Palmerston, Britain’s Foreign Office cat, suffered from stress

It has come to the public’s attention that Palmerston, the 6-year-old tuxedo, Foreign Office cat, was suffering from stress. It was diagnosed because the cat was over-grooming his forelegs. A clear sign of stress as grooming is calming for cats.

Palmerston the Foreign Office cat
Palmerston the Foreign Office cat. Photo: public domain
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It was decided by Palmerston’s veterinarian and others including the Foreign Office’s (FO) top civil servant, Sir Simon McDonald, that Palmerston’s environment was causing the stress.

Last summer he was retired from duties but he is returning this week under a strict protocol called Palmerston Protocols to remove stress making issues from his life. When he temporarily left the Foreign Office he lived with an employee at their home and his over-grooming stopped. His fur has returned.

He is happy, healthy and full of energy. His pelt is glossy and mostly grown back. We need now to keep him that way.- Sir Simon

Here are the Palmerston Protocols. They are wise and instructional because in general terms they apply to all domestic cats:

His home range is smaller

It was decided that his home range was too large causing him to fret over patrolling it.

Comment: this is interesting because it implies that Palmerston as unable to decided his home range which is the normal behaviour. This may have happened because people took him out of his chosen home range which extended it. Employees at the FO are now under instructions to make sure he remains inside the ‘Palmerston Zone’.

Palmerston in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office wanting some peace and quiet walks off to find it
Palmerston in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office wanting some peace and quiet walks off to find it. Photo: Michael Broad

He has a hiding place

If he is in Palmerston HQ, he is not to be disturbed. Palmerston is a friendly, outgoing cat, but we all need our privacy. Like Greta Garbo, sometimes he wants to be alone.

They have provided a safe zone, a hiding place if you like for Palmerston. If he becomes stressed he can retreat to it. His safe zone is Sir Simon’s staff office!

Comment: I am sure Sir Simon likes cats a lot because he is very involved in maintaining Palmerston’s health and welfare. For stressed cats, a place to hide and feel safe is very important. It provides them with the chance to cope. Stress must also have come from the presence of strange people coming into his environment which is the office space of the FO and outside the building.

Personal space

Sir Simon said:

Don’t wake him if he is sleeping. He has full choice of who he deigns to greet or imperiously ignores. Allow Palmerston to choose whether he wants to interact with you: offer your hand as if you were introducing yourself to a stranger, and allow Palmerston to make the first move. Don’t wake him if he is sleeping. He has full choice and control of who he deigns to greet or imperiously ignores.

That sums it up. Comment: this is an extension of providing a safe space and reducing stressful interactions with humans. It think the forced interaction with humans; employees and many visitors had caused stress.

Controlled feeding

Set carers have been assigned to feeding duties and others are under strict orders not to feed him. Comment: perhaps he was a little overweight and in any case feeding means interaction and sometimes it seems that he was forced to interact against his wishes. Informal feeding by people is a way for the person to interact and be friendly. However, it may not feel desired by Palmerston.

One area of stress not mentioned but implied, perhaps, is Palmerston’s hostile encounters with Larry over the road at No 10. They did fight. This is stressful. I wonder if Palmerston is to be a full-time indoor cat to avoid those conflicts.


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