Keeping Cats Calm
The key to solving problem behaviors among felines is often a matter of reducing the impact of environmental stress and redirecting the pet’s negative energy.
Being the owner of a cat can be a joyful experience. Although sometimes characterized as standoffish or independent, cats make wonderful companions. They can be frisky and full of energy or loving and affectionate. But as cuddly as kitty can be, cats also have the instincts of their big-cat ancestors.
Part of being a cat owner is dealing with kitty’s urges to bite, pounce, hunt and scratch. These predatory instincts might be endearing until owners come home to a defaced table or ruined drapes.
Luckily, there are plenty of products on the market today to aid with calming or modifying unwanted behaviors. There’s a simple solution to everything from scratching a family heirloom to marking their territory in a favorite pair of shoes.
“In the past, many people would not be happy with the cat in the home due to scratching. Now we have so many options to detour that behavior,” says Shannon Supanich, media and public relations manager for Cedarburg, Wis.-based Pioneer Pet Products. That is where pet retailers come in to help pet owners better understand their feline friends.
Stress is a major root cause of animal misbehavior and can manifest itself in a multitude of ways. In cats this might look like a change in appetite, excessive self-grooming/hair loss, hiding, urine spray or aggression. Just like when any other member of the family is upset, pet owners are concerned when kitty seems distressed.
Experts also attribute the trend to “the growing sentiment that pets are part of the family, and we want to ensure they are at ease,” says Kate Marshall, international sales and marketing manager for Nelsons.
Unfortunately, many cat owners might be totally mystified as to how they can help alleviate their pet’s stress level. Pet retailers can help first and foremost by providing accurate information.
“Education is really key,” says Supanich. “A primary cause of pet misbehavior is the pet owner not knowing what to do for their pet.”
This is especially true when pet owners first bring home their new furry bundle of joy, a particularly stressful situation for cats unaccustomed to all of the new sights, scents and sounds. New owners look to retailers as a central source of both top-of-the line merchandise and expert know-how.
In order to keep customers informed, members of the staff should be well-versed in the latest trends in the category and be able to authoritatively answer customer queries. This might require consulting manufacturer representatives or veterinarians, or continually reviewing Internet resources to make sure any advice about products and animal care is up to date.
Marshall also recommends speaking directly to consumers about the underlying causes of their cat’s behavior in order to offer the best possible solution. “Retailers can assist in getting to the root of the cause by asking questions like, ‘Is the pet adapting to new surroundings? Is this an adjustment for other animals in the house? When does the pet seem stressed?’” she says. “These answers can help retailers pick out the best product.”
If kitty is acting out because of a change in her home environment—like a family member leaving for college, for example—then staff members might recommend a new toy or treats to reinforce good behavior and distract from the unwelcome change. Or maybe the problem is scratching up the back of the couch to mark new territory. Then a remote correction product like Sticky Paws or a scent diffuser like Feliway would be great recommendations.
In addition to staff education, stores can further aid shopper education through special displays and strategic signs in storefronts, windows, endcaps and countertops that address trends and consumer needs.
One recent trend that retailers should take advantage of is pet owners’ desire to know what ingredients are in the products they’re giving their furry friends.
“In general people are paying more attention to what they are putting on and in their bodies, as well as their pets,” says Marshall. “In recent years, with a newfound understanding of artificial ingredients, hormones, and drugs, people have made a very conscious decision to start reading labels to gain a better understanding of what they are purchasing for themselves, families and pets.”
Retailers can help cat owners in their quest to better understand the products they provide for their pets by utilizing special displays in key areas of the store, or by simply making sure employees are familiar with what goes into the products stocked in the store.
While calming and behavior aids are great products for retailers to round out their offerings throughout the year, timing displays with key events can bring big boosts to visibility. Marshall suggests featuring calming aids during holidays like the Fourth of July or Thanksgiving, when loud noises and family visitors can elevate pet stress.
She also emphasizes the importance of location and cross merchandising to help customers locate products or, better yet, find something they weren’t even looking for. This can be an easy way to quickly increase the number of items sold per basket. For example, retailers can assemble all of the products a first-time pet owner could need including everything from food to carriers to products to help ease pet anxiety during the difficult transition to a new home.
“Retailers should ask themselves ‘Where would my customer look for this item?’” she says. “Many retailers have a calming section, but they may find that a specific product would do well in more than one location.”
Here is another great cross-merchandising example: while some pets get stressed when traveling and others hide during inclement weather, it is likely retailers carry pet crates and ThunderShirts in different areas of the store. The addition of stress-relieving drops like RESCUE Remedy would fit nicely in both locations.
When pet retailers stay on top of trends and help customers stay educated about pet stress and behavior, it’s a win for everyone: better sales for stores, happy owners and, of course, stress-free cats.