Those of us who own pets likely enjoyed their company in the depths of the pandemic. Not only are pets potentially good for our physical health, they also promote our mental well-being. In fact, they might even have been a way to deal with pandemic-related mental health problems.
However, this is still an emerging area of research, so the effects of pet ownership on human health are not always clear. Recent research suggests that caring for a pet during the pandemic may actually have affected our quality of life – including our satisfaction with our health, lifestyle, and relationships.
Likewise, the way we interact with and deal with our pets can inadvertently cause them stress. While some family pets have enjoyed their owners spending much more time with them than usual, there have been reports that some cats were less enthusiastic about these changes in their routine – allegedly they even got sick from their owners being too busy all the time Home was time. How do these dynamics work and something we pet owners can do to minimize them?
Loving but independent
Those of us who are less in love with domestic cats may find them a little aloof or cold and calculating. We might assume that cats are less interested in us or less aware of our feelings than dogs, for example.
But cats are actually able to be very sociable with people and likely ingest a lot more than many people would trust them to. For example, cats can recognize their own name and are sensitive to the emotional expressions of their owners. Cats can also be negatively affected by our personality, as anxious and depressed owners are associated with greater stress in their cats.
Cats may also have mastered the subtle art of human manipulation in their purr by embedding a “scream” sound into them. Scientists believe they use this sound to tap into our caring instincts, just like human infants. In fact, cats are able to produce a wide variety of different sounds in order to express themselves – although we may not necessarily understand them.
While cats can develop positive relationships with people, they are not born with an innate need for human company and require adequate treatment at a young age. As adults, some cats are much more sociable than others – although even friendly cats prefer people who allow them to determine how they interact. Not caressing them too much can even increase their affection and reduce aggression.
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This is very different from people who use touch (like hugs) to strengthen our social relationships. People also tend to seek support from others when they are stressed or uncomfortable, while cats prefer to hide and be alone.
Cats also experience greater stress when exposed to unpredictable routines and manipulations. In general, cats value their autonomy and the ability to avoid things they find uncomfortable.
The spike in some cats’ stress levels during the pandemic is likely due to the disturbances in their daily peace that we unknowingly caused. By being more at home, we’ve likely created a much busier, more chaotic environment than they’re used to – and potentially causing more stress when we want to shower them with attention.
Given that cats can recognize human emotions, our increased levels of stress and our desire to spend more time with them likely made the situation worse. Some people may also have made other changes during the pandemic – such as a renovation, a baby, or even a different pet.
There are many things we can do to help cats cope better and be less stressed:
- Provide cats with a predictable routine. That means keeping meals, play, and interactions with them on a schedule whenever possible.
- Give them their own quiet room or area. And when they are in these areas make sure they are never disturbed. You should also let your cat decide when to interact with you.
- Create an enriching indoor and outdoor environment. To help your cat feel safe, provide them with plenty of hiding places and places to soar high. Put litter boxes in separate areas from food and water bowls, and place all of these resources in quieter areas of the house. Provide toys, jungle gyms, food puzzles, and cat-friendly plants (like catnip) to stimulate your cat physically and mentally.
- Give your cat plenty of time and space to be alone. If your cat is sleeping, resting, or otherwise seems happy to be doing its own thing, don’t be tempted to disturb it or solicit its attention
Keeping your cat physically fit and making sure he is healthy can help rule out any underlying medical issues. If you think your cat may be experiencing stress, it is also a good idea to seek advice from a veterinarian and then from a qualified feline behavior specialist.
As many of us begin to return to normal, our cats face further changes in their environment. But cats are most likely to cope with it if you leave the house more often – as long as new routines are predictable and they have enough to keep them busy while you are away. The truth is, many cats will likely appreciate the extra rest.