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What is causing my cat's sudden behavior changes?

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Question: What is causing my cat's sudden behavior changes?

We adopted 2 kitten brothers from our local shelter 9 months ago. They are both healthy and active, but Baby is having nightmares. He tosses and turns and makes noises at night. Baby is very loving but a little more cautious than Biggie.

We recently traveled with them for 14 days and everything went well. We were very proud of them. Recently, around daylight savings, something seemed to change. Their sleep habits changed and Baby is backing up and running from us, especially after waking, 75 percent of the time. They seem healthy and normal otherwise.

What do you think the cause could be and how can we correct it?
Answer:

I don't pretend to be the one-source-knows-all expert on complex situations such as the one you outlined. What I do know is that sudden behavioral changes always indicate a problem, as you are aware.

As you probably know, cats are creatures of habit and intensely dislike changes of any kind - even innocuous changes such as moving furniture. Your cats have a lot of history behind them, with many changes in their short lives.

You do not have control over their history prior to the time you adopted them. However you do have control over their present environment. Just recently, they have been through two periods of change: a 14-day trip and daylight savings time. Perhaps there have been other seemingly minor events you have not mentioned.

I have no way of knowing which of these events may have caused their behavioral changes. Even though "everything went well" during your 14-day trip, it could have left a definite feeling of insecurity and fear with them, especially Baby, who apparently is becoming more fearful. The daylight savings time change could also have an effect on their sleep patterns.

My suggested plan of action is:

  1. Take Baby to your veterinarian to eliminate any physical reasons for his apparent nightmares and fear. If the exam reveals no medical problems, ask your vet if there is any medication to temporarily help get him through this period.
  2. Establish a daily routine and stick to it as much as possible. Try to avoid activities such as parties, construction, and guests the cats have not previously met, for at least three months. If you have emergencies requiring repair persons, such as a plumbing leak, isolate the cats in a "safe room" until the problem is fixed. Give Baby a little extra attention after the repair person is gone.
  3. Spend as much personal time as you can with Baby, without ignoring Biggie. Let him come to you, though. If he backs up and runs away, just go about your business. Let him set the pace for your relationship to develop.

I'm fairly certain that once your cats are comfortable with their routine, Baby's fears will be allayed, his nightmares will be a thing of the past, and he will once more be your loving cat.

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