Cats are known for their independent and sometimes aloof nature, which means these self-sufficient felines can feel stressed when it comes to handling. Whether it’s a routine veterinary visit or just grooming at home, understanding how to handle your cat in a way that minimizes stress is crucial for their wellbeing. Let’s explore seven feline-friendly handling tips from our team at Just Cats Clinic to help you reduce your cat’s stress and build a stronger bond with them.
#1: Gradually introduce your cat to new situations
When introducing your cat to a new handling situation, take it slow. Allow them to sniff and explore the environment at their own pace. Gradually introduce your touch by gently petting them in areas they enjoy, such as the head or back. This helps build trust and makes them more comfortable with potentially unpleasant handling, such as gentle restraint for brushing, nail trims, or toothbrushing.
#2: Reward with positive reinforcement
Cats, like all creatures, respond well to positive reinforcement. Use treats or favorite toys to reward your cat during and after handling to create a positive association with the experience and encourage cooperation. Remember to be patient and generous with rewards, as unfamiliar handling can be particularly unsettling for a cautious cat. As a prey species, your cat’s survival instincts can make them resistant to restraint and handling, no matter how gentle your techniques are, so always reward your pet to create a positive experience.
#3: Respect your cat’s body language
Cats communicate through body language, and understanding their signals is crucial. Oftentimes, subtle body language cues go undetected until the stressed or fearful cat hisses, swats, or bites. If your cat shows signs of distress, such as flattened ears, dilated pupils, or a swishing tail, it’s essential to give them space and allow them to calm down. Recognizing and respecting your cat’s boundaries helps prevent overwhelming situations.
#4: Help your cat feel safe and secure with feline-friendly handling techniques
When picking up your cat, use secure and gentle handling techniques. Support their entire body to make them feel secure and avoid putting pressure on their sensitive areas. Most cats prefer to be safely ensconced on their owner’s lap or placed in a cozy bed when being handled for such tasks as nail trims or toothbrushing, as these spots make them feel secure.
To keep your cat restrained with minimal force and stress, use towels or blankets instead of grabbing their scruff. “Scruffing” is an extremely outdated handling method that causes significant distress and discomfort to the cat, because their scruff is typically only held by other cats during mating or fighting. Instead, use a towel or thin blanket to securely wrap your cat’s body in a variety of ways to allow safe access to their head or paws.
#5: Acclimate your cat to grooming tools
When using grooming tools, let your cat become familiar with them before use. Allow them to sniff the brushes, nail clippers, and toothbrush, rewarding them for their curiosity. As you start using the grooming tools, let your cat dictate how long the acclimation sessions last. If they show signs of unease and stress, allow them to walk away, but offer treats and gentle petting to help lay the groundwork for a positive association.
#6: Create safe spaces for your cat
Cats appreciate having safe spaces to which they can retreat when feeling overwhelmed. Provide hiding spots or cozy areas in your home where your cat can relax and feel secure. This becomes especially important when introducing them to new people, environments, or handling situations.
Turning your cat’s carrier into a safe space is an excellent idea and one that can make travel much easier. Leave the carrier out in a quiet location, make it comfortable, and occasionally toss strong-smelling treats inside. Your cat will continue to investigate the carrier in hopes of a reward, and will likely curl up in the cozy bed inside for a snooze. The next time you need to load your cat into the carrier, lure them in with a few treats and avoid a claws-out fight.
#7: Use feline calming products
Numerous feline calming products are on the market, and it can take some trial and error to determine which ones work best for your cat. Popular products include Feliway pheromone sprays and diffusers, compression wraps, soothing playlists, and Zylkene and Purina calming care supplements and diets.
Reducing your cat’s stress during handling not only ensures their physical wellbeing but also strengthens the bond between you and them. By taking a patient and feline-friendly approach, you can create a positive experience for your cat, making handling more comfortable and enjoyable for both of you.
At Just Cats Clinic, our team is proud to be a gold level certified Cat Friendly Practice. See for yourself what a difference feline-centric veterinary care makes in your cat’s comfort levels by scheduling an appointment.