Do you have a cat that spends much of his time in closets, under the bed, or in the quietest, most unused part of the house? Do loud noises or new people prompt him to run away and hide? If so, he may have fear issues.
As a cat behaviorist, I work with many felines that have issues related to fear, shyness, anxiety and stress. I want to share with you three simple techniques you can use to alleviate your cat’s stress and help her relax.
1. Slow blinks
Cats are often thought of as solitary animals. Nothing could be further from the truth! Cats are highly social and have evolved a complex system of communication through body language. One important form of feline body language is the slow eye blink. Blinking is a very powerful reassurance signal and is commonly used between cats.
Slow blinking towards your cat shows him that you are not a threat, and more generally, that everything is okay. Take about three seconds to slowly close and slowly open your eyes at your cat. You may see him slightly change his posture. Often, a cat will return the slow blink, telling you that he feels comfortable with you and likes you. This can happen right away, or it may
take a few tries.
Slow blinks are an excellent way to make contact with a scared cat. It is also a great way to say “I love you” to your favorite feline companion.
2. Feather work
If you watch frightened cats, you’ll notice they often have very compact, tight postures, in which they wrap their tails around their back ends in a protective and defensive position. They hold their bellies tight, and breathe very shallowly. This is what I call the “turkey in the oven” posture.
This combination of holding the breath and squeezing the tail against the body reinforces a cat’s feelings of fear and makes it even harder for him to feel safe, even if nothing in his environment is threatening.
With the simple use of a feather (I suggest a peacock feather), you can help change this habitual physical pattern of fear in a frightened cat. By opening up his posture and relaxing, he can become less defensive and perhaps enjoy a sense of calmness.
While human touch is wonderful for many cats, some can find it a bit overwhelming. A feather is much lighter, less direct, and therefore less threatening. Put the feather on the ground and let the kitty look at it, smell it, and become accustomed to it. After a few moments, lift the feather and ever so gently stroke him from head to tail. Most kitties love this; you might see him take a breath, open a paw just a bit, and give a big sigh. If the cat tenses up when you touch a certain area, back away from that area and stick to those areas where he feels safe. In time, try to make your way to all parts of the body, such as the paws, belly and tail. Touching unusual places such as the paws can be especially powerful for helping break habitual feelings of fear. Touching them creates a new, mind-opening experience for the cat.
Feather work should be completely positive. So go slowly. As time passes, and you do many of these sessions, you may reach a point where you can touch all parts of your kitty’s body with ease. You may even find that he begins to sprawl out and enjoy this relaxing time with you. Note: store the feather elsewhere between sessions, to keep it from being damaged by play.
3. Rescue Remedy
In the 1920s, Dr. Edward Bach developed a system of “flower essences”, simple, powerful remedies for people and animals. Bach Rescue Remedy was created to be used in emergencies and emotional crises. Unlike the other remedies, which contain the “essence” of a single plant or shrub, Rescue Remedy is a combination of five separate flower essences. It is a powerful mixture that can help alleviate feelings of anxiety, terror and panic.
The easiest, most direct way of administering Rescue Remedy to a frightened cat is to first dilute it in water, then put a few drops on a treat he especially enjoys. This way, he gets something he loves – a tasty treat – along with the feelings of calm that come from taking Rescue Remedy. If you approach him in a quiet, gentle way that respects his boundaries, he will eventually look forward to these little treat sessions with you. It creates a virtuous cycle of yummy treats, followed by feelings of relaxation. The cat may even become used to the feeling of calm, and may begin to feel that way as a normal part of life, even when you don’t give him the remedy.
If your cat seems frightened or nervous much of the time, try using one or all of these three simple techniques. They’ll help him calm down and enjoy life more.