Cats pay close attention to the world around them! Recently, I went on a short trip and came home to a sick kitty. Manna was not acting herself and was doing a lot of vomiting. Panicked, I took her to the veterinarian. After a thorough examination, the veterinarian could not find anything wrong with Manna. She was perfectly healthy (whew)! The symptoms of her illness cleared up within a week. What was to blame? I believe it was probably changes in routine. Maybe you’ve experienced this with your cat too.
Title Photo Credit: Stuart Richards via Flickr
The Effects of a Daily Routine on Cats
There was a very small, but interesting study published in January 2011 by Ohio State University that looked at the effects of a daily routine on cats. Researcher and caretaker of shelter cats, Judi L. Stella, felt compelled to do the study after finding that cats with cystitis began looking healthier after she placed them on a steady daily schedule. Perhaps it was possible to lessen the symptoms of cystitis after all!
The study consisted of a tiny sample of shelter cats – 12 healthy cats and 20 cats know to suffer from cystitis. Over the course of 77 weeks, Stella changed different parts of the cats’ daily routine. These changes in routine included changing caretakers, moving the feeding times, playing different types of music in the cat’s room, and more . “Sickness behaviors” with regards to the gastrointestinal tract (refusal to eat, vomiting, diarrhea, etc) , urinary tract, and skin were recorded as well as behavior problems (such as urinating outside the litter box).
In the end, Stella was very surprised at the results. The healthy cats were just as likely to display sickness behaviors in response to each of the changes in routine as the cats with cystitis were! Age did seem to be a factor, though, as the oldest cats displayed the most sickness behaviors. Stella’s conclusion following the study is that changes in routine may be to blame for many of the sickness behaviors and behavior problems that result in owners relinquishing their cats to shelters.
See the World Through Your Cat’s Eyes
The study above is not large enough to prove with certainty that a more stable environment would keep cats in homes, but it does illustrate something many cat owners have already observed. Cats are not fond of change – they thrive on routine. Our cats are at their best when the world around them (our homes) is predictable.
Cats are very simple. The things that are most important to them are food and water, the litter box, playtime, attention from their favorite human(s), and their favorite areas of your home. Humans, on the other hand, live complicated lives that are full of changes in routine. Some of the life events that cause stress for our cats are:
- Back to school time.
Cats go from having one routine in the summer to a completely different one for the school year. They may experience changes in their feeding schedule, their caregivers, and the amount of attention they receive.
- The arrival of a new baby.
Cats and babies can get along, but there are a lot of changes that come with having a mini-human in the home.
- Bring home a new pet.
Cats are very territorial. Introducing a new pet poses a threat both for their territory (food, litter boxes, favorite spots, etc) and for your affection.
- Loss of a caretaker.
Whether a caretaker passes away or simply leaves the home, your cat may miss them very much! Cats will even worry about caretakers who have only gone on vacation.
3 Tips for Getting Through Changes in Routine
As much as we would love to please our cats, there is no stopping change. Sometimes we can see a change coming (the arrival of a baby) and other times it happens as suddenly to us as it does to them (death of a caretaker). These 3 tips will help you to help your cat adjust to changes in routine.
- Make changes slowly.
If it is possible to plan changes ahead of time, take advantage. Don’t suddenly change your cat’s mealtime from 8 AM to noon. Move the mealtime back a half hour each day (or every few days) until you reach the desired time. Make sure that you slowly move litter boxes a few inches at a time too. You don’t want your cat to keep doing his/her business in the original placement.
- Watch your cat’s behavior as you make changes.
Every time you make a change, watch how your cat reacts. Don’t make another change until your cat is okay with the first one. If your cat begins acting sick, contact your veterinarian. It could be that the behavior is just a response to the changes in routine, but you don’t want to take chances with your cat’s health.
- Keep to the new routine.
Try not to change routines frequently. If a change happened suddenly, the best thing you can do is stick closely to the new routine. Your cat needs to be able to see that his/her needs will still be met predictably. It may take some time to adjust to the new normal, but with a steady hand, you can make it happen.
- Enrich your cat’s environment.
Despite each change, make sure your cat has everything he/she needs to be healthy. Not only does your cat need food, water, and a litter box, but appropriate toys, hiding places, high places to climb to, and opportunities to socialize.
Have you ever noticed your cat react to changes in routine?
Resources & Digging Deeper
- Even Healthy Cats Act Sick When Their Routine is Disrupted – Ohio State Univeristy Research Connection
- Sickness behaviors in response to unusual external events in healthy cats and cats with feline interstitial cystitis – Judy L. Stella via AVMA
- Stress in Cats – Cat Behavior Associates
- Prepare Your Cat for the Arrival of Your New Baby – Cat Behavior Associates
- Preparing Your Cat for a Change in the Family – Paws of Chicago