Cat Calm and Carry On

These simple tips can help a stressed-out cat feel safe and secure.
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These simple tips can help a stressed-out cat feel safe and secure

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The holidays are almost upon us. But while we humans may look forward to the festivities, our cats may have a less favorable view. After all, cats love routine and feel most secure when what they expect to happen is what happens. Cats hate change. And therein lies the problem! Decorations, visiting friends and relatives, parties … all of these can throw your cat off balance.

Fortunately, there are many simple, safe ways to help your cat cope with the craziness of this time of year (or any other time when changes are afoot). Some are best when used regularly for a few days or weeks; others can be applied on the spot.

Quick Fixes

Acupressure

Acupressure is a way to direct the energy flowing through the traditional meridians and acupuncture points without using needles. Instead, you use your fingers to gently press or rub on the points.

There are two points on what is referred to as the “governing vessel” that are helpful for calming:

  • Governing Vessel: This is the meeting point of all the yang (energetic, positive, hot, active, male principle) meridians. To find this point, run your finger along the midline ridge (saggital crest) of the cat’s head. When it crosses an imaginary line drawn across the head from one ear to the other, there will be a slight depression or dip in the ridge bone. That’s the spot! Either just hold your finger there, or use short easy strokes from front to back along the dip. You can do this a couple times a day or during a stressful period.
  • Yin Tang: This is not specifically an acupuncture point, though it does lie along the governing vessel meridian. Located between and slightly above the eyes, some call it the “third eye.” The yin tang is sometimes referred to as the acupuncture “chill pill.” You can gently press this point with one finger, or rub it as you do with governing vessel. However, I have found that many cats prefer a slightly different technique. Lay your finger lengthwise over the spot where the fur of the nose meets the fur of the head, and move it back and forth across that point. This will be an unfamiliar feeling, but cats seem to greatly enjoy it. Yin tang settles the mind and reduces emotional restlessness and anxiety. It works very quickly. Use as often as needed.

Flower Essences

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Flower essences such as Bach Rescue Remedy are great for instant relief from fear and anxiety. Put a few drops on your hands and rub the cat’s head and ears, or put a drop or two on your finger and touch the cat’s lips. It is not necessary for the cat to swallow them (although you can give them by mouth with an eyedropper, or add to food and/or water). You can even put a dropperful in a spray bottle and spritz around the house (or carrier or car) to infuse “happy juice” into the air; it works much better than chemical air fresheners.

Massage

If you’ve ever had a massage, you know how calm and relaxed you feel afterward. It works the same way on cats!

First, make sure you are in a tranquil and relaxed state. Talk to the cat in low, soft tones. Start at the shoulders and, with an open hand, stroke slowly along the back to the tail. Repeat several times. Once the cat has relaxed a bit, you can experiment with gentle massage of the neck and shoulder muscles.

Move down the spine with your fingers to either side of it, on the spinal muscles rather than the bones. Notice if any of those muscle spots triggers a twitch or protest. Those muscles run along what’s known in acupuncture as the Bladder Meridian, and contain “alarm points” connected to the internal organs. If you find an alarm point, be very gentle around it.

If your cat is amenable, massage the corners of the mouth, around the ears, and on the paws. Massaging the paws is especially important for declawed cats, to prevent or alleviate painful contraction of the cut tendons.

Long-Term Strategies

Supplements

Certain supplements can help cats cope with stress. Note: Look for products specifically formulated for cats.

  • Colostrum, the first milk a cow produces for her calf, is loaded with nutrients, growth factors, lipids, and proteins. It helps balance the immune system and restore the gut’s protective lining. It is higher in calcium and magnesium than regular milk; these minerals are important for proper muscle function, and calcium is a natural muscle relaxer.
  • Vitamins B1 (thiamine) and B6 are important anti-stress compounds. They are needed for proper transmission of nerve impulses, among other functions. Give B-vitamin supplements in the morning, as they can be slightly stimulating. B-vitamins are destroyed by heat processing, and tend to be deficient in some canned cat foods.
  • L-Theanine is a component of several anti-anxiety products for pets; it is an amino acid derived from green tea. L-theanine is beneficial for relaxation and sleep; it is calming, but not sedating. Many herbs have anti-anxiety and relaxing properties. Commonly used herbs for relaxation are chamomile, hops, valerian, skullcap, and passionflower. Valerian acts a bit like catnip, so don’t be surprised if it’s somewhat stimulating in the first 30 minutes; however, the relaxing benefits will soon kick in and last for several hours. These herbs can be found singly or in combination remedies. Don’t give more than 50 mg a day of any of them except valerian, which can be dosed up to 200 mg. While these herbs can act fairly quickly in an emergency situation, daily use during stressful times may be more beneficial.
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Play Therapy

Regularly scheduled (ideally, daily),interactive play sessions are one of the best ways to keep a cat emotionally balanced and physically healthy—and a healthy, balanced cat is in a much better position to handle unexpected stresses.

  • Fishing-pole type toys are ideal for play therapy. You want to play to the point of exhaustion to get the most benefits. Sessions typically last 15–20 minutes for an average adult cat, but that’s just a guideline; a young, active cat will need a lot more action than a mature one. Follow the session with a high-protein snack such as canned food or meat baby food.
  • Play therapy engages the cat’s mind, body, and emotions. It taps into the deep hunter instinct and allows the cat to fully express the entire range of hunting behaviors. You, holding the “prey,” stimulate these instincts and behaviors in your cat.
  • Play therapy can prevent and resolve a wide range of behavior problems and physical ailments. It not only satisfies the cat’s hunter nature, but also helps cats reach or maintain a healthy weight, and helps to prevent stress-related diseases.

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