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Top tips to help your cat survive the festive season

Help your cat cope with Christmas

In this blog I share 10 simple hints & tips you can use to support your cat during this busy, festive season. From dangers in the home to adjusting to the changes in their environment, I've got you covered in this month’s Christmas blog.

Although for us humans Christmas is (usually) a joyful, fun, time of year…for our cats that’s not always the case. It can cause them additional stress, worry and anxiety. Of course, there are some cats who thrive at this time of year, but no two cats are the same.

I’ll share with you below how you can support the emotional needs of your cat, save the tree and have a happy cat at Christmas.

1 - Advent Calendars

We all love a good novelty around this time of year and as we spend more and more on our pets it’s no surprise that anything you would get for a child you can now get for your pet. Naturally Cats even provides a selection box for your cats – but more about that later!

Cat advent calendars. I’m sure you’ve seen them in the shops, perhaps you have one for your furry friend? Just a note of caution – check the ingredients list on the back. Giving your cat a ‘new’ type of treat/food stuff in their diet may cause a little upset tummy. Sadly, most advent calendars are not made using high-quality ingredients so please check the packaging before you give it to your cat. Cereals, grains, soy and animal derivatives are all bad ingredients for your furry friend.

Perhaps you could offer a forkful of tinned mackerel or sardines in olive/sunflower oil. Or perhaps a little raw mince or chicken as you prep the evening meal?

2 - Dressing up

We used a small collar for Leo last year with a bow tie on it, and he wasn’t best pleased (look at the size of his pupils!) Ok so he was still getting used to a collar but when we put it on him, he kind of froze. Please be mindful of how your cat will feel if you put them in festive outfits or dress them up. Yes, you might think they look cute, or funny, but cats aren’t here for our amusement. We are here to be their guardians, to love them and to respect them.

Please be aware of the ear position, dilated pupils and body language of your cat if you are attempting to dress them up. Putting a cat into freeze mode is not good for them.

3 - Family members dropping by

Ok so COVID may mean that our family Christmas will be different to previous years. At the time of writing this we are supposedly allowed to have people visit for a certain date range over Christmas. What you decide to do is up to you but bear in mind that especially after we have had such an extended period of lockdown, having people in the home may prove to be particularly stressful for your cat. PLEASE make sure they have spaces where they can hide away and retreat to. Ensure that young children respect the cat’s boundaries and don’t go chasing after it.

Give your cat the choice to be able to take themselves away if they need to. Forcing the cat to be part of the family festivities could prove to be super stressful for your little friend.

4 - Presents appearing

Our family are always so generous that in the week before Christmas our front room and dining room starts to get pickled with bags of presents. Last year Leo coped really well because they tended to come in stages. Help your cat adjust to the appearance of gifts and parcels in the home. If they are prone to spraying round the house, keep gifts out of their way. Or help to bring the presents into the cats’ territory.

Do scent work with the cat and presents, use a pillowcase or face cloth to gently rub the scent glands along the side of your cats face then rub it on the side of the present.

5 & 6 - The Tree and decorations!!

Ok so I’ve been asked how we can help our trees to stay upright and cat free…the simple answer…behaviour training. We have a real tree and once it is in the house, we leave it in position for 2 days before we hang any ornaments or baubles. We also cut the bottom layers off. Leo has the capacity to sniff and investigate the tree without the added temptation or distraction of all the lovely dangling bits! By cutting off the bottom branches he is able to use the trunk as a scratching post to the scent the tree. Now Leo isn’t a very big cat and of course if you have a plastic tree not such a good idea! But again, scent work really helps here. As far as the baubles go every time Leo bats at one, he gets a short, curt ‘Ah Ah’ from me, a stern no and a pointing finger. Then when he moves slightly away from the tree and sits looking at it he gets a treat. Of course, not all cats listen, and for some the temptation is too great! And yes, we have come down in the morning to find Leo playing with one of the fabric ornaments. My best advice:

Image by Jessica Lewis

Be patient, consistent and eagle eyed with your cat around the tree. Use scent work if possible but if all else fails just keep trying to stop the unwanted behaviour and reward the good

7 - Christmas day lunch

I fully appreciate we want to include our cats in our everyday life, and why shouldn’t we? I also know that straying too far from our cat’s ‘normal’ routine can be quite damaging. We used to get a special cat Christmas day lunch from our cat food provider at the time and Pickle would always happily chow down. Sadly though, she tended to have an upset tummy the next day. Then we stopped, and on Christmas day she had some of my husbands cooked turkey instead. Yes of course he wasn’t too chuffed to be sharing it but when he saw how quickly she ate the plain turkey and the purrs she gave out he couldn’t resist. If you give your cat different food for Christmas day lunch perhaps just give a spoonful, so it doesn’t upset their digestion too much, or even better…

Give them a small saucer with a few pieces of the cooked meat as their Christmas day lunch.

8. New Toys

I’m not sure about you but I always like to get Leo a new toy for Christmas (although don’t tell him…this year my mother-in-law has made him a catnip fish!) Getting new toys is great mental stimulation for our cats, but at this time of year novelty toys are abundant. I’m not saying they are made with less care but please think about spending a little more on the cat toys, so you know they won’t fall to pieces when they start to get played with. Again, you many need to do scent work with the cat so they enjoy and actually play with the new toy!

9 - Quiet time

As we’ve mentioned above Christmas has A LOT going on in the home. Our cats may feel unsettled or threatened with all the presents now in their territory. They may be stressed when we start to open the gifts and the wrapping paper is noisy and everywhere. They may also be a little unsettled from the decorations around the house and a tree in the corner of the room. Please take a minute to see your lovely, decorated home from the eyes of your cat. Ensure they have quiet spaces they can retreat to, high levels they can sit on to watch the festivities from a far. Finally, be mindful of how much we are asking of them. Yes, we might want to sit on the sofa with a blanket and a Christmas film but the cat might not. Don’t force them. They might not want as much interaction with us as they process their surroundings.

Image by Jenna Hamra

Give a thought to your cats’ interpretation of the festive season, help them to have quiet time by being mindful of physical contact and interaction and always make sure they have spaces they can retreat to. We all need a little down time now and again … and our cats are no different!

10 - Herb Garden

Ok so you knew this was coming right?! You know I LOVE a good herb garden! As I’ve mentioned before they are a great way to provide mental, physical and emotional support to your furry friend. Having a herb garden down at Christmas is a great way to help your cat cope with the busy, festive season. They can choose to rub, roll or sit near the herbs. It can help their stress, worry, anxiety and fear. And best of all you don’t need to do anything with it! Just buy the herbs, put a towel down for the cat with the herbs on and let them do the rest. I’m positive your cat will select at least on of the herbs if not more and trust me when I say there will be some cuddles in it for you as a thank you!

Take a look at the range of herb gardens I offer, perhaps you can treat your cat to one this Christmas?

That’s all for this year.  I really hope you have a wonderful Christmas and New Year.

Feel free to share with me any pictures of your cat enjoying their herb garden, selection box or around the tree. Trust me … I can NEVER see enough cat pictures!

Stay safe, be well.

Thanks for reading.

Julie-Anne, Leo and Baby Max xx

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