While the phrase, “don’t be such a scaredy cat” implies that cats get nervous and frighten easily, they are actually perceived as aloof and relaxed due to their ability to mask their stress. In fact, these animals are so good at hiding their anxieties that even their owners don’t realize something’s amiss.
“Don’t be fooled by the exterior—on the inside, they are extremely sensitive,” says Susan Goldstein, co-founder of Earth Animal with her husband, Dr. Bob Goldstein.
As the pet industry looks closer at animal wellness and focuses on the humanization of pets, there’s a greater awareness that cats suffer from stress and anxiety. While nothing can quell a cat’s anxiety completely, there are a variety of ways to help pets cope.
Many manufacturers have crafted products that include several calming ingredients known to help a cat relax. According to Scott Garmon, president of Garmon Corp., remedies for cats focus on the use of herbal supplements, such as lavender, valerian root and chamomile, in addition to melatonin and L-tryptophan.
Jeanne Jacobs, leader of business development for PetAlive, adds that skullcap and passionflower are also commonly used in herbal formulations. She explains that skullcap works as a “nerve tonic or nervine” as well as a mild sedative, while passionflower is a “general relaxant.” She also mentions that a cat favorite isn’t exactly what it seems. While catnip, “will make the cat run around like crazy,” the burst of activity will actually wear the animal out and settle them down into a calm manner.
Seeing the Signs
Due to the range of signs that indicate a cat is stressed out, it’s important to identify behaviors that indicate suffering. Since cats are known for trying to mask their feelings, pet parents need to take an extra close look at their felines exhibiting out-of-the-ordinary behaviors.
“Signs that your cat may be stressed range from subtle to obvious,” says Sarah Salva, director of marketing—brand development for H&C Animal Health.
As a result of those triggers, cats may hide, start meowing excessively, scratch furniture or drapes, exhibit aggression or refuse to use the litter box. Additionally, excessive grooming (such as ripping out fur), a change in appetite or eccentric sleep patterns may mean that cats are stressed out.
However, before heading straight to the calming section, it’s important for pet parents to rule out any medical condition by visiting their veterinarian first.
“When your cat urinates outside the litter box, they are trying to tell you something,” says Jacobs. “Consult with your vet to rule out a medical condition.”
The first step to address a cat’s anxiety or stress is to get to the source. Once a source has been identified, pet parents can take proactive measures to help cats feel more at ease about a situation or circumstance.
A lot of stress for cats comes from disruptions in their environment, so before turning to calming aids to tackle a cat’s stress, pet parents should look at their personal space to see what changes can be made to provide comfort to the animal.
Another source of stress for cats is changes in the people and pets around them, such as a new addition to the family in the form of a baby or a pet, a divorce or even a death in the family.
“It’s important to find what is a stressor to your cat and see if that habit or environment can be changed,” says Garmon. “If your cat suffers from separation anxiety, it’s important to give your cat activities while you’re away such as a cat tree, window perch or puzzle feeders.”
Since changes to a schedule can be stressful for cats, Salva suggests that cat owners maintain a routine, as cats are not the biggest fans of unexpected changes.
“When you know something will be happening that might stress your cat, you can give them a calming treat or spray a pheromone product ahead of the event,” says Salva.
When new cat owners first bring their cats home, they should prepare the new cat as much as possible for the change, explains Jacobs. Involving all family members in the decision to bring a cat home helps ensure a more relaxed and welcoming environment for a new cat to walk into. Prior to the new cat coming through the door, she recommends that the house be equipped with all the supplies a cat needs and that any potential hazards, such as electrical or blind cords, are secured.
Ensuring that cats are supplied with toys that can provide them with an optimal amount of physical and mental stimulation is another way that, right off the bat, new cat owners can help their new felines feel at ease.
Geralynn Cada-Ragan, chief meowing officer at Meowijuana, recommends that cat parents take the time each day to check in with their pets and observe their well being.
“By setting aside time every day, preferably for one-on-one play and/or grooming activity for each pet in your household,” says Cada-Ragan. “By doing this regularly, you can assure their emotional and physical needs are met.”
After owners identify the source of their cat’s stress, they’ll turn to retailers for advice as to which products will best suit their needs. Sales associates need to be well informed about the products they are offering and confident in their results.
“Pet parents are going to ask a lot of questions about active ingredients and expect your staff to know the answers before giving it to their pet,” says Jacobs, who emphasizes that the products a pet store stocks need to provide optimal results. “You need to carry only products you believe in and know are of the highest quality.”
In addition to stocking quality products, the pet store needs to find a designated area to place cat calming aids where they can draw attention.
Susan Goldstein believes in the separation of dog and cat products, and that cat owners will appreciate their own designated space when trying to pick out emotional healing or supplement products.
It’s also imperative that pet parents, especially those with both cats and dogs, have calming products that are specific to the animal in question.
“Calming ingredients and dosing for cats are very different than for dogs,” says Salva, “make sure to pick a cat-specific product for the best results.”
If retailers prefer to merchandise calming solutions altogether, it’s imperative that there’s clear, helpful signage available to help direct pet parents to the appropriate product for their animal.
“Calming supplements can easily get lost in the supplement or wellness aisle,” says Salva. “Try to merchandise all calming solutions together with signage helping the customer choose the right products for their needs.”
Garmon agrees that cat calming aids should be placed in a calming solution section, and feels they should be present in multiple spots in that section. He emphasizes the importance of offering a range of delivery options of calming aids, such as pheromone sprays, plug in diffusers, gels and soft chews, “because cats can be notoriously picky.”
Beyond in-store selling, providing information online is a great way to help bring information to customers about what to look for in cat calming aids before they decide which product to purchase.
“Supporting your cat customers with online and POS education regarding what it means to be a stressed-out cat helps to begin the conversation,” says Cada-Ragan.
Once the conversation is started, customers can open up more about their cats and their specific needs. Susan Goldstein recommends that retailers should also learn about what’s going on with the customer and how they’re doing. If a customer is going through a major lifestyle change, moving to a new place, welcoming a new pet, etc. that can help you deduce the source of stress on the cat.
In the middle of a global pandemic, it’s easy to see why customers may be more stressed out and how that stress can trickle down to their cats. With this in mind, it’s never been a more optimal time to provide calming solutions, especially at a time where people spending more time at home are becoming more attuned to their pets’ needs.
“Stress, if left unchecked, can lead to disease, so it’s important for the retailer to really take a stand with this issue and to market that way,” says Susan Goldstein.
Sales associates should keep in mind and inform customers that because all cats are different, not all will take to the same calming solutions. It may take some trial and error before a customer finds the right fit for their cat.
“Patience is key when it comes to your cats,” says Cada-Ragan. “Sometimes it may take two or three exposures for a cat to respond to a calming aid. Keep trying and results will follow.” PB