Cats can be hard to read. Unlike dogs, who wear their hearts on their sleeves, felines aren’t exactly an open book. They seem to thrive on creating as much mystery as possible around their intentions, frame of mind and even their physical well being. It’s easy to imagine that this serves as some sort of leftover survival mechanism, genetically-wired into them eons ago.
As fascinating as this concept is, it’s putting cats at a disadvantage, particularly when it comes to their owners trying to recognize signs of anxiety or stress. However, by some accounts, this is starting to change and owners are becoming better attuned to what’s really going on with their pets.
"Until recently, cats have been misunderstood," says Julianna Carella, CEO and founder of Treatibles. "Many people considered them aloof and independent, not understanding how emotionally vulnerable they really are. But as cat behavior specialists have emerged on the pet scene, pet parents have gained more insight into their cat’s behavior and a better understanding about what can contribute to stress and anxiety."
One contributing factor to feline fretfulness is the fact that it’s now commonplace to keep cats confined indoors—which is a good thing, Carella clarifies. But, absent the sort of mental stimulation that would be provided by the outdoors, such as interactive play, room to climb and explore, cats can become frustrated and upset.
"Dogs have been living in our homes for a long time," she explains. "But until cat litter was invented in the 1950s, cats were not encouraged to live inside. Most were indoor/outdoor until maybe 30 years ago. So really, they’ve only been treated like fur babies for a relatively short period of time."
Cats are creatures of habit, adds Paul DiBrito, president of Charlotte, N.C. Paw CBD. As such, even a slight disruption in their routine—whether that’s a change of food, environment or schedule—can cause nervousness, fear, aggression, marking and even elimination issues. Left unchecked, these behaviors are not only disruptive to the household and a nightmare for the owner, the last two can prove dangerous.
"Litter box issues and marking are among the main reasons cats are surrendered to shelters each year," DiBrito explains. "And almost every owner dreads anything that requires getting a cat into a carrier, from traveling to veterinary visits."
Anxiety and fear can also cause cats to run away from home, putting them in "perilous situations," says Chelsea Gennings, co-founder and vice president of Pet Releaf in Littleton, Colo. Even those who do end up in shelters may become unadoptable if the stressors driving the problem behavior aren’t addressed.
There’s a need for products designed to soothe cats, and as both cat owner awareness about their pet’s anxiety and their willingness to utilize calming remedies rises, more manufacturers are coming out with cat-specific calming products, leading to growing sales in this category, says Carella.
"There is still a whole lot of misinformation about hemp-derived CBD products. The biggest misperception is that pets will become high or sedated," she continues. "Some pets will feel very relaxed from broad-spectrum hemp oil with naturally-occurring CBD products, but they won’t be sedated nor will the essence of their personality change."
Paw CBD provides a veterinarian-formulated, organic CBD oil from hemp products for dogs, cats and horses. The hemp is grown with safe, organic and non-GMO farming practices, says DiBrito, and then is manufactured to be THC free. The lineup includes flavored and natural tinctures, baked and soft chews, creamy peanut butter and a soothing balm.
Hemp is regarded by many in the scientific community as a "superfood," one that contains all 20 amino acids—including the nine essential amino acids—making it a complete protein, explains Gennings. Hemp is also a good source of omega-3, -6 and -9 fatty acids, as well as antioxidants, including vitamin E and beta carotene, among other nutrients. Pet Releaf offers a Liposome Hemp Oil 330, which can be administered directly onto the pet’s food.
"Beyond convenient administration, it is three-times more bio-available than our standard CBD hemp oils when given this way, giving pet parents three-times more usage out of a single bottle," says Gennings. "It’s intended for those dogs and cats that need a higher-potency product and require the use of food to take supplements.
Meowijuana takes a different approach. Located in Lenexa, Kan., the SmarterPaw, LLC brand grows clean, natural organic catnip, packaged in a way that makes it "fun for pet parents," says Scott Ragan, managing partner and CEO.
"We saw the opportunity to improve on catnip by creating proprietary blends with other high-quality herbs (like passionflower and lavender) that cats find attractive and that offer benefits," Ragan says.
Whether bottled or placed in Meowijuana refillable catnip toys, Ragan says its objective is to encourage more stimulation, exercise and one-on-one interaction between pet owner and cat; all of which can lower anxiety, create a calmer balance and lead to better rest.
"We [like] the approach of engaging cats with a little catnip and direct playtime before an expected event that might cause stress—think July 4th or a large family gathering," he explains. "Playtime, some good one-on-one interaction and a little catnip are likely to tire them out and put them in a place for some quiet time or a nice long nap."
Increasing Awareness & Sales
When connecting with customers about cat calming products, it’s important that pet specialty retailers and their staff are able to identify what behaviors signal a cat is anxious and stressed. Body language can be a tip-off, says Carella, mentioning dilated eyes, ear and tail positions, puffed-out fur and crouching or hiding, excessive purring, or destructive peeing as the warning signs.
Customers can be better positioned to understand why their cats are manifesting the various behaviors, which can lead to a enlightening discussion of the various product options. While engaging customers in this conversation, retailers and staff also need to hone in on some details. Ragan says it’s important to ask about the pet’s diet and how much daily exercise it’s getting, as well as how much time the owner spends with the cat every day.
Be sure to inquire about any medications the cat may be on, advises Gennings. Retailers should also ask about the type of anxiety or stress the cat is experiencing, and if it’s chronic or situational. It’s also helpful to know what other products the customer may have tried and how they did (or didn’t) work.
Creating a high-quality inventory offering sufficient options requires that pet specialty retailers ask some questions of their own, such as inquiring about where and how the ingredients are grown, what other ingredients are in the product, and why and how they work. Manufacturers should be able to back up certification and testing claims.
Retailers might also have to call attention to these products and their benefits, since many cat owners may not be sufficiently aware they exist, says DiBrito, mentioning that while calming products for dogs are everywhere, there are not nearly as many for cats. Consequently, retailers must make a concerted effort to raise awareness.
Creating special merchandising displays around traditionally stressful times of year—holidays, such as July 4th, or those that might involve a lot of family visits—can be an excellent way to promote these items, says Carella. In-store demos are also effective.
Finally, keep in mind the ultimate objective. Retailers are not selling products, says Ragan, they’re selling solutions—ones that can help the pet and owner to have a fun, healthy and happy life. PB