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Do Cats Get Cabin Fever? Find Out!

By: Dr. Debra Primovic

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Do you think cats get cabin fever? This restless, bored feeling sets in after too much time inside, and tends to affect humans the most during the winter. How does cabin fever affect cats? Learn what pet experts have to say on this interesting subject.

Cats are intelligent, active animals and they do get bored. This boredom can get much worse when they're cooped up and often they don't know what to do with their energy. This is common in all cats of any age but seems to affect older cats more frequently. So yes, I do believe that cats can experience "cabin fever."

The degree that this affects a cat depends on whether they are used to going outside. Cats that are indoor-only tend not to get bored by constantly being inside. In fact, when many people get anxious during cold months where travel is difficult, some cats seem become even more affectionate. They might even appreciate the extra attention and company.

Cats that go outside on a regular basis, on the other hand, can struggle with staying indoors when circumstances don't allow for outdoor adventures. This is when the stereotypical "cabin fever" behaviors crop up. Some cat owners elect to keep their cats inside at certain times (such as when they are going out of town for the day or during weather extremes). Other cats go to the door, sense the cold and decide to stay in--but then become frustrated that they are stuck inside.

When writing this article I contacted several veterinarians to get their opinion on the subject. Their answers were all a unanimous yes: cats can get cabin fever!

One veterinarian, Dr. Doug, cited that every week last winter he surgically removed indigestible foreign objects from a cat's stomach. Dr. Emily, a doctor at the local emergency vet, introduced me to a 7-year-old stray named Sammy who ate a 3-foot piece of red yarn which had to be surgically removed two days prior. Dr. Emily told me that the week prior, a different cat named Tiger ate part of a catnip toy and had to have it removed from his stomach.

Dr. Emily showed me records of 3 different cats in the past 3 months (all over 7 years old) who ate objects that required surgery to remove. She said that the entire rest of the year she may see one or two older cats eat household items but many more incidents occur during the winter or other times when they are "cooped up."

The ingestion of foreign objects (commonly called Gastric (Stomach) Foreign Body in Cats can occur in all cats and is by far most common in older cats, especially senior cats. However, as evidenced by Dr. Doug and Dr. Emily's stories, winter can make this more likely.

What can you do to help your cat deal with cabin fever?

  • Get your cat plenty of intellectual puzzle-type toys that keep them busy. One good choice is a round toy that dispenses treats as dogs play. The idea is that in nature cats hunt for their food, and "hunting" in this way is a good way to eliminate boredom

  • Encourage what I call "running-around time." Cats need some time to just let loose and go crazy! Many LOVE the feathery flyer type toys. These consist of a stick or wand with string and "bait" such as a group of feathers or furry toy. As you move the wand in the air or on the floor cats leap and pounce after it-burning up lots of energy and lifting their spirits.

  • Does your cat like catnip? If so, get the most fun out of their catnip by scenting the toys properly and rotating them to keep your cat interested. Buy high-quality fresh catnip and place it with the toys in a plastic bag for a few days. Every month or so, replace your cat's toys with "fresh" ones for the greatest impact. (I love to find toys under chairs or under the sofa and freshen them up with this trick.)

    In summary, I do think that cats get cabin fever. Many times when this happens a cat's energy is channeled into unhealthy outlets such as inappropriate scratching, vocalization, or urination. Be aware that bored cats are often driven to wander and explore and may encounter hazards such as accidental exposure to toxins or ingestion of foreign bodies.

    A happy cat is a busy cat-and I love seeing happy cats! I hope this gives you more information about feline "cabin fever" and how to resolve it.

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