by Barbara George
Tellington Ttouch Behaviourist
A healthy cat is a clean cat in a clean environment. A cat’s version of clean, however, is different to ours.
Clean to a cat means only familiar items in their environment, known low-intensity smells and minimal noise. This allows for the instant detection of any disturbance or intrusion in the surrounding area. Identifying the smells and sounds means knowing the level of danger from a predator, the arrival of a possible meal or having someone just pass through.
To us, a clean home has no germs, dust or dirt; surfaces are scrubbed and loose items put away. This involves using chemicals with strong smells, making noises with machines and packing away familiar items. Chemicals are used on almost every surface and item of furniture for cleaning, polishing and dusting, including washing powders and softeners, carpet and floor cleaners, window cleaners, bath, shower and floor cleaners.
In addition, we use soaps, shampoos, deodorant, perfume, and make-up on ourselves, and these smells are left behind on clothes, towels, furniture and bedding.
Then there are other smells around the house, candles, food, cooking, spices, floral arrangements, smoking, air-fresheners, as well as smells brought in from outdoors on our shoes, grocery bags, postal items, newspapers, and other people entering our home.
Outdoors has a number of chemical smells too; the car, fertilisers, plants and pot plants, furniture that is treated or painted, pesticides and fungicides.
There are smells that are directly associated with our cat; dishes washed in water with detergent and possibly debris from other dishes, blankets, brushes and combs washed with chemicals, litter trays cleaned with chemicals, flea treatments or collars.
While many cats will adjust and accept a level of unnatural smell there are some cats so sensitive to smell that they will not use certain items, including food dishes, beds, and litter trays, unless they have a greatly reduced or cat-familiar smell.
More intense smells may not be tolerated by a stressed cat. He may feel that these smells are interfering with his ability to read the environment and react accordingly to secure his safety.
Creating a happy medium between our version of clean and an acceptable level of unnatural smells for our cats. Keeping dishes, litter tray and bedding as free from chemicals as possible will help cats to feel safe.