Calm Cat - Photo by Ernesto De Quesada (Flickr)
How to calm a cat? The answer is to create an environment for the cat in which he or she can express natural innate drives and desires supported by a calm reassuring routine and a good and varied diet.
If a person is searching for an answer to the question, "how to calm a cat?" it must be the case that the cat is not calm. I will presume that the cat in question is their cat - the cat living with the person asking the question. That person should ask a different question, a question that precedes the how-to-calm-a-cat-question and it is this: what is causing my cat to be agitated or anxious? Remove the cause of anxiety and the cat will become calm. In fact before even asking that fundamental question the cat caretaker concerned should make sure that they have correctly assessed their cat's psychological state. Are you sure that your cat is stressed? It can be hard to tell. How do you tell? It may be the case that the person is interacting with the cat in way that makes the cat react in a manner that gives the impression that the he or she is not calm. This may be coupled with false expectations. If a cat caretaker incorrectly thinks a cat should be doing something and it doesn't the person will incorrectly think that something is wrong when it is not. Provided the person has "correct cat perceptions" behaviour disorders can be a sign of cat stress (Please see also: 15 Ways to Avoid Cat Behavior Problems). You can see how a simple question such as, "how to calm a cat?" can lead to complexities.
The signs that a cat is stressed might include, (a) inappropriate elimination (b) urinary tract disease as mentioned above (c) compulsive grooming - OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) - this is an "energy displacement phenomenon"1 (d) aggressive behaviour - brought on by "environmental stress, leading to heightened fear".1(e) stress induced allergies - my opinion based on personal observation. When a cat is not allowed to express natural impulses the stress created can, I think, manifest itself in an allergic reaction, sometimes, (f) eating house plants - a substitute for not being able to eat grass (see Cat Eating Grass) - some plants are safe incidentally, (g) an eating disorder such as anorexia nervosa, which may (rarely) be due to "deep seated insecurity and stress"1.
On the basis that a cat is agitated, stressed and anxious, the first way to calm a cat is to adjust the environment so that it is more suited to the cat. A normal, well socialised (raised to accept people and other animals) cat will feel reasonably calm if the environment in which the cat lives is reasonably comfortable for the cat. An example of a nice environment for a cat might be one in which (a) the cat caretaker is present a lot of the time, (b) the caretaker is calm and speaks quietly to their cat, (c) the person allows the cat to have a routine that is reassuring (d) plays with the cat (c) allows the cat to go out into an inside/outside enclosure if possible (d) takes the cat out on a leash occasionally if possible (e) provides good and varied food, (f) ensures that their cat is in good health. Poor health can be painful and pain leads to an unhappy and stressed cat, obviously. Poor health can also lead to inappropriate elimination.
An example of an environment that is not ideal is being left alone for long periods (cat separation anxiety). This is not that uncommon. It is likely to cause stress which can lead to illnesses such as cystitis. Another cause might be the presence of another cat that has been introduced into the household. Other reasons are a noisy environment, a permanently confined and dark environment (some people keep their cats in garages - for heavens sake why keep a cat if you do that?). A permanent indoor environment, say an apartment, together with long absences by the cat's owner due to work commitments and going out in the evening can stress up a cat. Although this is not necessarily the case. I depends on a variety of factors.
Some say pet music calms a cat (and dog). I am not sure but if there is no way to fix some problems at source it sure as hell beats drugs:
A cat needs to express his or her natural innate desires such as hunting, and aggressive play. If a cat is free to do so the chances of being calm are greatly increased. In short a comfortable environment for a cat is one where he or she can express natural behaviour and release energy. Take away all the stress factors and the cat will become calm. I guess that is obvious but it is worth stating. Often an easier route for the caretaker is to give the cat tranquillisers but this really is a very poor substitute to fixing the problem at its core. Personally I would more or less rule out drugs. All drugs are poisons to some extent.
I would love to hear the views of others on how to calm a cat....
It should be noted that spraying is not inappropriate elimination. The former is a territorial marker and the latter can be due to a number of reasons one of which is stress, particularly in Persian cats.
Aggressive cat behavior is not necessarily the sign of a cat that is not inherently calm. It is usually defensive an related to self-preservation. If a cat caretaker is finding that their cat is often aggressive it might be wise for them to ask how they are treating their cat (are they the cause of the aggression?) and to check the overall environment as described.
1. Cat Owner's Home Veterinary Handbook by Drs Carlson and Giffin.
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