Earlier this week, my human saw a post from our friend Ingrid King over at the Conscious Cat. Titled “Does Your Cat Reflect Your Personality,” it focused on a study that compared cat-human relationships (and cat wellbeing) to parent-child relationships. But what mainly interested Ingrid — and my human — was something that wasn’t even in the study: that there are studies that show a link between human stress and cat health.
It’s true, we cats are emotional sponges, and we react to whatever energy you give off. Think about how you feel when you take your cat to the vet. Chances are you are anxious, and worried. You’re afraid your cat is going to give you problems getting into the carrier. You’re concerned that the vet and staff will stress out your cat. What if they find something is horribly wrong with your cat? Well, your cat is absorbing all these negative feelings! So no wonder she doesn’t want to go in that carrier, and no wonder she panics at the vet clinic. If she already had a predilection towards being a nervous patient before you adopted her, her emotions are going to be amplified if you’re upset too.
Trips to the vet clinic are the most obvious examples of human emotions affecting cats, but it’s something that happens every day in dozens of small ways. The way you respond to feline misbehavior, litter box usage, habits such as scratching, and even fun activities like playtime not only define your relationship with your cat — they help shape your cat’s ever-developing personality. Humans and cats aren’t static. We are all constantly changing, either for the better… or not for the better.
So what can you do to both improve your relationship with your cat, and help your cat be happier, calmer and more well adjusted? Become an observer of human behavior — your own, that is. The more you are aware of how you act, react and respond to your cat, or even around your cat, the more you will understand what your cat is absorbing from you. And if you change some of that, chances are you will also change some of your cat’s behavior. Here are some suggestions.
1. Banish worry. Worry is one of the most useless human behaviors ever. Obsessing over something and creating worst-case scenarios in your mind only creates stress… and stresses out your cat. It doesn’t actually solve problems. Find solutions to problems that are bothering you, and let go. Recognize that solutions will either work or they won’t, and if they don’t, you will have to try something else. Worry is passive and negative for both you and your cat. Be proactive instead.
2. Take a few deep breaths before reacting to cat behavior that bothers you. If you instantly start raising your voice, getting mad, or being upset, you will confuse and scare your cat, who probably doesn’t understand what is going on. Instead, breathe! Pause to think about why your cat is behaving the way she is. What can be changed to create a different result? Again, be proactive, and in this case, don’t be reactive.
3. Accept your cat for who she is, right now at this very moment. Even if there are things about her you want to change. Maybe you want her to be less nervous, stop misbehaving, or be more outgoing. Fine, but accept her behavior right now. If you are coming from a place of love, and not one of worry or anger, you’ll stop trying to force her to change, which will never work. Instead, look at yourself and the environment around your cat. Unless she has a physical or neurological problem affecting her behavior, it’s the things outside of your cat that need to be modified to encourage her to change.
4. Find your own sense of inner calm. Learn how to meditate. Focus on the small, beautiful things that give you a sense of peace. Listen to music that makes you happy, a lot. Learn how to carry this sense of wellbeing with you throughout the day. The more you can do this, the calmer your cat will be (and the people around you, too).
5. You may think this one is funny, but it’s actually quite practical: talk to your cat like she is a reasonable adult human being. Sure, a lot of people like to talk baby talk to their cats, and of course you can continue to do that. But every so often, sit down with your cat, and discuss how you want to help her be the best cat she can be. Ask what you can do to help her. Explain why some of her behavior is upsetting you. Do all this calmly and without getting emotional about it. Just matter of factly say all of it to your cat. Pet her while your saying it, if you want and she lets you. Doing this helps put things in perspective, and establishes a dialogue that is not fraught with emotion. You’ll feel better, and you cat will feel better not being faced with a whirlwind of feelings. Then you can go back to baby talk or whatever silly repartee you normally have with her.
Here’s a bonus tip that my human uses with me all the time: if something happens that is beyond your control, do something to distract your cat. If there is thunder outside, instead of worrying about it scaring your cat, give out her very favorite treats, or take her to your quietest room and play with her. Worrying about your cat being scared actually makes her more scared.
My human has actually gotten pretty good with this. Recently she was taking some photos of me, and one of the lights she had set up started to fall. She caught the light with one hand and tossed me a treat with the other! Even though I was startled at first, when I saw the treat — and that my human wasn’t freaking out — I totally forgot about the light. Once my human set it up better, we were able to continue our photo session without a hitch.
I hope some of this helps you and your cat have a better, more relaxed relationship!