An opinionated feline in Edmonton, Canada who lived with a retired cat behaviourist, Greyce provided behavioral advice to cats in need until her death in July 2014. Because her entries are useful even today, the blog remains posted.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Celeste the Cat Deals with Construction Noise

Hi Greyce,

You've already given me recent information on what to do with my peeing at the edge of my litter box (see Peeing Outside the Box: Celeste's Problem) and now I need your advice on another matter. My neighbourhood is headed for a lot of construction activity on the street in front of my house, and I'm concerned about how to handle it.

So let me give you more particulars.

As before, I'm still a 5-year-old, declawed calico in a quiet home with two purrsons and no other pets. Both of them work outside the home, so I'm alone for a good part of the day. As you already know, I spend a lot of time in my safe room in the basement. I sleep there during the day most especially in winter (because I'm bored). And I sleep there every night (door closed) because it is my prefurrence. I am a creature of habit.

A purrson comes to call on me between 6:00 and 8:00 a.m. and follows me around the basement while I mark all my stuff. This is a ritual with us.

Then we eat breakfast (kibble for me) and Themselves go to work. Herself works from home on average one day a week. We hang out on the weekend while Himself indulges in athletic activities.

About once a week I hang out with a visitor. I really enjoy the cleaning lady who comes every other week and the lady would comes on alternate weeks to cook. In fact, I'm very friendly and enjoy being with people. 

I like to watch other animals from the window, though. I like to sit on a short cat tree by the window or on some of the chairs. If I see another cat or a dog outside, I just watch them calmly, knowing that they cannot invade my home.  however, I have no interest in going outside. In fact if the door is wide open I will hide near the middle of the house.

I have the use of the home (one storey with basement). There is a basket with a blanket on it for me in the living room. I have a cushion on the hearth. There is a kitty pad on the desk near the window where I like to sleep when Herself works from home. In fact, there are a lot of fake fur blankets around the house and I rest on them all!

At dinner I get wet food which I'm beginning to enjoy - though I still like dry in the morning. My weight is purrfect and I have a waist line just like in the charts at the vet clinic. I am a poster cat! And I'm in good health - except for some urine crystals (now handled with a special diet) which I think were a stress reaction to some changes (including a death in the family) that happened in the spring.

Almost every night between 8:30 and 9:30 p.m. Herself and I cuddle up beside one another to read. I must admit to interfering with the reading process by marking her hand repeatedly, purring very loudly and looking in to her eyes.

Most times Himself is also present. Then I have trouble deciding who gets to cuddle with me. I'm a super cuddler and there is no part of my body that I will not let you touch. I love nothing more than being followed from room to room and being touched repeatedly.

At bedtime Himself puts me to bed, giving me lots of cuddles before I'm tucked in.

I adore both folks and receive lots of attention and belly rubs from both of them. I also have many toys: fur mice, cloth chew sticks (my favourite), and a fishing-pole toy called Da Bird. And then there's that circular pad with a ball inside (in my safe room) that I love working out on.

I am so happy when Herself pulls Da Bird out of the cupboard but she does not do it often enough. In fact, Greyce, that's my only real complaint. I get played with maybe twice a week. Lots of cuddles but very little play.

Does it surprise you that while friendly and a cuddler, I'm also watchful and startle easily? That is why I'm concerned about this construction noise. How can I cope?



Dear Celeste,

You are right to be concerned, especially since you are reactive (a term that means you startle easily) and have had a recent history of stress reaction. Your reaction to the possibility of going outdoors also suggests that you have led a sheltered life and tend not to have a very high curiosity level. Basically you are a somewhat shy, people-oriented cat who loves to be touched.

As you know, changes to our territory (and that construction activity certain counts as one) can be very disturbing because of how we think. Any territorial change contains the possibility of a shortage of valued resources (like food, water, safe sleeping areas) and thus merits attention. A more resilient cat (one who doesn't startle easily and has had a broader range of experience) would more easily be able to roll with the punches. Though truth be told, ongoing construction noise is not high on any cat's list of favoured activities.

What to do?

You have some things working in your favour.

You have window perches from which you can view the activity - along with a history of being able to watch movement calmly. At least you can see the source of the blast (and that is less stressful than wondering where the noise comes from) - though the noise of drills is likely another thing.

Luckily you have a safe room to which you could retreat. You likely have other areas of the basement or the main floor that would offer shelter at this time. With your folks in hand, try to determine which rooms in the house will be the least impacted by the noise and make sure you have resting places and toys there.

When the going gets rough, some of us prefurr a more enclosed space like a hiding box with an opening facing the entryway of the room we are in - just in case those construction noisemakers come into the house! Others like to be under a low table - which can work well especially is there is a blanket or cloth over it - with just enough room to peek out without being seen.

Let's also have a look at some other anti-anxiety measures that I've discussed in recent blog entries.

I've given Lily and Misha a list of herbal remedies that are calmative - just clear them with your vet, first. Check out their entry, Re-integrating Friends At War (June 29, 2012) and scroll down to the relevant section.

A Feliway diffuser in your retreat room (whichever you prefurr when the noise is around) could help as well. Check out the entry, What Good is Feliway? (April 30, 2010).

Being a super cuddler (and your folks seem to like it to), I would strongly recommend that they turn some of those cuddling sessions into ones involving intentional touch - because that, too, has a calmative effect. Check out that entry I mentioned about Lily and Misha because it contains descriptions and references about the kinds of touch I mean.

You can also check out Amy Shojai's blog which explains possibilities for using sound and music in calming ways, especially for cats.

These are all valid ways to deal with the stress of construction noise. Have a look through the references and see what might interest you the most. (I vote for some form of touch - at the very least).

But now, Celeste, I have to deliver a strong word about your current routine. As an only-cat in a quiet household, you really need to do more about getting some stimulation. Not too much, of course, because you are reactive. But stimulation would help lessen your reactivity - a lot!

You MUST Have More Frequent Interactive Play

While you are a wonderfully indulged cat in a loving home, there is a very important element missing. You've hit it exactly with your paw: lack of interactive play. Your folks enjoy being with you in a cuddling kind of way. And they rely on you to keep yourself entertained while you are alone in the house - a lot.

Sorry, by cuddling - though very, very nice - just doesn't cut it in the feline kingdom. Twice-weekly sessions of play are insufficient for cats who need a twice-daily schedule.  If Herself can find time to pretend to read while she really is paying attention to you, then purrhaps she can take 10 to 15 minutes from that session and bring out Da Bird - followed by a small snack and some intentional touch.

I want you to consult my blog entry, Weaning A Kitten from Biting Humans (June 18, 2012). Of course, you are NOT a kitten and you do NOT bite people. BUT and it is a big BUT, there is relevant information for you which explains the importance of daily, predatory play. It will explain that it lowers arousal levels (meaning, anxiety). I want you to read the section starting with, Train Your Folks to Help You Get the Most Out of Play. And read to the end of the entire entry (skipping the bits about the outdoors). Some of the toy suggestions may not interest you, but have a general look at them to get an overview.

You Need an Environmental Enrichment Program

Celeste you have loving people and many fine cat things in your home. You are a lucky cat. But being an only-cat and an indoor-only cat, you could really benefit from more environmental enrichment. No, I'm not suggesting you get out your charge card and go shopping at the local pet supply store. Far from it.

Instead, I want you to follow Keko's story, which began posting on July 7, 2012 and will continue until the 12th. Keep in mind that although anxiety is at issue for you both, Keko is a very intelligent (genius level), very high energy, sociable Bengal cat who is quite beautiful. You, my dear, are likely intelligent (university level), with lower energy and curiousity, yetvery sociable and somewhat skittish; it goes without saying that you, too, are very beautiful. In short, this means that some of the suggestions I made for her - like agility courses - would not apply to you. Nevertheless, read the entries through and think about what might be suitable in your case.

Celeste, there you have it:
- several ways to reduce anxiety,
- a requirement for more frequent and more challenging interactive play,
- the potential for an environmental enrichment program.

Once you have read Keko's entries and figured out what you would like to implement, let me know. I'd be please to help fine-tune them for you.

Please keep me posted,