This brave new world of working from home is all very well, but did anyone think to ask the nation’s cats how they feel about their owners being around all day?
Animal experts have said that while many humans are glad to have ditched the routine of being in their office five days a week – especially when it means they can relax after some stressful emails by picking up Mr Tiddles and giving his thick fur a good stroke – many cats are desperate for some alone time.
JoAnna Puzzo, feline welfare manager at Battersea, says that after 18 months of the pandemic she has seen numerous cats that need “time to do their own thing”. Some are showing serious signs of stress, from increased aggression to blocked bladders, caused in part by their solitary lifestyles being disrupted.
Pet owners will have hoped that their animals would be glad of more company and attention – but while most dogs will have loved it, cats often have contrasting desires.
When the pandemic first began, a lot of the worry and advice about how pets would be affected was mainly focused on dogs, explains Puzzo. “It was about how dogs would cope with things like separation anxiety once humans went back to the office.
“We weren’t thinking about how cats were being affected, not only by the change of routine, but also having their owners actually around a lot more.”
It may be a cliché, but cats really are very different from dogs. “It can be quite easy for us to just assume that they’re very similar,” says Claire Stallard, an animal behaviour expert at the charity Blue Cross.
“For the most part, cats are really adaptable and they can cope with a reasonable amount of stress. But lockdown, particularly when schools were shut, was especially difficult. There were a lot of bored children and stress from a lot of people in one house not even being able to escape each other, let alone give the cat any quiet time.”Cats have had their solitary lifestyles interrupted (Photo: Arterra/Universal Images/Getty)
After the pandemic began, Battersea set up a helpline for owners to talk about their cat’s behaviour, and Stallard says that it soon became clear how many the animals were showing frustration at being over-handled.
“Cats typically like to have those interactions on their own terms, so they might want to interact with us several times a day, but for short periods of time,” she says.
Not all cats are the same, however. Those that interrupt video calls by wandering across computer keyboards with their tail held high may indeed prefer to have their family around, says Stallard. Her cat, Sadie, has sadly passed away now but she remembers how much she loved sitting on a laptop.
“Some cats like homeworking because it might be more in line with their own social behaviour, popping in to see you every now and again, rather than you just coming home at the end of the day and then lavishing all your love and attention on the cat.
“We’ve just got to be mindful of those cats which are really used to their privacy and their solitude during the day. Make allowances for that.”Not all cats champion homeworking
How to know if your cat wants you to mog off back to the office
Cats are difficult to read because they can be less expressive than dogs, but they are still very sensitive animals. Battersea’s JoAnna Puzzo advises that these are some of the signs of a stressed cat:
Sleeping more than usual
A dull, dandruff-covered coat
Spending a lot more time outside, away from where any disruption is occurring
Hiding in the house more than usual
Showing a heightened startle response, such as jumping at the slightest noise
“Feigned sleeping” – when a cat pretends to sleep to shut out stress
A change in appetite, over-grooming or over-eating
Urinating or defecating outside the litter tray
If you’re concerned, check with a vet to rule out any medical issues that could be affecting the cat’s behaviour.
Daniel Cummings, behaviour officer at the charity Cats Protection, advises people not to assume their pet is happy just because they’re not causing problems. “We will often say, ‘The cat is fine,’ and by that we mean, ‘The cat is not doing anything that bothers me.’ But if a cat is hiding away for hours, it might be avoiding humans because it’s stressed.
“The key is: are you seeing happy, positive body language from the cat? Has the cat been coming into your room for attention? Is the cat engaging with play? Don’t just assume the cat is happy.”
Mr Cummings says the best way to give our cats the option of more alone time is to make it possible for them to get away from us if they want to. They may benefit from being able to hide in cardboard boxes or igloo beds, so it’s good to leave those lying around. It’s also worth providing cats with high-up spaces they can escape to.Cats need places to get some peace and quiet
“When cats are feeling a bit stressed or uncomfortable,” says Mr Cummings. “They love to get off the ground. Whether you buy a cat tree or just clear a space off the shelf and put a blanket on it, a cat might enjoy that.”
He also encourages people to find a clear Perspex tub or sturdy cardboard box and flip it upside down so the cat is able to stand on it. “You might have a cat walking down the hallway,” he says, “and all of a sudden, three children and a dog come from the other end of the hallway, and the cat’s got nowhere to go.
“Whereas if they can just hop up onto the box and let the dog and the kids walk past without bothering them, they will feel more confident.”
In a really busy household, Cummings also recommends a puzzle feeder – a food dispensing toy – in a quiet spot.
Of course, the greatest thing we can do is to book ourselves a trip and give the cat the personal space it’s been craving for 18 months.
You never know, it might even be happy to see us when we get back.