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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

More about Feliway and why your cats need it

If you have visited our foster home you might not have noticed this little gadget called the Feliway diffuser in our foster lounge unless we point it out to you and tell you what it does. Well, here's more. Because we often get questions on how to solve cats' behavioural issues, stress issues that lead to illnesses, or how to integrate a new cat into the home. So here is how Feliway works - and believe us, it makes a whole lot of difference. 

What the Feliway diffuser does is that it diffuses feline pheromones that mimicks the cats' own scent. Cats mark their territories by leaving their scent around, through activities like scratching objects or rubbing themselves against them. Their litter box activities also leave their scent. For us, because we often have new cats coming in, we need the Feliway diffuser for two important purposes. Firstly, to make new kitties feel safe in our foster home, and secondly, to minimise stress (that might lead to illness) on the existing cats, and/or aggressive behaviour.

How it will work for your cats will depend on what scenario your household is facing. We will list out as many as we can:
  • You are going to be undergoing a change in schedule, leaving for a work trip or are having major stresses at work or even in your human relationships. Your cats will feel your stress or absence. Having Feliway increases your cats' sense of security and minimises any symptoms of stress such as constipation, refusing to eat, depression, inappropriate urination. 
  • You are going to bring a new (adopted!) cat home regardless of whether you have no cats or many cats at home already. Having Feliway plugged in makes your new kitty feel at home, and not hide under the sofa, exhibit stress or aggression issues, or withhold eating, drinking and going to the litterbox. If you have other cats, Feliway would also minimise their stress at having a new kitty share their territory with them. Without Feliway, your other cats may also exhibit stress and aggression issues even if you do a step-by-step integration of the new cat.
  • The ideal ratio of litterboxes per cat is one per cat plus one more. So if you have 4 cats (like we do) you need 5 litterboxes. Our cats have 1 and a 'half' which they share with the free-roaming foster kittens, usually 2-5 of them, that also have 1 and a 'half'. We obviously don't have the space right now to pile on more litterboxes around the house. Cats are finicky about clean toilets, so how do we not have inappropriate elimination around the house all the time? Feliway is the answer. Because the cats don't feel the need to spread their individual scents around with Feliway diffused throughout the foster home.
  • Angsty kitty? Sometimes, especially when you only have one cat or have cats that aren't very companionable towards each other i.e. they don't play together, there is a build-up of excess energy in your cat. Cats, as predators, exhaust their energy through hunting and suchlike activities, and when they don't have this outlet, especially if you don't have the time to devote daily play time with your cat, your cat may manifest this excessive energy by being destructive. Perhaps he may run across tables and knock all manner of things over, or he may even decide to attack you when you want to pet him. The best solution would include getting a suitable playmate for him - one that matches his energy level - or devoting more time to playing with him every day. If neither is possible in the immediate term, you need Feliway to calm him down so his destructive and aggressive behaviour can be calmed down in the meantime.
  • Inappropriate stropping - "Kitty, why be you not scratch on scratching post but on the sofa instead?!" Sounds familiar? Cats strop not only to keep their claws from overgrowing, but also to leave their scent behind on the item they strop on. If your cat persistently scratches on the furniture, Feliway can help minimise kitty's need to strop on every single inviting surface in the house. You then also need to recondition kitty's behaviour with a loud 'No!' when she strops on the furniture, and carry her to the scratching post. When she strops on the post, tell her she is a good cat. Diffuse the Feliway in the room where the stropping on wrong surfaces occurs the most.
So if you are experiencing any of the above, you know you definitely need a Feliway diffuser in the home. Personally we also recommend it to help relax your kitty in general. Cats tend to fall ill when they are stressed or unhappy. Having Feliway diffused around the house helps keep kitty healthy as well.

There is also the Feliway spray. We find this less of an essential than the diffuser but there is a targeted use for the spray as well. However, we recommend that the Feliway spray be used in tandem, not in exclusion of, the Feliway diffuser. This is even if you have only one cat.

The Feliway spray is used for inappropriate elimination: peeing or pooing or both, outside the litter box. To make sure kitty does not do it again, you need to disinfect AND deodourise the area which kitty eliminated on. Use bleach, baking soda, white vinegar, enzyme cleaners, etc. After making sure there should be completely no more smell on that area, spray the Feliway spray on it. Make sure you cover the surface entirely, every square inch of it. We say this because, without covering the area completely, your cat is going to play hopscotch and find an area to pee or poo on that is not covered with the Feliway spray. Combine this strategy with the Feliway diffuser in the room that kitty always does it outside the box - we suggest this because we have had feedback that the spray alone doesn't always work even when there is only 1 cat. If this room does not have a litter box, place one there, preferably on or as close to the area where he did it wrongly. Use training techniques - 'Good boy' when he does it in the box, 'No' or 'Bad kitty!' immediately after or during the act of improper elimination itself. Also consider changing the kind of litter that he is using, particular if the current one is scented with artificial smells.

(Do note that besides the above measures, first and foremost you need to verify your cat is not having a urinary tract related disorder).

There are other methods and products that you can apply to ease your kitty's stress but Feliway is always the first item we recommend. If you would like other ideas after trying these out, let us know, we will blog it all out, or email Elaine at elaine@lovekuchingproject.org.

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