by Barbara George
Tellington Ttouch Behaviourist
Cats tend to be active and have a severe disregard of rules, so when they are injured or ill they may be confined to a cage to give them time to rest and heal. This can be as trying for owners as it is for the cats.
The first and only rule of cage rest is to follow your vets instructions – he or she knows what is needed for your cat to heal in the best possible way. Deviating from these instructions may result in prolonged healing time, improper healing, additional damage to internal organs, or limbs not healing correctly – and a scolding from the vet!
Keeping your cat relaxed and comfortable will help him to recover as best possible. It also helps owners to contribute to the recovery time, and to feel involved and supportive. All being well, he will be fine and fit when he emerges from his cage, and you will feel more like a friendly carer than a prison warden. Here are some suggestions, please only apply those that fall within the rules and regulations laid down by your vet.
The size of the cage is dependent on the amount of movement the cat is allowed and space you have available. Ask your vet, rehabilitation centre or rescue centre if they have cages to rent out if you do not have one and do not wish to purchase one. Some breeders may have cages used for kittens that could be rented out. The cage should at least have space for a litter tray, a bed, and food and water bowls and be high enough for the cat to stand up. Extra space for movement is good, if allowed.
Most important in any circumstances is to keep the cage as clean as possible. Litter trays should ideally be cleaned as soon as they are used. For cats that are used to using the garden use garden soil in the litter tray. Water bowls should be cleaned and filled with fresh water two to three times a day. Uneaten food should be removed and fresh food offered as needed. Food and water should be placed as far away as possible from the litter tray. For active cats it may be necessary to put them in their travelling carrier in order to clean the cage effectively.
Unless the cat is in quarantine and has to be kept separate, position the cage so that he is part of the family. This will help him feel less stressed as well as making it easier to keep an eye on him. Give as much attention as possible, or as required by him. If he can be moved and it is possible and practical, move the cage into a bedroom at night, as this is when he is most likely to be active and need attention.
Being in a cage with no option to move away is stressful for cats, they are effectively trapped. Keep him safe from things that he finds fearful, such as the vacuum cleaner, dogs, loud noises, and cigarette smoke and excessive attention.
Keep a reasonable temperature at all times, and allow for airflow. Watch for too much sunlight, or cold from windows at night. Cats that need to be kept quiet should have covers over the cage so they are not distracted by what is happening outside; however make sure they are not too hot or feeling confined inside. Large patches of shaved fur offer no protection from heat, cold, scrapes and scratches.
One way to connect to your cat without disturbing him or yourself is to talk to him. Read the news, your emails, a book, a recipe, adverts from the newspaper, Facebook posts. Discuss the latest news, or explain the situation at the office, or the traffic on the way home. Explain the impact of the fires on the economy of the province. Talking makes a connection without effort on his side; he knows you are there and appreciate the passive relationship. When he is feeling better he may even join in the conversation with a few comments or topics of his own!
Cats that are bored, scared or frustrated can harm themselves trying to escape the cage. These cats need some stimulation that fits in with their recovery regime. If possible, place the cage near a door or window so they have a view; sprinkle bird seed outside to encourage some activity for interest or create interest with wind-driven toys outside. For cats that can be active, puzzle feeders are a great source of both mental and physical stimulation, as well as boredom-busters. Use ones that are possible to be solved in the confines of the cage. A sprinkle of Happy Cat (valerian root powder) or a few drops of Rescue Remedy in the water can also help to calm active cats.
Smell is an important form of communication for cats. Instead of, or as well as, a bed or blanket give him a piece of your clothing such as a t-shirt or socks. Bring a variety of items for him to smell, one at a time, a leaf, seashell, flower, feather, a stone from the mountains or beach, your shoes after a walk; different things for him to investigate. Remove them once he has finished with them.
Music can be used to relax cats too, whatever their state and healing requirements. There are a number of CDs, albums on iTunes and YouTube downloads specifically for cats. Playing these softly can be relaxing for both cats and owners. Although there are DVDs for cats, these may not be a good idea as they may excite cats with the sight and sound of prey animals. They could be played with the sound off merely as visual stimulation, if appropriate. If the cat needs to be left alone for a while it can be useful to leave the radio or TV on softly to provide some human sound for comfort.
It is important that the carer also has a support system. When cats have to be confined for a long time, need constant assistance, or are challenging to confine, it is necessary to have a backup carer to allow the main carer a break to relax and re-generate. This is almost as essential as giving the right medication to him in the right dose at the right time.
Cats tend to survive cage rest better than their human carers. They emerge and – mostly – forgive and forget the drama they caused, it’s us who carry the scars and nightmares!