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Sensitive cats need help coping with change
Dear Dr. Spiegel: I have a spayed, 3-year old Female Calico cat named Baby. My letter relates to possible behavior problems which haven't occurred yet. Baby and I currently live by ourselves in my rather small townhouse. As I work full-time, she is home alone all day, and on weekends she might be left alone for as long as 10 or 14 hours at a time (Baby is strictly an indoor cat). My life is fairly routine and this seems to suit Baby just fine. She is home alone so much, in fact, that sometimes even I can startle her simply by the slightest noise or abrupt movement. With visitors she is shy, timid, even nervous. She does not take well to strangers and will usually stay a safe distance away when I have company over (which isn't often). Even with my fiance she is indifferent; she will not cuddle with him or sit on his lap as she does with me. When she and I are alone, she's a real lovebug, but only on her terms of course. My concern for Baby is that I'm getting married in October and I worry about the drastic changes in store for her. Our new home is much larger than my townhouse and in all likelihood will not have carpet when I move in (Baby has all her claws and uses them in the carpet when she needs a quick getaway). The house is not yet completed and there is always some project or another going on, with tools and equipment lying around and lots of loud noise. My fiance has irregular hours and is in and out all day. There are family and friends constantly coming over for visits. To make matters worse, my townhouse is currently on the market and the plan is to sell it and move in with my sister before the wedding. This means that Baby will move into the new house without me to "protect" her (my sister has two cats and a puppy of her own). What can I do to make the transition as smooth as possible for Baby? Should I bring her to the new house for a few short visits before "abandoning" her there? Or should I take the sink or swim approach? I'm very attached to my cat and I only want what's best for her. Do you have any suggestions? I thank you in advance for your help. Sincerely, D.S., Newark
Dear D.S., That's quite a web you've woven for you and Baby. I think, however, that I see a way out. Here's the problem... in her sheltered upbringing with limited exposure to others, and with the routines and interactions she has with you, she has become quite accustomed to this quiet, unobtrusive lifestyle. From your descriptions she seems fairly sensitive, reacting with fear/avoidance to aberrations in your mutual routines. The changes you have in store for her will indeed be quite stressful for her, and probably you as well. As I was reading your letter, I was thinking that Baby would be o.k. if kept primarily in one room (e.g., bedroom), up and away from most of the construction. Here she could be with you in the evenings, and in future comings and goings of people, this room would be established as a place where she would know she could get to for a sense of security. Then I got to the part where you plan to move in with your sister temporarily and start Baby in the house by herself. This is when, in my mind, everything fell apart. I cannot say for certain, but I expect that if introduced into a new environment (which is scary enough to begin with for a sensitive cat) with loud, unpredictable and uncontrollable construction sounds to face, she would be quite distressed, and might very well have more significant fear-related problems as a result (particularly without the added comfort/security of your presence to see her through). Your concerns are valid, and I have lots of respect for anyone who perceives potential problems for their animals and attempts to address them ahead of time. Your saving grace in this situation may be the very fact that the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. I am referring specifically to your quote, "my townhouse is currently on the market and the plan is to sell it and move in with my sister before the wedding. This means that Baby will move into the new house without me to `protect' her." And while one never knows, given the state of the present housing market, and October only about four months away, you very well may not need to move in with your sister and abandon her. You never know. But for Baby's sake, an unforseen change in your plans would likely be the best thing possible. If things go according to your "plan," please contact me by phone. The only feasible remedy in the situation you described would likely be some anti-anxiety medication to get her through these transitions.