Make the home comfortable
The first step in keeping any cat happy is making them feel at home and comfortable in their environment. As discussed for anxiety issues, all cats 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.
Enriching the environment
Environmental enrichment can also be very useful for cats who scratch furniture – try giving them 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. There are a selection of great scratching products here and some catnip products here. At the same time, some people also put double-sided adhesive tape, foil or cellophane over furniture to deter cats from scratching in unwanted areas. Trimming nails can also help as it still allows the cat to scratch but limits any damage – however to be effective nails need to be trimmed every fortnight. Good nail trimmers make a big difference – our favourite ones are here.
Dealing with play agression
The best way to deal with play aggression is to try to watch for those tell tale signs that a cat is getting too stimulated and excited during patting or play sessions. Common signs of an impending play attack include dilated pupils and mischievous eyes, a slowly snaking tail and crouching down with ears flat against the head. When it looks like they are about to pounce try to break their attention with a loud click or whistle, or take a short break from playing. Over time this will hopefully break the cycle of play, excitement and aggression. If a cat does bite or scratch during play the best response is not to fight back – this will only reinforce the behaviour. Instead, act offended, stop the play session immediately and give the cat a five minute time-out to calm down.
True inter-cat aggression can be difficult to solve through environmental changes alone – but remember that a little hissing and meowing is very normal when a new cat is introduced. Cats will often compete over resources, so make sure all pets have separate, safe areas for feeding, drinking, sleeping and going to the toilet. Over time as the cats become settled it may be possible to reduce these back to one combined area. If cats continue to fight aggressively after a few weeks it can help to separate the cats, take them both out of the house for one week then reintroduce them both at the same time. This will help reset any territories or pre-existing ownerships in the house.
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. It’s available as a spray or diffuser from vetopia.com.hk 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 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. You may wish to discuss this with your veterinarian.