Sasha the Siamese cat was a rather talkative feline who always let her owner know if she was unhappy. Lately, nothing seemed to make Sasha happy. Her owner kept her food bowl filled and squeezed in a quick snuggle session between her two jobs, and thought she was providing everything a self-sufficient cat would need. Plus, Sasha had two other feline friends to play with in her 600-square-foot living space. What could she be lacking to be so upset?
Sasha’s owner didn’t understand why she was yowling more than usual, voicing her unhappiness. Maybe she was itchy, because she seemed to be grooming more than normal and losing hair. Or, maybe she was scared, because she often hid under the bed. But, when her normally finicky feline began eliminating inappropriately, Sasha’s owner knew something was wrong and scheduled an appointment at our hospital.
During Sasha’s check-up, our veterinary team asked about her household and environment, and discovered several clues that helped us determine the cause of Sasha’s abnormal behavior:
- Small living space
- A new kitten had joined the household
- Three cats shared one litter box
- Minimal human interaction and playtime
- Shared resources
- Nowhere to climb or perch
We performed a thorough physical exam, checking for fleas, pain, or bladder and kidney abnormalities. We found no evidence of fleas or inflamed skin, and ruled out flea allergy dermatitis as a cause for Sasha’s over-grooming. She didn’t voice any discomfort when we palpated her joints, so osteoarthritis did not appear to be the reason for her inappropriate elimination. Her bladder and kidneys felt normal in size and shape, and neither seemed painful when palpated. With no obvious clues from her physical exam, we needed more tests to form a diagnosis.
We tested Sasha’s urine for infection, as urinary tract infections can cause inappropriate elimination, but her urine sample was normal. Next, we ran a baseline blood panel to check organ function and search for abnormalities, but her values were within the normal ranges. We then took X-rays to check for hidden signs of osteoarthritis or other changes we couldn’t pick up on her exam. Sasha’s tests all came back as normal.
When we ruled out medical causes as the culprit for Sasha’s issues, we turned to a behavioral cause. Based on her lifestyle and the lack of significant findings so far, we determined that Sasha’s moody behavior was caused by environmental stress. Cats are highly sensitive, especially to environmental changes, and may become stressed when their needs aren’t met, and we recommended Sasha’s owner create a relaxing home that encouraged her natural instincts.
Environmental changes for happy cats
Sasha’s veterinary team made the following recommendations:
- Add more litter boxes — A good rule of thumb is one litter box per cat, plus an additional box. Ideally, Sasha and her housemates should have four litter boxes to choose from, placed in different areas in the home. Litter-box hygiene is also important for a happy cat, so boxes should be scooped clean twice daily.
- Place towers and perches throughout the home — Cats need perching options throughout the house that offer vantage points and resting areas away from people and other pets. Cats crave security and can easily become stressed if this crucial need is not met.
- Ensure resources are not easily blocked — Cats dislike using resources that are difficult to access, and may become stressed or anxious if litter boxes, resting areas, and food and water dishes are blocked by furniture or a housemate. Create several resource areas in different locations to ensure easy access at all times.
- Diffuse pheromones — Feliway® pheromones help promote a calm household, especially if there is a conflict among cats.
- Schedule daily playtime and interaction — While many people believe cats are aloof and independent, that is not always the case. Most cats will shun strangers, but thrive on interaction and attention from their favorite people, and can become lonely without daily play.
- Invest in food puzzles — Cats are designed to hunt often to survive. A full food bowl may seem like a kind gesture, but it’s actually rather boring. Unlimited food leads to obesity and boredom, and can cause behavioral issues. Instead of scooping food into a dish, put several small meals into food puzzles to ensure your cat burns mental and physical energy while getting her daily calories.
Cats can be fussy about their living conditions and highly sensitive to change or lack of environmental enrichment. Failing to fulfill their instinctual needs can result in a stressed and anxious cat, which manifests in over-grooming, inappropriate elimination, aggression, isolation, and changes in eating habits. Before adding a new pet to your family, carefully consider if your home can sustain another animal without stressing your existing furry companions.
If your feline friend has odd behavioral changes, call us to schedule an appointment. A few simple changes in her home life can make a big difference to her well-being.