Dogs have a reputation for being the expressive and sensitive pets, while cats are seen as emotionally aloof. However, looks can be deceiving. In fact, felines can suffer greatly from stress and anxiety, just like their canine counterparts.
“[Cats] are far more creatures of habit and even the slightest change in routine, diet, environment or schedule can cause anxious or fearful actions, aggressive behavior or improper elimination,” explains Michele Crowley, senior vice president of marketing for H&C Animal Health.
Relieving cats’ stress is about more than simply righting behavioral issues, though. If left unaddressed, it can place strain on or even break the relationship between the pet and the parent.
“The number one reason cats are returned to shelters is inappropriate peeing,” says Julianna Carella, founder and CEO of Treatibles. “Often, this behavior is rooted in stress. Being back in a shelter can cause even more stress. It’s a viscous and sad cycle. Helping cats reach a state of calm can literally be a life-or-death situation.”
Luckily, pet specialty retailers can play a key role in stopping this unfortunate cycle by providing owners with the education, resources and calming aids they need to manage their cats’ stress.
Symptoms and Triggers
The first step to addressing feline stress is determining when and why they feel this way. Since cats can’t talk, though, pet parents must rely on other means of communication.
Retailers can help bridge this communication gap by educating owners about the common symptoms of stress in cats, including self-isolation, pacing, excessive shedding, overgrooming, weight loss, lack of appetite, diarrhea/constipation, aggression, spraying, increased vocalization and urinating or defecating outside the litter box.
Pet parents may also need assistance identifying the root cause of their stress. While every cat is different, triggers may include things like boredom, overstimulation, loud noises, new people or pets, moving houses, changes in routine or invasion of their personal space.
“Even simple grooming tasks like trimming claws can cause stress for both cat and owner,” says Ashley Stafford, brand manager for Paw CBD. “And almost every cat owner dreads anything that requires getting a cat into a carrier, from veterinary visits to travel.”
Aids to Address Stress
In an ideal world, pet parents would be able to remove all the stressors from their kitty’s life. However, since we don’t live in an ideal world, manufacturers have created other solutions to help keep cats calm.
“After years of being misunderstood, cats are finally having a moment,” says Carella. “Pet parents have more access to information from top cat behavior experts and feline-only veterinarians. They understand that managing a cat’s stress is important for the whole family. And they are seeking products to help.
“It is a great opportunity for retailers to carry a variety of products and to equip themselves with knowledge about what each one offers.”
This is especially true as the world begins to open back up, adds Crowley. “More people will be hosting guests, traveling, and celebrating holidays, which can trigger a cat’s anxiety response,” she explains. “Having calming solutions on shelf will be important as pet specialty stores and their employees are a great ‘go to’ source for pet parents.”
Since every cat is different, it’s important for retailers to offer a robust and diverse selection of calming aid products. One tried-and-true option: products like sprays, chews and infusers that harness the power of pheromones and cats’ natural instincts.
“Felines have a specialized organ on the roof of their mouth called the vomeronasal organ, also known as the Jacobson’s organ,” says Crowley. “This gives cats 10-times the smell receptors as humans, making pheromones critical in the way they communicate. For example, a mother cat uses facial pheromones to help her young ones feel safe. Tapping into this natural communication, pheromone-based products like bSerene, mimic these signals to help reduce stress related behaviors in a safe, drug-free way.”
Another increasingly popular calming solution are products for cats featuring cannabidiol or CBD. According to a recent Brightfield Group report, there has been a 4 percent increase in CBD product use for cats between 2020 and 2021.
“People who have used CBD for themselves and been happy with the results are naturally turning to this hemp-based option for their pets,” says Stafford. “With that, calming-specific products have seen a surge in the last few years. As with any trend, people see what works best for them and seek out similar options for their pets, wanting to share the same positive benefits.”
It’s important to note that research is still being conducted into the actual effects of CBD on pets. However, many owners find that CBD is an effective way to not only relieve cats’ stress, but also benefit their overall wellness.
“There is nothing more holistic than CBD,” says Carella. “It works with the neurological, physiological and immunological systems – the whole body. And with the correct administration of top-quality hemp-derived CBD, most cats experience relief.”
Although dogs often appear to dominate the pet industry, studies show that within pet-owning households, cats actually outnumber dogs. One way to take advantage of felines’ growing popularity – and distinguish your store – is by creating a wellness area just for cat-specific products.
“Cats are not small dogs, and products should be species-specific,” says Stafford. “Unless they have both dogs and cats in the house, pet owners want to know the products they are trusting their cats to are made just for felines and aren’t interchangeable.
“Retailers need to carry more cat-specific options, ones made specifically for the unique needs and physiology of cats.”
Of course, given the relative newness of the category, one of the most effective selling tools at retailers’ disposal is education.
“Retailers should have at least basic knowledge about the highlighted ingredients in the calming products they carry (whether they be herbs, flowers, amino acids, vitamins or CBD),” advises Carella. “It is beneficial to carry brands that offer educational materials and training sessions for staff.”
Since many pet parents begin their search for a solution before they ever step foot in a store, retailers should meet them where they are – online. Consider adding educational materials and resources about calming on your website or social media platforms.
For the in-store experience, category signage should also be heavily based in education to help customers find the best calming aid product for their situation. This could look like signs touting the benefits of calming aids or signs connecting behavioral issues, like aggression or bathroom issues, to stress.
In-store events, like behavior education classes with local shelters or product demonstrations, are also a great way to engage and educate customers.
“For bSerene, we have also had a great deal of success with executing in store demos,” adds Crowley. “One-on-one conversations have provided hands on education for shoppers regarding the benefits of using pheromone-based products. As a halo effect, these demos have also proved to be a great opportunity to educate store employees.” PB