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Tete-a-tete: When dealing with cabin fever, this cat’s on a roll

Cabin fever is an essential part of New Hampshire winters, and one of the things that makes spring so welcome. After months of shoveling snow and cleaning off the car, it’s positively invigorating to do something outdoors that doesn’t involve that white fluffy stuff.

This goes double for those furry family members who are accustomed to getting plenty of outside time during the more temperate seasons. When massive snowbanks interfere with their recreation for a prolonged period of time, the resulting frustration can lead to damaged furniture, chewed shoes and knickknacks being knocked off the mantelpiece – unless you (or your pet) get creative.

Pets do not always understand winter, especially young pets. When Boots, our family cat, adopted us about two years ago, the vet estimated she was about 7-10 years old based on the condition of her teeth. And then, Boots started getting longer.

Instead of a senior kitizen, it turned out we had an adolescent on our hands. The bad teeth, we believe, are due to Boots having to hunt in order to survive while she was living outdoors. To this day, when she kills something, she eats everything but the head, tail and entrails. It’s a very economical practice but makes for a lot of wear and tear on the teeth.

Once we realized how young she was, some of Boots’ behavior made more sense – like the fact that she expects snow to disappear overnight.

All winter long, she would insist on going outside, only to hurry back in after discovering the snow hadn’t gone away and was still covering over the holes and burrows of the local wildlife. Her hunting instincts thwarted, Bootsie needed more playtime to burn off her energy. When our busy schedules interfered with that playtime, she would take out her frustrations on the side of the couch.

We keep her well stocked with toys, but they don’t really last long. Anything with catnip in it is gutted in a matter of hours. After a failed period of trial and error during which we attempted to find more durable options, Boots herself unexpectedly hit on a creative solution – or, more accurately, dragged said solution to the ground and destroyed it.

Dad had been doing some cleaning, and he left a roll of paper towels standing on end in the middle of the family room floor. Boots wandered over to it and gave it a long, hard stare. She bopped it with her paw, reflected for a moment and then, to our surprise, launched herself at it as though it were her deadliest foe.

She wrestled with the roll of paper towels for several minutes, tearing through the layers with teeth and claws. Boots and the roll were about the same size, which made for a satisfying battle on her part. Since there are a lot of layers to rip through and it’s not the easiest work to do, that one paper towel roll lasted her about a week, which is far longer than most of her toys.

The carpet did end up covered in piles of paper towel confetti, but that level of cleanup was more than acceptable if it meant we could preserve the couch and keep the kitty happy.

Paper towel rolls helped Bootsie get through the long winter, and now they’re helping her cope with the disappointments of spring. Even though she was surviving on her own outdoors before she adopted us, we do have some ground rules for when she goes outside. First, she can’t go out when it’s dark, and second, she can’t go out unless someone is home to let her back in (and out, and in, and out, and …). This leaves a limited amount of time in which she can go outside and enjoy the lovely spring weather.

To the kitty’s great dismay, an entire beautiful day might pass with her only being able to spend a few minutes outside. It might even rain, which means no outside time at all. (We still offer to let her out when it rains, but she’s not a fan of precipitation.) On days like these, she retreats to the living room and shreds some paper towels.

Being cooped up all winter is rough whether you’re a person or a pet. If the weather is right for outdoor adventures but the timing isn’t, consider taking Boots’ approach. Find something inexpensive and satisfying to take out your frustrations on, and make the most of the outside time you do get.

Please do remember, though, that unlike Boots, you will have to clean up your own mess. So choose your target carefully.

– Teresa Santoski

Originally published May 4, 2017


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