A territory is of great importance to a cat: 90 per cent of its time is spent exploring and defending it. Marking (with facial pheromones, urine or faeces) is a cat’s main tool to communicate with its own kind that the space is ‘occupied’ while also reassuring the cat itself that it is home by way of its strategically scented spatial references.
Because a cat develops such a strong attachment to its home turf, any change of territory, such as moving house, puts the cat under pressure: some cats react well, while others will face a real identity crisis!
Maria Grazia Calore, veterinary surgeon and expert in pet behaviour, helps us to better understand how a change of territory can affect our cats, and provides some useful advice on how to make a move less traumatic for our feline friends.
A cat’s territory not only changes after a moving house or when traveling with your pet but also when its usual environment alters, for example, when replacing an old sofa with a new one, painting the house or introducing new plants. Even replacing an old cat scratching post or cleaning the house with a strong-smelling cleaning product can deprive our cats of their usual territorial references – confusing them.
How to help our cat to “feel at home”
If we are considering a move or trip, we should attempt to lessen the effects of the relocation on our cats. Diffusers or sprays that emit pheromones that “mimic” the effect of marking can come to our aid by inducing a sense of tranquillity in our cat. To do this, we could place the diffuser in the original location for a few days and then transfer it to the new home just before the cat arrives. In addition, stress reducing pheromone sprays can be applied to the cat’s ‘belongings’ such as their pillow, scratching posts, covers and pet carrier – taking care to allow a few minutes between its application and the arrival of the cat to allow the alcohol within the product to evaporate.
A further measure to help the pet through this delicate phase when moving house, is to place all its familiar objects in to a small area within the new setting, limiting the cat’s space for a few days: stress will be greatly reduced using this tactic! After exploring and marking this initial room, we can then gradually permit exploration of the whole house. Furthermore, if the cat seems particularly sensitive, we should avoid using harsh cleaning products on the bottom 20cm of the furniture, doorjambs, doors and chairs. In this way, not only will the spatial references of our cat be preserved but our furniture will be protected from possible ‘panic’ spraying or messing by the cat – making the move much less stressful all round!