Kris Hill from the Society for Companion Animal Studies (SCAS) discusses how to keep cats feeling safe and secure during the spooky season.
Halloween and Guy Fawkes night (in the UK) are great fun for children and adults of all ages, and no one wants to be a party pooper. However, scary costumes and fireworks can cause harm and distress to wildlife, horses, and companion animals. As a species, cats tend to hide pain and discomfort. This is especially so in newly adopted cats who are not fully settled with their new family and unfamiliar surroundings. Check out blogs from SCAS on the importance of recognising feline body language and from Cats Protection for some help recognising the more subtle aspects of feline body language.
This article discusses some of the ways we can ensure our feline friends remain safe and feel protected during the spooky season.
Beware those ‘scary’ children!
Some cats who were never socialised to children remain terrified of excitable little humans, a fear that often gets worse in old age when stiff joints or failing eyesight may cause them to feel more vulnerable.
When trick-or-treaters knocked on our door, both my elderly cats would run to the back room and hide. To my two cats the children themselves, rather than their costumes were terrifying. This was unfortunate when friends and family brought round children who loved cats! However, forcing cats to interact is both traumatising to the cats and potentially dangerous. Fearful cats may lash out if they feel cornered, and any scratches need immediate attention to avoid infection (see here for advice). Fearful cats are best left alone in their safe place – under the sofa, under the bed, or wherever they feel most secure. Perhaps when the children are less excitable (not dressed up and full of sugary sweets!) an introduction might be attempted. See here for some tips and advice from Battersea on introducing cats to children, and vice versa.
Not all cats are stressed by children, and cats can be the perfect childhood companion. However, cat guardians and parents do need to be alert to signs of feline stress and educate children appropriately on how to interact with cats (or any animal).
Check out our SCAS blog on the importance of socialising kittens, especially if children or visiting grandchildren might be in your future.
The shelter I adopted my cat Sophie from were reluctant to rehome black cats in the run up to Halloween, saying they were afraid that some people might want them primarily as costume accessories (such as a witch’s black cat)! More nefarious concerns also continue to circulate regarding attacks on black cats, and it cannot hurt to be particularly vigilant of all cats at this time of the year who may become spooked by decorations and fireworks.
Anyway, we were able to bring Sophie home in time for what became the annual pumpkin photo shoot, in which she consented to participate most years. However, it is important not to force cats to be photo props. If a cat decides not to sit still next to the pumpkin, or objects to being held by a child (or adult) in costume, please let them be. Cats are NOT decorations nor props!
Another danger, not exclusive to Halloween and jack-o-lanterns, are candles around cats (and dogs). Live flames should never be left unattended around cats. It only takes the quickest flip of their tail to catch light, so the safest choice is an artificial candle.
Save the costumes for the humans!
You may see ‘cat costumes’ in stores or sold on Amazon, and social media is full of ‘cute’ animals wearing clothes and accessories. However, very few cats enjoy this and may show signs of distress or discomfort. Furthermore, poorly fitted, or cheaply designed costumes may be dangerous, especially if the cat becomes panicked. We also strongly advise against dressing up cats for our amusement and urge you to think twice before sharing posts and memes of cats in costumes.
Fireworks are not so fun for our furry friends!
In the UK, Guy Fawkes night follows Halloween. This year the 5th of November falls on a Sunday, but fireworks and bonfires parties may take place the weekend before or afterwards. Read Cats Protection’s advice on ways to help your cat stay calm during fireworks season and how to identify symptoms of stress in your cat.
[Not so mad] Cat Scientists
Research into cat behaviour and cat-human relationships has a lot of catching up to do with the many more studies published on dog behaviour and dog-human relationships. World renowned cat behaviourist, Dr. Dennis Turner, reflected on the questions that remain unanswered. This is well worth a read for anyone interested in cats, but especially students considering making a career out of studying cats. Also, see here for tips on other careers working with animals. It’s never too young to start as one schoolboy demonstrated with this innovative cat-related science project.
Early this year SCAS trustees and members attended the annual International Society of Anthrozoology (ISAZ) conference, and Kris Hill reported on ongoing research in Feline Anthrozoology: The Study of Cat-Human Relationships!
Perhaps ‘cat scientist’ could be a costume idea for next Halloween? Although we are not that scary – but then, neither are black cats!
SCAS is the UK’s leading human-companion animal bond organisation through funding research, providing education, raising awareness, encouraging best practice, and influencing the development of policies and practices that support the human-companion animal bond. For more details check out our website at www.scas.org.uk