that they are facing during this time – and with kitten season right around the corner, they need all the help they can get.
For many people times are tough right now and they are having to tighten their budget to make ends meet. Fortunately cats are a relatively inexpensive pet, with one study6 showing that cat caregivers spend roughly 35% less on their pets per year than dog caregivers. Regardless, even affording the relatively low costs associated with caring for cats can be difficult considering the current climate. There are some resources that caregivers can turn to for help. There are many pet food banks available throughout Ontario, such as at the Toronto Humane Society in Toronto, No Empty Bowls in London, and KW Pet Food Bank in Kitchener-Waterloo. Additionally, many veterinary services are moving to a telemedicine consult model to reduce the risk of infection. These may have a lower cost than in-office visits. Contact your veterinarian for more information.
Emergency plan for care
Despite our best efforts to sanitize and isolate, there always a chance we could be one of the unlucky people who become infected with the virus and get sick enough that we need to go into the hospital for care. Just in case, make sure you have a plan for your cat. Your plan should include:
- A person who has agreed to care for your pet,
- A folder of any important information they might need, including feeding/care instructions and the contact information for your veterinarian,
- A two-week supply of food, litter, and any medications they may need
- A carrier and any other supplies needed for transport
The Animal Humane Society has a great pet preparedness plan!7
While times are certainly tough, life for your cat doesn’t have to be. Pets can be an important lifeline to help people get through this crisis. They can help us to de-stress and stay both mentally and physically active. Check out the OSMA’s blog “Q&A: Can My Pet Catch or Transmit the COVID-19 Virus” for more information on pets and COVID-19.
Blog post by Dr. Jacklyn Ellis, PhD, CAAB
1Finka, L. R., Ward, J., Farnworth, M. J., & Mills, D. S. (2019). Owner personality and the wellbeing of their cats share parallels with the parent-child relationship. PloS one, 14(2).
2Virués-Ortega, J., & Buela-Casal, G. (2006). Psychophysiological effects of human-animal interaction: Theoretical issues and long-term interaction effects. The Journal of nervous and mental disease, 194(1), 52-57.
4Carlstead, K., Brown, J. L., & Strawn, W. (1993). Behavioral and physiological correlates of stress in laboratory cats. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 38(2), 143-158.
5Lord, L. K., Reider, L., Herron, M. E., & Graszak, K. (2008). Health and behavior problems in dogs and cats one week and one month after adoption from animal shelters. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 233(11), 1715-1722.
6APPA (American Pet Products Association). 2019. New 2019-2020 National Pet Owners Survey.
7 Do you have a COVID-19 plan for your pet? https://www.animalhumanesociety.org/news/do-you-have-covid-19-plan-your-pet