Saturday, February 12, 2011

Pets and stress

"Into each life a little rain must fall" - or so the saying goes. No matter how well your life is going, there's bound to be some stressful moments. We all have them, and we all need to deal with them in one way or another. But many of us forget how our stress can affect our pets.

James and I are no exception. Both our cats are very good at sensing when something is wrong with either of us, and usually they take it in stride and try to stick by us with purrs and snuggles to try and make it all better. Lately, though, since we both manage to injure ourselves slipping around on the ice and snow, we haven't been able to get out and blow off steam with a good dose of exercise like we normally can. So, naturally, we've taken to ranting a bit while at home to air out complaints in private, whether they be about work, politics, or whatever happens to be going on. Now, this is a normal practice and one most wouldn't think anything of. It's not like we're yelling at or about each other, just grumping about those pet peeves that we can normally just walk off.

The trick comes when you've got a cat who, by our reckoning, seems to have the approximate intelligence of a human toddler. There's a reason most people don't like to let Junior see Mommy and Daddy yelling - it upsets him, and for a kid that young it can be hard to explain. Anubis is very much the same, except for him, it's impossible to explain given that you can't just sit down and have a talk with your cat to tell him what's going on. He may understand a bit of language (no, down, good kitty, food, that sort of thing - especially food, that's the important one), but he has his limits, it's just not within his scope.

Also much like a child, Anubis has a habit of acting out when he is confused and upset. Many animals do, in fact, for various reasons. The problem being that although a child can tell you what's wrong - your pet can't. So when Anubis started chasing after Simba when she was clearly done playing, and trying to play too rough, at first we couldn't understand why he had suddenly stopped being polite. More than this, he was not listening when daddy told him "no", which is a very rare occurrence.

It was just this morning that we discovered the reason, as we had the time to really notice the succession of events. We were having a good rant, raised voices and all and after staring back and forth between us for a moment, Anubis made his way straight toward Simba and started swatting at her. The light bulb turned on. He thought we were yelling at each other. Last time daddy got yelled at by somebody that much, daddy had to move. Besides which, he is used to seeing us quite a bit calmer around each other, so the change was cause for confusion. It was not normal, and not-normal things very often make pets very upset. So when he heard us yelling, he ran off to do something he knew would make daddy come get him. It was a predictable reaction, and one he had some degree of control over, as well as a way of getting attention. Of course, we have no way of explaining to him that we aren't really fighting and that his position in the household is not in danger, so in order to change his behavior, we have to change ours.

So we have decided from now on if there's something worth yelling about, it needs to be done outside of the house as much as possible so Anubis won't go taking his confusion and frustration out on Simba.

That's part of the trick of handling behavior problems in pets - the behavior doesn't always match the cause as much as you might think, you have to do a bit of sleuthing and really figure out what changed around the time the problem started. Sometimes it is as simple as pooping in your shoes because you suddenly started going to work or school every day again after a long time of being home. Sometimes it's more complicated. And from my experience, the smarter your pet is, the more complicated their problems can be, not least of which because they can come up with much more creative ways of getting into trouble.