If we share a home with a beloved cat, we’ll likely have the opportunity to engage in cat-care interactions that may be a challenge, a perceived challenge, or unfamiliar. If we are giving our cat a pill for the first time, we may have preconceptions about how the pill-giving event is going to transpire. We may assume the worst. We could be riding in the car with our cat for the first time, clipping claws, or giving subcutaneous fluids. And if we’re not mindful and we assume the worst outcome, our body and our actions will betray us, and our cat will pick up on our own vibe, potentially creating more stress for the cat and for us.
We humans can create an entire good or bad story about an action before we carry out that action. We have busy and untrained minds and imaginations that can spin into many directions. Guess what? We tighten our bodies, stop breathing, picture bad outcomes, and approach the needed action with aggression, clumsiness, nervousness, or fear. Our cats pick up on this. If we assume that something we need to do to our cat (giving a pill, for example, or clipping claws) is going to go badly, then we’ll proceed with ingrained tension, and chances are that our cats will pick up on this. How can we make sure that we make cat care, and our cat interactions in general, a fear free experience for both human and cat?
Put those expectations out of your mind.
Remind yourself that you can never really know the outcome of something you want to carry out. Try to enter into each experience without assuming the worst. If your cat had a bad experience taking a pill, that doesn’t mean that the cat will always have the same experience. Believe that you can swing the outcome in a different (better) direction by modifying your thoughts and your actions. If it’s too much of a stretch to picture a positive outcome, try not picturing any outcome. Instead, keep your mind in the present moment.
Take A Deep Breath
Breathe through the nose, and repeat.
Deep breathing (or diaphragmatic breathing through the nose on the inhale and the exhale) will instantly induce relaxation in your body. This is counter to the way that most of us breathe much of the time. Try it, and keep repeating, breath after breath. This will help you to interact with your cat calmly. Do this all the time, and you’ll move through life a lot more calmly – with your cats and with anyone else.
Now that your mind is a blank slate (right?), physically enter into the interaction slowly. Don’t surprise or rush your cat. Make your presence known and let your cat see you, rather than surprising the cat from behind. Show the cat the claw clippers or the brush. Take it slow. Move slowly and without stress.
Know Your Cat
All cats are different. Know your cat, and know what works for your cat. If your cat does better in a quiet environment, clip his claws in the absence of jarring noise. If your cat hates to be held with his belly exposed, see if you can clip his claws without exposing his underside.
We worked slowly with my black cat to get him to enjoy being brushed. We knew that he loved the feeling of the brush against his jaw, so we let him lean into the brush. We mostly brush his head (which he loves), and we occasionally brush the rest of his body. He’s not as crazy about that, but we’ve learned to read his moods and know when he’s more accepting of a full-body brushing experience.
Our own demeanor, and the thought that we bring to carrying out cat care, can make all the difference between a miserable or a fear free experience for our cats.
This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.
Catherine Holm is the award-winning author of cat fantasy fiction and cat-themed memoir. She lives in Vermont with her husband and five well-loved cats. Learn about her work at www.catherineholm.com.