Like so many others who are in shelter-in-place or quarantine mode as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, Rita Reimers is spending a lot of time at home with her pets. In Reimers’ case, she says her cats are “the only living entity” that she can interact with right now.
As someone who usually works from home, has 19 rescue felines and is a cat behaviorist, the South Carolina-based Reimers has plenty of useful information to share with current and prospective feline owners who are mostly staying indoors during the COVID-19 crisis.
“Cultivating a close relationship with your kitties and making sure you’re not ignoring them during this pandemic is very important — both for them and for you,” said Reimers, as one of her cats — in what might be called feline intuition, if such a thing exists — softly meowed while she was in mid-sentence.
In recent weeks, homebound cat owners have contacted Reimers with behavior-type questions, chief among them whether it’s normal for their pets to sleep so much. (The short answer is yes.) And because cats are sensitive, it’s also common for them to notice our emotions and react to them, she adds.
“So people might notice their cats having a little more anxiety than normal,” said Reimers, who runs Just for Cats, a feline health and wellness company.
“If you don’t give them attention every day — petting, brushing, talking to them — cats will quickly revert to being that quintessential ‘aloof kitty,’” Reimers explained. “They might start having anxiety issues. I’ve seen cats starving for attention attack people’s ankles. So it’s really important you just don’t let your cats be off on their own.”
Kittens, in particular, require plenty of socialization.
“It’s important to teach them that toys are for playing and hands are for petting,” she said. “You watch how kittens play with one another — they can get rough. They’re teaching each other social behavior and social cues. One will tell the other, ‘Ow, that hurts.’ And if you have one kitten and they’re not able to learn from a sibling, then you have to be the one to teach them what behaviors are acceptable and what ones aren’t.”
According to Reimers, playing the role of teacher with a kitten does not involve yelling: “When your cat decides to chew on your hand, you put it on the floor and walk away. You withdraw your attention for a little while.”
Buying supplies, doing research
While cooped up with your cat, Reimers recommends having a surplus of food and litter (click here for her blog entry on dealing with shortages) and plenty of interactive toys.
“My favorite is a very inexpensive toy called a cat dancer,” she said. “It helps mimic the hunting instincts that you cat would do. A laser pointer is good, but the thing about the laser pointer is they never catch it, so you could end up with a cat that’s frustrated. So after playing with the laser pointer for a while, you need to change it and throw a soft toy or something they can catch so they actually get that sense they hunted and caught their prey.”
With animal shelters and rescues closed along with other businesses deemed nonessential, Reimers says now is an ideal time for prospective pet parents to do some online homework on available cats in their area. Also, a little reading on “what you really need in a household to make your home fit for a cat” is a good idea.
She recommends the Jackson Galaxy-Kate Benjamin book “Catification: Designing a Happy and Stylish Home for Your Cat (and You!)” and their follow-up, “Catify to Satisfy: Simple Solutions for Creating a Cat-Friendly Home.” The first book, she said, “explains why cats need cat trees [and other items] in the home to maintain how they would live out in the wild so they don’t go stir crazy and tear up your house.” The second book has a lot aesthetically pleasing yet functional ideas about décor.
Speaking of books, look for Reimers’ latest, “The LUCKY CAT Approach to Cat Behavior Correction,” to be released by this fall.
“ ‘The LUCKY CAT Approach’ is about loving your cat unconditionally, the way he is,” said Reimers, who cites a semi-feral feline of hers as an example. “That means if you have a cat who is not a lap cat, and what you wanted was a lap cat, you just have to accept that he’s not a lap cat. You can’t force him to be one. You have to understand your cat’s point of view on life and his unique capabilities.”