ONE in five cats in the UK is suffering with anxiety because they live with other moggies.
Worrying about their food and water being taken, sharing litter trays and beds and the fear of intrusion of another moggy coming through the cat flap is leaving our felines feeling stressed.
Of the 7.5 million cats living in the UK, more than 4.5 million share their home with another cat.
Almost half of multi cat households, 46 per cent, have suffered behavioural problems linked to stress.
For vet and cat psychologist Dr Sarah Heath of Behavioural Referrals Clinic, emotional well being of cats is just as important as their physical health.
She explained: “Introducing cats to each other abruptly can be very stressful if they are not socially compatible. While physical confrontation may not be seen, passive signs of social tension, such as social and physical withdrawal, are likely to occur.
“This may result in owners considering that there has been no problem with the introduction since there is no fur flying or blood being shed.
“However cats that are expected to live close to cats with whom they are not socially compatible can suffer from chronic stress, and this can have physical health implications as well as behavioral ones.”
She carried out an experiment with three cat owners to try to de-stress them.
The first focused on separation, moving bowls, bed and litter trays as far away from each other as possible so they had space to carry out their basic needs.
The second was to introduce toys for the cats to play together, and the third was placing a pheromone diffuser in the house to spread a relaxing scent for the cats.
Owners observed the cats over a six week period and Dr Heath monitored their behaviour via video link and found that in all three households, the stress levels of the cats was significantly reduced.
Dr Heath has the following advice for pet owners with more than one cat which is known as the ‘Five Pillars of a Healthy Feline Environment’ drawn up by a team of vets and animal experts from the UK and America which focus on the very basic needs for cats.
• Providing a safe place. Cats aren’t social creatures and need privacy and time alone. They need ‘Igloo’ style beds offering cover, with an entrance and an exit and that provide comfort and a hiding place where they can observe their surroundings.
• Providing multiple and separated key environmental resources: food, water, toileting areas, scratching areas, play areas, and resting or sleeping areas. They need to be able to fulfil all of these needs without the fear of being disturbed by another cat.
• Providing an opportunity for play and predatory behaviour. This can be done by using toys. Sarah recommends Da-Bird, an interactive toy that mimics a bird in flight. Ideally cats need between one to five minutes of playing time at least twice a day. Feeding can help too, so put dry food in multiple locations and in puzzle style holders that the cat has to search out.
• Providing positive, consistent and predictable human-cat social interaction. Kittens need to learn that humans will pick them up, stroke their tummies and behave in a way that it totally alien to them. This should be in short intervals at first so they can get used to it.
• Providing an environment that respects the importance of the cat’s sense of smell. Plug ins which mimic the face pheromones such as Feliway Classic send a message to the cat that their environment or home is safe. Ones that mimic the scent of a mother’s milk, like Feliway Friends, send signals that the owner is safe and helps humans and cats to bond.
A version of this story also appeared on Mirror Online.