Friday, December 9, 2011

Dealing with Calcifer kitty's stress during the holidays

Stress affects everyone, especially at this time of year.  Being a crafter at Christmas is a lot like being one of Santa's elves, and my own stress level inevitably ramps up during the holidays.  And then there's the added social gatherings, people coming over, and other changes in the day to day routine.   I recently put the house up for sale as well, which means I've spent a lot of time cleaning and packing things away.  Plus my sweet old Cedric kitty passed away several weeks ago.  So that all adds up to a lot of change, disruption, and stress, not only in my life, but in Calcifer's life.  He's always been a very sensitive cat when it comes to picking up on my moods and feelings, so I'm not surprised that all of this affected him.  Normally he's fairly calm and relaxed and not bothered by too much, but a few days ago he started acting strange.  His skin would twitch, then he'd frantically wash his shoulder or paw for a few seconds, then he'd run fearfully across the room to hide behind or under something.  I couldn't find any skin problems, fleas, or ear mites, so I did a little research online and learned that in all likelihood it's a condition called  Feline hyperesthesia syndrom
The symptoms include: 
  • Rippling of the skin over the back
  • Muscle spasms and twitching
  • Twitching of the tail.
  • Cats may exhibit strange behaviors in response to touching such as tail chasing, biting at the tail, flank and sides, to the point of self-directed aggression. They run, jump, hallucinate, vocalize, and even turn around and hiss. 
Some factors that can trigger anxiety include:

  • moving to a new home
  • a change your schedule
  • the addition or subtraction of a family member, including other animals
  • aggression among cats in the household
  • moving furniture around
  • seeing a new animal outside
  • boredom and frustration

Calcifer had only been acting strange for two days, but I didn't want it to get any worse, so I ordered the Feliway diffuser and spray.  I didn't want to see my friendly, loving cat turn into a fearful anxious animal who couldn't relax!  Feliway is a synthetic copy of the feline facial pheromone, used by cats to mark their territory as safe and secure, so I had a feeling this would help Calcifer.  While I waited for the Feliway to arrive I did all I could to keep my kitty calm, happy, and engaged.  I moved one of his scratching posts under the window in my workout room (one of his favorite places), played with him more, and tried to distract him when I would notice him starting to go into one of his "freak outs".
When the package got here I plugged the diffuser in right away.  It didn't take long at all to notice the effect on Calcifer.  He lounged on his newspapers without having to leap up and run away, he cuddled with me repeatedly throughout the day, which is normal for him, and as an added bonus he started sitting on my lap while I worked on the computer (that's where he's at right now).  He's been more playful and much happier.  He still has the occasional freak out, but now it only lasts a few seconds. 

When his big brother Cedric was alive he loved rubbing his cheeks against just about any vertical surface, leaving his "happy kitty pheromones" all over the place.  Calcifer loved smelling (and even biting and licking) the spots where Cedric rubbed.  The thing is, he never could figure out how to rub against corners and things like that.  He rubs his chin on horizontal objects, but I don't think it's quite the same effect.  With Cedric no longer here to refresh those feel good pheromones, I think Calcifer is really missing out.  Which is another reason I plan on getting a kitten for him just as soon as I can.  He'll have a little friend to play with and keep him occupied, as well as rub against things the way most cats do when they're happy.
So that's what's been going on with me and my Calcifer kitty lately.  I'm just thankful I was able to figure out the problem and find a solution that works.  Just seeing Calcifer go back to his normal self has reduced my own stress dramatically.

~Michelle of CreativeCritters
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