This isn’t about the life-changing magic of tidying up your cat’s clutter. Even though a clean litter box will bring joy to you and your cat.

Today’s post is about spring cleaning from your cat’s point of view. Something many cat parents overlook.

Spring cleaning is an annual ritual of refreshing your home top to bottom. That wonderful time of year to throw open the doors and let the fresh spring air move in.

Some have linked the ancient roots of this tradition to the Persian New Year, which falls on the first day of spring. The practice of khaneh tekani in Iran literally translates to “shaking the house”.  And cleaning everything from upholstery to drapery marks the occasion.

But what if I told you that spring cleaning could cause your cat stress? It sounds a bit crazy, right?

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Shake the house, not the cat

“Cats live in a world that is—subjectively speaking—quite different from ours,” writes Johnathan Bradshaw in “Cat Sense.

The truth is, cats are obsessed with territory—a sophisticated network of safe pathways between where they eat, sleep, and take care of important cat business. And, they typically rub their faces against furniture to mark their territory multiple times a day. But they may also spray, scratch, and urinate.

3 Stress-free Spring Cleaning Tips for You and Your Cat

Considering most adult cats are about 8–10 inches tall—just short of an upholstered ottoman—small changes in furniture placement shakes your cat’s world and may cause a great deal of anxiety.

While it’s tempting to re-arrange the furniture as part of your annual spring cleaning, it’s best to make incremental changes. If you embark upon a complete makeover, prepare for your cat to mark his territory as he gets re-acquainted with his surroundings.

One way to reduce stress, is to keep cat trees and blankets in the same location even if the surrounding furniture moves. And always keep a good enzyme cleaner on hand for the occasional mishap.

See related:

Cat Shedding Season: 7 Ways to Wrangle the Fur

Ditch the deodorizers

Cats have an extraordinary response to strong odors.

In July 2003, the Russian mafia allegedly put a hit out on Rusik, the first police sniffer cat at Stavropol. He had a highly developed talent for sniffing out illegal cargos of caviar along the Caspian Sea, which sell for about $40 a kilo. Although unconfirmed, many people suspected it of being a revenge kill for sticking his nose into mob business.

With over 19 million scent-receptive nerve endings in their nose, a cat’s sense of smell is 14 times stronger than humans. A secondary olfactory system not possessed by people, called Jacobsen’s organ, signals the amygdala, the part of the brain that triggers negative emotions such as fear and anxiety.

In particular, nitrogen compounds like pungent ammonia-based household cleaners, and rotting fish, turn cats off. While successful marketers of commercial cleaning products have created a positive association between chemical aromas and a clean home, for cats, it’s a putrid stench that leaves them gasping for air and disrupts their sense of place.

“Cats place a premium on what things smell like,” says Bradshaw.

Citrus. Lemon. Eucalyptus. Cats hate these smells too. While we love to fill our homes with fragrance, be mindful not to use them in sacred cat spaces like the litter box or you may repel your cat from using it.

The cleaning products I use include baking soda, white vinegar, and hydrogen peroxide. I also keep a bottle of Free & Clear Method laundry detergent on hand. A small amount is remarkably effective and gets rid of cat urine smell too.

Create a regular cleaning habit

Just because you have a cat doesn’t mean you can’t have a clean home. The best way to reduce your cat’s stress is to create a year-round spring cleaning routine.

Make small changes in your home throughout the year. This regular activity will not only help habituate your cat to the changes but will make your annual cleaning event easier too.

For instance, every Sunday when I wash my bedding, I wash the cat beds too. Even though I remove their scent, they look forward to and love to roll around in their fluffed up beds.

The litter boxes also get a monthly soak in unscented soap and hot water. In spring and summer, the boxes air dry in sunlight, which is the best way to remove stagnant odor without harsh chemicals.

Resist the temptation to use chemical-laden cleaners. Cats have an acute sense of smell and an odiferous aroma can trigger an undesirable response. It doesn’t mean you can’t use scent in your home. By all means, light an organic soy candle or open the windows and breathe the gentle spring air. But don’t use perfumed cleansers or air fresheners next to or inside the litter box or your cat might decide he prefers your couch to do his business.

3 Stress-free Spring Cleaning Tips for You and Your Cat

The truth about cleaning and cat stress

This isn’t about tossing all your favorite cleaning products. It isn’t about banning all air fresheners from your home.

You’re being mindful of how certain actions impact your cat.

To understand your cat, you need to observe them every time you clean. You need to learn how they define their territory. Understand the power of their senses. Know their stress triggers.

Try swapping out one cleaning product at a time. Over time you’ll figure out what works best for you and your cat.

Where you can have scent. Where you can’t. Where compromise comes in.

So, get started and embrace joy for you and your cat.

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