Anyone with a cat will tell you that understanding the mind of a feline is a nearly impossible feat. The reason that cats act the way they do can be quite a mystery. While some of their behaviors may seem unacceptable to humans, they are totally normal for cats. It is important that we not suppress the natural instincts of our feline friends.
When determining how to best care for your kitty, be sure to consider his or her mental and physical needs. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, the welfare of an animal is best met when the animal is healthy, comfortable, well nourished, safe, able to express innate behavior, and is not suffering from unpleasant states such as pain, fear, and distress.
Be sure to pay attention to your cat’s behavioral patterns. A change in grooming, eating, playing and exploring, or an increase in problematic habits can be clear indications of physiological stress in your feline companion.
Undomesticated cats spend roughly 50% of their time sleeping, 25% of their time hunting and 25% of their time grooming or participating in other activities. Since our pets no longer have a reason to “hunt” for their food, the average house cat has an excess of time for activities other than sleeping. If not properly managed, the lack of stimulation and inability to practice normal predatory behavior can cause a cat to experience physiologic stress.
One popular approach for managing potential feline stress is environmental enrichment. This concept is defined as intentionally creating spaces that allow for the engagement of species-typical behavior. This can be accomplished by making the areas where you cat lives more complex physically, socially, and temporally. Visual, auditory, olfactory, gustatory, tactile, and structural stimuli should also be taken into consideration. When creating an enriching environment, consider the following suggestions.
- Create places for your cat to rest and hide – tall and horizontal spaces are preferable.
- Incorporate olfactory elements such as catnip, cat grasses, synthetic cat pheromones, and herbs such as cinnamon and cardamom. Bunting toys and items with the owner’s scent on them are also great for this process.
- Ensure that there is one litter box per cat, plus one other litter box that is centrally located in a quiet and easily accessible place.
- Establish an appropriate social environment with multiple rooms for each cat. Food and water should be located in each area for each cat.
- Provide cat-appropriate interaction. Contrary to dogs, cats enjoy high-frequency, low-intensity interaction.
- People are often surprised to learn that cats can actually be trained. This process not only creates mental stimulation but is a source of bonding for a cat and owner. Learn about clicker training. It has proven to be an effective training tool for most cats.
- Encourage hunting and playing activities for your cat when they are not sleeping. In nature cats engage in behaviors such as seeking, capturing, killing and consuming. Stimulate your cat’s natural predatory habits by splitting their meals into multiple sessions and putting food in various areas of the house.
- Remember that while people are social eaters, cats are not. So be sure to have private areas for feeding for each cat.
- Rotate your cat’s toys frequently. Cats often lose interest in toys after just three sessions so introduce new, inexpensive toys several times a day. It is important to include toys that encourage hunting, chewing, pouncing, catching, seeking and smelling.
Keeping these considerations in mind as you establish your cat’s environment and routines is crucial for providing your pet with the happiest and healthiest lifestyle.
Originally published May 2017 in the Lake Norman Citizen.