This is about how domestic cats cope but it could have been about how we cope looking after cats. For humans, the word “cope” means how people manage to cope with day-to-day stresses. Coping is essentially a psychological issue. It’s about how people manage emotionally. I will apply that approach to domestic cats.
For humans, alcohol, drugs and other mind altering substances is one way that they can cope. Domestic cats don’t have access to these products thankfully. Perhaps domestic cats are automatically more able to cope than humans in any case.
Having thought about this for a while, one important feline coping strategy is hiding. Domestic cats like to have a place to hide, a place to retire to, to alleviate stress from whatever source and that source could often be another cat bullying him/her. Hiding is commonly seen in cats when they want to avoid interactions with other people or cats and in response to other possibly stressful situations.
Therefore, and many cat behaviorists including myself have mentioned this before, cat owners should provide a retreat where their cat companion can conceal himself such as igloo beds, boxes and high sided cat beds. Indeed anything could be suitable as long as their cat can hide.
Another mechanism that comes to my mind is sleep. When domestic cats are bored because they are confined for whatever reason they will snooze for long periods. This kills time while preventing the cat from becoming stressed through boredom and frustration. I believe that a lot of full-time indoor cats sleep as much as they do because they lack sufficient stimulation and would otherwise become stressed unless they slept through those moments.
Domestic cats are adaptable. They adapt to the human environment. They learn how to get their way as best they can an essentially unnatural environment. They learn to ask for food for instance by meowing. They learn to wake up their owner in the morning by prodding at her nose or some such activity. They do this so that their owner wakes up and interacts with them at four in the morning because this is the time when a domestic cat is active and he or she wants company. Not all cats will do this but a good number will. Cats learn to open doors to get out. That’s a form of coping to confinement. It is said that adult domestic cats maintain the behaviour of a kitten because the relationship they have with their human demands this. Perhaps this is a coping mechanism.
Cats will seek out warm places in their home. This is, I suppose, a sort of coping mechanism. They will find somewhere warm to sleep and it could be the airing cupboard or next to a radiator. During nighttime it could mean lying close to their owner or even on their owner for long periods.
The difference in height between domestic cats and humans presents a barrier to a cat’s natural behaviour. Cats will use objects such as tables or chairs to gain some height at which point they may like to exchange scent with their owner. Or you see domestic cats going up on their hind legs in the meerkat position in order to gain some height and to receive a head rub.
Cats can seek out mental stimulation for themselves. It is de rigueur to ensure that a domestic cat has a shelf or some sort of object upon which he can sit and watch the outdoors through a window. Just watching what goes on outside is a form of stimulation and a cat can do this for a long time. An outdoor view is an essential part of indoor cat’s life.
When domestic cats are allowed to go outside they will not infrequently mark territory by spraying urine on horizontal objects. This tells other cats of their presence. This is in effect a coping mechanism. It makes the cat feel better. It reassures the cat. It allows the cat some control over his/her environment.
Displacement activity is also another form of coping. This is when a cat licks his nose. It’s a distraction because the cat is uncertain about what to do. It’s a bit like humans biting their fingernails.
It possibly could be argued that a cat wagging her tail is also a form of coping. When a cat is uncertain as to what to do during hunting they might waggle their tail from left to right. This perhaps is also a distraction from the frustration of being unable to make up their mind.
It could also be argued that over-grooming is a coping mechanism. When cats are stressed they may over-groom the lower parts of their body which are easily accessible such as their belly and the insides of their hind legs. Grooming feels nice to a cat. They do this to alleviate stress that they might be feeling. Hence I would describe it as a coping mechanism.
I feel that domestic cats cope with pain by sleeping. I could add to that the word “discomfort”. When a cat feels a high level of discomfort they may find a quiet place to sleep. I’m not sure how sleeping can alleviate pain. I would have thought that it would make it feel worse but cats do this in my opinion. Perhaps they are able to ‘zone out’ and become semi-unconscious which helps to alleviate their discomfort.
Perhaps the most outstanding form of feline coping skills is their adaptability. Domestic cats are more adaptable than people give them credit for. Their wild cat ancestor is a solitary creature but domestic cats have learnt to be sociable and often in multi-cat households they get along quite nicely with other companion animals including dogs. The domestic cat has adapted to his caretaker’s habitat and not vice versa. This is an excellent example of feline coping skills.
Please share your thoughts about feline coping skills. I would love to hear from you. The ideas above came out of my head and not out of a book so I have probably missed something.
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