Before Andrew Davidson embarked on a major home renovation project two years ago, the Long Island resident sat down and planned every step of the process — including a discussion on how to make life as stress-free as possible for his two cats, Blaze and Sadie.
“I was fortunate that there was an extra bedroom where I could put the cats while the demo work and rebuilding was going on in other parts of the house,” explained Davidson, who spent close to a year in the throes of construction. “I put everything in the room that the cats would need — food and water bowls, a litter box and their beds.”
Even under the best of circumstances, the noise, dust and overall chaos of home remodeling is pretty disruptive, so it’s easy to imagine how stressful construction can be for cats, who thrive on calmness and consistency in their daily lives. When their schedule is disrupted, cats can start exhibiting a number of undesirable behaviors; one of the most common is urine marking.
“A home remodeling project is one of the top 10 reasons why cats start urinating around the house,” says Nicholas Dodman, BVMS, Professor Emeritus at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University. “To the owner, it’s mysterious when they discover that their formerly house-trained cat starts piddling all over the place. It’s not a litter box problem; it’s an anxiety issue.”
Dr. Dodman emphasizes that cats will usually urine mark in strategic locations around the house to let owners know what they are nervous about. “If a cat is anxious about a construction worker in a certain part of the house, the cat may go in after him and mark around the area where he’s been,” he says. “Workers are seen as invaders and a sensitive, territorial cat will not appreciate them being in the home. As far as the cat is concerned, she can’t wait for the workers to go. As an owner, you should do your best to keep them separated.”
If there is one word to describe cats, it’s this one: territorial. Yes, cats belong to people, but they really belong to places.
“We’ve all heard amazing stories of cats who have traveled great distances to return to their former homes after their families have moved. Well, it’s the same with a construction project. A cat has her house — her territory — and a very powerful instinct to defend that space. Then here comes a work crew and all of a sudden, a normally confident, sweet cat turns aggressive and starts hissing or biting, or a shy cat may retreat as far away from the construction zone as possible,” says Dr. Dodman. “When the workers are gone, however, the cat will sneak around and mark territory with urine and may continue doing so even after construction is complete.”
If your cat begins urine marking, you need to take a proactive approach to solving the problem as quickly as possible.
“Start by purchasing a black light from a hardware store,” suggests Dr. Dodman. “In the dark, shine the light in every nook and cranny of your house and pinpoint every urine mark with the fluorescent light. Then, aggressively treat those marks with an odor remover — my favorite is a product called Zero Odor. For cats who are determined to continue marking, short-term use of an anti-anxiety medication may be necessary to help get them back on track.”
Dr. Dodman also advises clients to be cognizant of their cats’ safety and well being during construction.
Create a safety zone
“Map out a detailed floor plan of your home and look for rooms or certain portions of the house that can be closed off to provide a secure, quiet place for your cats,” he says.
In addition, he suggests protecting cats as much as possible from the sights, sounds and smells associated with construction. Putting up plastic dust screens or blankets not only help reduce the amount of dust and debris in the air, but they can also shield a cat from getting full visual access to the work and workers. And setting a radio to a station with soothing music or turning on a television can help mask the sounds of hammering and drilling.
“Make your cats’ environment as happy and user-friendly as possible,” recommends Dr. Dodman. “Instead of sitting around all day worrying, your cats can relax or play.”
Weigh housing options
Many owners contemplate boarding their cats at a kennel during the craziness of construction. For some, this option works well, especially if the cat is outgoing and tolerant of other cats. For others, however, being shipped off to a boarding facility is even more stressful than remaining at home.
A good compromise to consider: Ask a friend, family member or neighbor to care for your cats during the most disruptive portion of the project or anytime your cat might be in danger of exposure to dangerous substances. — Catnip staff