Is the problem behavioural or medical?
The first step in properly resolving any of these issues is to confirm that the problem is entirely behavioural, and doesn’t have an underlying medical cause which requires specific treatment. Hair loss or overgrooming can also be the result of skin irritation or dermatitis, infection, allergies or pain. Going to the toilet outside the litter tray could be something very simple, such as a new type of litter or an unclean litter tray – cats are fastidious animals and will often avoid a little tray that is even slightly dirty. But it could also indicate a more serious issue, such as bladder infections, kidney problems, diabetes or gastroenteritis. For this reason I’d recommend a thorough medical examination before any behavioural therapy starts.
As mentioned above, anxiety, stress and boredom are the primary causes of most of the behavioural issues of cats. Busy and mentally active cats are generally happy cats, and environmental enrichment can really help to prevent or solve behavioural issues. There are a number of cat toys that provide a challenge or a game are excellent for keeping cats mentally active. The best toys can be used by a cat without their owners, but laser pointers and similar human-cat toys can also be lots of fun as long as people are willing to put in the time.
Some of our favourite cat toys and distractions are available here.
Provide a comfortable environment
Cats should also feel at home and comfortable in their environment. They should have separate areas for for sleeping, eating and the litter tray, and these should always be accessible. Animal behaviourists also suggest that each cat should have their own separate litter tray and bed, although I do find that many cats are happy to share. One great option for the sleeping area in Hong Kong is having a cat tree or bed near a window with a view – cats will often be amused for hours as they watch the world go by.
Environmental enrichment can also be very useful for cats who are anxious. Try a little distraction and entertainment with scratching posts or cardboard scratching mats. Rubbing a small amount of catnip on the post will encourage the cat to scratch in the approved area.
Cat trees and cat play furniture can also be a great way to give a cat a purpose and keep them distracted and amused.
Another solution that can be very effective for all of these issues is a product called Feliway. Feliway an odourless colourless pheromone solution, available as either a spray or a plug-in diffuser. It is the same chemical as cats produce when they rub their chin against furniture or people, and is used as a natural signal to other cats that they are happy and they feel safe. Feliway is a pheromone, not a pharmaceutical drug and is completely non-toxic and safe for pets and people. By using Feliway the whole house can be made to feel like a safe, protected area and all cats in the house will feel relaxed and contented. It is surprisingly effective and and will greatly help the vast majority of behavioural issues. Feliway is one of our most effective products for helping with cat anxiety, and one we use with our own cats.
Feliway available as a spray or diffuser from vetopia.com here and is highly recommended for all cats with anxiety or behavioural issues.
There is also a cat food produced by Royal Canin named 'Calm' which is designed to help stabilise emotional balance in cats. The food contains the proteins casein and tryptophan which have been shown to help calm anxious animals.
If Feliway, diet and environmental enrichment are not enough, we will sometimes also consider using medication such as Clomicalm. Clomicalm is an anti-anxiety anti-depressant tablet and is very safe and can have excellent results, but we would generally reserve it for more severe cases if necessary. If you think your cat may benefit from medication, please discuss this with your veterinarian.