The severe winter this year caused an outbreak of cabin fever in cats. No, it’s not an actual fever but the idiomatic term, first recorded in 1918, for a claustrophobic reaction when a person or group is isolated and/or shut in a small space, with nothing to do for an extended period. This is an updated piece from last year called kitty cabin fever when I wrote about the uptick in aggressive behavior I’d seen with clients’ cats.
Have your cats experienced cabin fever this year? Please leave your comments at the end of this post.
When cats are cooped up during the cold weather months without even the window open, boredom can set in leading to depression, compulsive grooming and destructive behavior. In households with one cat, boredom is likely. With no others cats to play with, solo cats will sleep more and are prone to gaining weight. Think coach potato. Cats are instinctive hunters, designed for a variety of athletic ability from jumping, crawling and climbing. If they don’t have an outlet to express themselves, you can expect anything from shredded toilet paper, knocked over knickknacks or worse.
In multiple cat homes, boredom can result in rough play which can turn into bullying or play aggression. If any cat is behaving out of the ordinary or appears stressed, a trip to the vet may be in order to rule out an underlying medical cause. Young cats and kittens are more prone to mischief but just because a sedate older cat isn’t behaving badly doesn’t mean all is well. They could be bored out of their mind and miserable. Most cats cope by sleeping more but cats shouldn’t be sleeping 24/7. They need exercise.
Here are tips how to avoid kitty cabin fever. Remember: Happy cat = Happy life.
If you have indoor/outdoor cats, I encourage short, supervised walks with a leash and harness. If you allow your cat outdoors unsupervised, restrict the time on very cold days to prevent frostbite. There is no substitute for the grounding energy of being outdoors. However this is not practical for most urban cats and those living in high traffic areas.
On warmer days, open up the windows and allow some fresh air in (even five minutes will help).
Odin (pictured below) is extremely athletic and goes bananas without daily outdoor exercise. We enjoy improvised agility training on various logs on our property. His favorite command to perform is “jump”. Nothing makes him happier. For indoor cats, bring some of the outdoors in. A piece of bark or fresh twigs can be better than catnip for a scent-starved cat.
Odin sitting pretty.
Make sure you have plenty places for cats perch near windows where they can a view and enjoy “window whiffies”. A view of a bird birder would be bonus. A mobile or whirligig will intrigue. We had a recent thaw, melting the snow revealing moist, naturally scented goodness. Cats with their highly developed sense of smell experience much of their world by scent. If your birds are still down south like ours turn to TV or videos of nature shows and wildlife.
Indoor cats need several options for scratching to keep their claws in shape. If you can, provide small and a tall scratching posts to allow a choice of horizontal or vertical scratching surfaces. Make use of vertical space like shelves.
Indoors cats need stimulation and exercise. Yes, they can play with toys alone but nothing beats inter-active play with their pet parent or caregiver ideally twice a day for at least 10-15 minutes. If during a play session, one cat begins to bully the other, re-direct them by throwing a toy or startling them with sound like shaking a tin can with coins. When the bully is behaving, they can receive a reward or treat and only then.
If you’re lazy you can sit on the couch watching TV and play with a laser-light or other games like crumple newspaper into balls and toss them. Play with an iPad but resist texting and speaking on the phone. No adult, child or pet is fooled when we’re distracted by digital devices. Being fully present is out greatest gift to those we love.
- Many cats enjoy games on an iPad. Mix it up with different kinds of toys. Long fishing pole toys one day, ping-pong balls in an empty bathtub the next. Be creative!
- Buy new, healthy treats including fresh wheat grass and try different kinds of catnip.
- Grooming can be a stimulating and fun way to bond. Find a comb or brush your cat enjoys. At our house every evening just before I brush my teeth, I brush all the cats. Cats love the ritual of same place, same time. Two minutes of brushing will do.
- Hide toys and treats to find in boxes and paper bags. Interactive feeder like those from Aikiou work well.
- Keep some toys out and hide the others for a scavenger hunt.
- Rotate toys and keep ones dangerous ribbons or feathers locked up after playtime.
- There are novel toy ideas in the kitchen made of wood, metal or plastic.
- Dangle twine from a spatula, stack different sized of plastic bowls or bins
- Fill a large salad bowl with water and place a rubber ducky inside.
- Think out of the box. Think like cat: your cat