May 9th, 2020

Words & Collage by Frasie Molina

Self-isolation is having an impact not just on our daily lives but also on the lives of our favourite felines

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We’re living through an unprecedented time, wading through uncharted territory, and self-isolation is having an impact not just on our daily lives but also on the lives of our pets. During the past few weeks, I’ve contributed several collages to Nearness, but I studied feline ethology and behaviour, and actually work part-time as a cat therapist in Paris. I have helped people understand their felines better and build healthy relationships with them. I do this by solving litter box issues, or working out conflict issues between cats, or between cats and humans. Cats are sensitive creatures. Even though they’re adaptable, they have to make an effort to get used to change.

Over the past few weeks, I have had far fewer consultations than usual. Before the pandemic, my consultations took place at my clients' living spaces. Now I’m restricted to consulting online and people seem reluctant to engage in this new medium. I guess they’re having trouble adapting to change, too, just like cats are. Diagnosing issues online is complicated for me, too. Seeing the environment a cat lives in is an important part of diagnosing the problem. Now I ask for pictures and videos so I can really understand the situation, and smartphones make it fairly easy. I still get lots of questions by email, so I thought I’d share some of my insights with you in case you happen to have a cat at home, too, and are wondering what you can do to make sure your feline feels okay during this strange time.

Cats are creatures of habit. They have a set pattern that they follow every day, so if you’re self-isolating with family or friends, your cat may be in an environment that is now less peaceful than he or she is used to. These changes to cats’ sensory worlds and routines might stress them out and could lead to unwanted behaviours (like your cat peeing outside of the designated litter box area or meowing all day long). This is your cat’s way of telling you that something is wrong. It’s never done out of spite.

On the other hand, for some cats - especially indoor ones - staying inside day after day with their human roommates might actually be a source of great pleasure. I’m thinking specifically about all those cats that usually spend the majority of the week alone; getting more attention will certainly bring them wellness. A word of warning, though, that the end of quarantine may be very difficult for them! Once you adapt back to your daily routine and return to working away from home, your cat might feel frustrated and lonelier than before. Sometimes, she may be in absolute distress. 

Here are some things you can do to take care of your cat and prepare him or her for life after quarantine: 

1. Set Boundaries

First of all, it’s important not to change your cat's habits too much right now. If you're working, don't hesitate to go into a separate room in order to help your cat understand that you're occupied. Avoiding physical contact is important. This will communicate that you’re not available. But if you don’t have the room to isolate alone, try not to respond to your cat’s requests while you’re busy. This will help both of you in the long run because it will prepare your cat for your eventual departure, however distant that seems now! My first week with my cat, Boug, was a little challenging. My partner and I used to work at home before the pandemic, too, but obviously not as much. Boug noticed the change and tried to capture our attention with his many meows. We ignored him during these episodes (which was really hard because he is SO CUTE!) and everything returned to normal within a few days. 


2. Improve The Natural (Indoor) Habitat

Make sure your home is equipped with all the necessary objects for your cat’s natural behaviours! In nature, cats hunt, kill, eat, sleep, climb and scratch. So it’s very important to improve your cat's environment with puzzle feeders, fun little toys, cat trees, towers and cat scratchers in order to stimulate those behaviours. 

3. Set Play Times

Quarantine is the perfect time to create new play-time routines. Some people think cats don’t need to play but actually they love it! Play time is necessary to relieve boredom and improve your relationship with your cat. I recommend picking a few times in the day for this - maybe in the morning after breakfast and in the evening before bedtime. In terms of play objects, the world is your oyster! Most things can be used as a toy. These days, my cat, Boug, is crazy about my nail file… And every night before bed, we hide cat treats around the apartment for him and he goes wild! 

4. Don't Overdo The Affection

You may be very happy to be spending more time with your cat; understandably, living with animals is so relaxing during these strange times. But be careful not to overdo it! Too many strokes, kisses or hugs can be really stressful. Try not to be too oppressive. A good approach is to invite your cats to hang out instead of forcing them to. Lower your hand down for your cat to rub against it, without making any attempts to stroke him. Cats love this approach and feel comfortable with it. If your cat rubs against your hand, you can stroke him. If he doesn't approach or lick your hand or if he decides to move away, forget it. If he bites you, he’s communicating that you’re being oppressive. Usually there are warning signs such as a twitching tail, back hair standing on end, ears pricking back or skin rippling along the back. If you look out for these cues, you'll likely have fewer interactions with your cat and may feel frustrated. But it's a good way to ensure that your interactions are mutually desired! 

6. Consult A Cat Therapist

Finally, if you had problems with your cat before quarantine (e.g. urine/pooping out of the litter box, conflict between cats, aggression towards humans, meowing at night) be aware that self-isolation can make the situation worse. Don't hesitate to ask for help, especially before the problem gets worse. Many cat therapists are doing online consulting!

Frasie Molina is a French writer, artist and cat behaviorist living in Paris. She works with drawing, photography and vintage books to create multi-colored and dreamy worlds. The themes are mainly female characters and flowers. You can find her work on Instagram @frasiemolina