by Barbara George
Tellington Ttouch Behaviourist
For us, holidays are often a wonderful time to relax, catch up on hobbies and spend time with family and friends. While there are many cats that adapt well to whatever is happening at home, young, nervous and shy cats seem to change their personalities over holidays, especially the often longer holidays at the end of the year.
Change is very scary for many cats. Typically, cats like routine, to know where everything is and what happens when. This is a form of protection and comfort; they can deal with things they know. Holidays naturally create change in routine and often include extra or fewer people. Even routines and events that are kept the same but done at a different time in the day, or a random time, can upset a sensitive cat.
Smell is an important form of communication; cats know the normal smells around the home, which are safe or friendly and which should be avoided. New smells need to be investigated and missing or changed smells, even the timing of these, need to be understood. We create many smells without even realising it – cooking, cleaning, washing, scents and deodorant, gardening and plants or flowers, hobbies, new items, visitors, and many other activities all provide odours for our cats to learn and understand.
Listening to sounds helps a cat understand his environment, be aware of dangers or potential predators, and decide on the most effective course action to reman safe. Holidays are often noisy; friends, parties, music, TV or radio playing, telephone calls, babies crying, and computer games. Even the vacuum cleaner on unexpected days or different times, power tools, a fire in the grate, extra vehicles arriving and departing, and unknown voices can unsettle a nervous cat.
Activity in a normally quiet home can be frightening to cats that are not used to it. Children home from university, friends for tea or staying for a few days, renovations, or even just the family at home during the day. This creates more traffic for cats to be aware of and avoid. Some visitors may bring their pets along, which adds an extra dimension of stress to the holiday.
Changes in light can also upset cats. Curtains opened earlier or later will allow them to see more or less sun and light, which impacts on their behaviour and level of activity. Staying up later at night, with lights on, can keep them more active and change their sleep patterns, which in turn can have an effect on behaviour. Flashing lights could trigger a hunting reflex, or confuse them which may result in an unfortunate accident.
Food is another item that often changes over holidays. With different routines and more, or less, time at home, and the availability of the normal diet, cats can be offered, or find, different foods. Some of these are acceptable, some are not good for cats, especially cats that are allergic or sensitive to certain foods or food groups. Meals that are early, late, served in the wrong dish, in a different place, or even if there is too much activity around the food bowl, can upset your cat.
PLEASE SEE Foods that are Dangerous or Toxic to Cats
ALSO an excellent infographic of What Human Foods Cats Can’t Eat
NB. Food must NOT contain XYLITOL or any other artificial sweetner
Travelling with cats can be stressful all round. While confinement in a carrier is safe, many cats will feel trapped when travelling. The noise, smells, movements and people are all different and he has no control over what happens when. Confinement in a closed carrier in a hot vehicle for a long drive is not a good start for a relaxing holiday away.
Boarding your cat can be stressful too. Cats that are regularly boarded will know this is about to happen when the suitcases come out! While a boarding cattery is a safe place where he will be secure, fed and cared for, it can be hard for some cats to settle in a strange environment and deal with all of the issues already mentioned, including being surrounded by other strange and unhappy cats.
A pet-sitter is an alternative to boarding your cat; however this also involves change and adjustment. New people, new routines – even of they are kept similar they are different – new smells, sounds and activities to accept, and no familiar family as support.
So, while we may enjoy the time off work spent with family and friends enjoying ourselves, our cats may be dealing with fear and reacting with aggression or hiding away to stay safe. Be aware that not everyone enjoys the holidays in the same way and create a safe environment for your cats; even if they are friendly and outgoing social cats they will need a space to relax and refresh themselves for the next adventure.