The following post first appeared on iCatCare:
A look back at the trends affecting the mental wellbeing of cats in 2020 and predictions for 2021
With a professional insight into the trends and issues that have an impact on the lives of cats worldwide, iCatCare invited their Feline Wellbeing Panel members to give a round-up of the feline trends that they’ve witnessed in 2020 and their predictions for what we might see in 2021.
iCatCare’s Feline Wellbeing Panel is an international community of motivated cat professionals. Members come from a range of disciplines with backgrounds from academic and professional qualifications to extensive practical experience. Chaired by Dr Sarah Ellis, the panel is dedicated to helping International Cat Care improve the mental wellbeing of cats.
With many countries in lockdown due to COVID-19, businesses have had to find new ways of working in order to continue reaching clients. For many of us, video calls have now become an integral part of work, and behaviourists are no different, using video consultations to see their feline patients.
As well as allowing professionals to continue working to help cats, a major benefit of remote consultations has been reducing additional stress by removing the need for cats to leave their territory and travel or be in close proximity to unfamiliar people. It allows behaviourists to see the cat’s behaviour in their normal environment without the distress that an unfamiliar figure can sometimes cause.
Some panel members also reported that this new method of consultation has made behavioural advice accessible to a greater number of people. Not only is it convenient, appointments aren’t limited by location, so cat owners who live a long way from a behaviourist can easily get advice.
It’s not just the method of consultation that’s changed, some professionals have seen a change in the issues that owners are seeking help for. An increase in kitten aggression towards humans and other cats has been reported. This is likely due to the increase in the number of kittens that have been adopted but might also be caused by the working from home practises that we’ll look at in the next section.
Working from home
With work practises changing, more people have been working from home, spending far longer with their cats than they usually would. Some panel members were concerned that this has led to cats receiving excessive attention, with their usual solitary time now gone. Many cats who may have been used to having free reign of the household during the day may now be forced to share their space with someone for long periods and may receive more attention than they’re comfortable with, as people use their cats to fill up their day.
This means that some kittens and adolescents are being over-stimulated and over-handled, with few outlets for natural behaviour or time to rest.
On the flip side, increased time at home has allowed owners to notice previously unobserved issues for individual cats and unknown problems in relationships in multi-cat households.
Being at home for longer and potentially isolated from friends and family, more people now have the time and desire to adopt a pet. This has led to an increase in the number of cats being fostered, with owners also being more receptive to homing centre staff recommendations due to their inability to meet the cats prior to adoption in many cases . Rather than simply choosing the cat that appeals to them physically, owners have taken staff advice on which animal would best suit their lifestyle.
COVID-19 has also changed how homing centres operate, with fewer staff on site on a daily basis to interact with the cats. One member reported that some rescue centres were concerned that kittens were more skittish than pre-pandemic, as they haven’t received socialisation from as many people as they usually would. This highlights the importance of kittens being fostered with their mothers in home environments for the optimal socialisation process.
Another consequence of the large increase in cats arriving into new homes has been an increased demand for services that tackle behavioural issues that have developed after introducing cats to the household, this might also be influenced by the adoption of a higher number of under-socialised kittens.
When offices begin to reopen and people make the shift away from working from home all the time, some panel members raised concerns that the cats and kittens that have become accustomed to having their owner at home will suffer from separation anxiety when they’re no longer there throughout the day. Of course, this relies on the cat having a close bond and emotional reliance on their owner. This may be something we are more likely to see in our dogs than cats.
Some believed that anxiety may also be on the rise with owners, or at least increased interest in their cats whereabouts, and as a result there will probably be an increased demand for technology that allows owners to monitor their pets at home during the day through video monitors and GPS collars.
Owners returning to the office might have some positive results, with some cat’s glad to have more space and time to themselves, but how cats are affected by this second shift in work practises is likely to be on an individual basis.
Continued rise of remote consultations
Although behaviourists and other feline professionals will likely find it easier to see their clients in person again, members predicted that remote consultations won’t disappear. Due to their convenience and how they can help avoid stress in cats, they’re set to be a permanent feature of how professionals interact with cats.
A trend that has been growing over recent years is a greater interest by owners in their pet’s food. Different diets, their effect on their cat’s health and the sustainability of how they’re produced are all growing concerns for pet owners, and look as though they will continue into 2021.
More research into the human-cat relationship
2020 has seen the publication of some important research relating to feline communication, it was only a few months ago that the slow blink technique was scientifically investigated for the first time. The human-cat relationship is likely to be a popular research topic next year.
Linked to this is a gradual change in the way we frame the ‘owner’ cat relationship. Cats are increasingly being recognised as a member of the family rather than a ‘pet’, and a larger market for premium products has emerged. The rise in online shopping and people spending more time at home with their cats has also led to a boom in subscription boxes and venture capital business based on feline products, and these business models also look set to grow next year.
Find out more about the Feline Wellbeing Panel here