By: Lauren Hadley
Often, cat ownership brings to mind some less than savory images; scratched up furniture, stray litter on your floors, cat pee in places it shouldn’t be. While some of this is unavoidable, a few changes around your home could eliminate these annoyances, leaving you with only the best aspects of cat ownership; purrr bliss!
Tip 1: Understand Your Cat’s Natural Behavior
The key to meeting the environmental needs of your cats it to first understand them. In the wild, cats are both prey to larger animals as well as predators to small animals like birds and rodents. This unique position in the food chain gives them a heightened fight or flight instinct. No doubt you’ve witnessed a cat go nose to nose with a dog ten times their size or climb a wall after catching a glimpse of a cucumber out of the corner of their eye. While all cats exhibit this natural behavior differently and at varying degrees, they all have these strong instincts.
Along with fight or flight instincts come a need to hide, survey and when possible, control their environment. An easy way to fulfill this need is to provide hiding places high and low. This can be as simple a few sturdy cardboard boxes or a wall of shelves and perches. If you provide a spot that they can make their own, you’ll decrease the chance of finding their fluffy behinds in the middle of your dining room table.
Tip 2: Provide Your Cat a “Message” Post
Another annoying habit of our feline friends is marking their territory. This can be done in many ways, but the scratching of furniture and carpet is one of the most destructive. Cats have scent glands around their adorable, little toe beans which is why they love to claw and make biscuits. This is also why they enjoy rubbing their cheeks on bedding, doorways, toys and even their favorite humans. These behaviors are used to leave messages to other animals and mark territory lines. In housecats, these are considered signs of comfort. As cute as this is, no one likes to see their expensive furniture unravel before their eyes. If you notice a particular area that your cat enjoys wrecking, try placing a cat tree or cardboard scratcher there to entice them. This process may take time, but providing more interesting items to scratch will hopefully save your favorite chair. Using a synthetic pheromone spray like Feliway can also assist in attracting your cat to their fun, new toys.
Tip 3: Playtime Provides Mental Stimulation
Speaking of toys, it’s a common misconception that cats don’t need or enjoy toys as much as dogs. I disagree! They may be more choosey, but cats love toys! Providing toys that allow them to play out their hunter day dreams is not only so fun to watch, but it’s great physical and mental exercise. Entertainment is another great way to avoid destructive behaviors. If you have a kitty that is less inclined to exercise, try using a wand toy or other interactive toy. This will still provide mental stimulation and a bit of a work out, even if it is all arms and no cardio. Another suggestion is to swap out the toys every few months so your cat doesn’t get board with them. This keeps them active and saves you from buying more and more toys. Again, no promises.
Tip 4: Litter Box 101
The final and possibly most frustrating part of cat ownership is dealing with a cat who urinates or defecates outside the litter box. It’s important to remember that this is never a punishment or pay back for leaving town or not delivering dinner right on time. Rather, it’s usually a sign of stress due to changes in the environment. Depending on how sensitive your cat is, this could be something as slight as a schedule change. Regardless of why this is happening, the first step is always to make sure you have enough litter boxes in all areas of your home. A good rule of thumb is that you should have 1 litter box per cat plus 1 additional litter box. If you have multiple floors to your home that your cat has access to, you will also need to make sure there’s a litter box on each floor for easy access. Having a variety of litter box styles will help you figure out which one your cat prefers. I suggest getting litter boxes with detachable lids so it can be removed if your cat prefers to relieve themselves out in the open. When providing ample access to pristine litter boxes doesn’t work, a check in with your veterinarian may be needed. Cats are prone to urinary tract infections as well as blockages that can be life threatening if untreated. It’s always better to be safe than sorry!
There are so many ways to keep your cats happy at home. Their elusiveness can make this seem like a daunting task, but focusing on their instincts and natural behaviors is the simplest way to meet their needs. A few great resources for this are The American Association of Feline Practitioners and International Cat Care. In addition to their medical resources, they have a wealth of information regarding environmental needs, behavior and general advice. IndyVet also provides tips such as How to Trim Your Cat’s Nails so that you know how to proper fear free ways of taking care of your feline friend! Just remember, if you feel like you’re living with a wild, unruly creature, that’s because you are! But seeking out the ways to make them as happy as can be makes you a true cat lover.