Editor’s Note: Healthy Paws is a column sponsored and written by the owners of Clarendon Animal Care, a full-service, general practice veterinary clinic. The clinic is located 3000 10th Street N., Suite B. and can be reached at 703-997-9776.
As anyone who loves a cat knows, cats are interesting creatures. It is easy to fall in the trap of thinking if your home is comfortable and happy for you, it will be perfect for your animals. But cats are not tiny humans — or dogs — and have their own set of unique set of preferences and needs.
Cats value their personal space. They need enclosed and secluded locations to allow them the opportunity to withdrawal and ability to control their surroundings.
A cardboard box placed on its side is a perfect place to hide (or perch). Flip the lid up inside the box so the top is clear for sitting. Another great safe place is a cat carrier. If you leave your cat’s carrier out at all times and make it somewhere your cat is happy, it becomes a safe space at home as well as a portable safe space. Think of your cat’s carrier as a tool of security and comfort, rather than a tool primarily for transportation.
The more cats in your household, the more safe spaces you will need in your home. A good goal is the number of cats in the house plus one. So if there are two cats, you’ll need a minimum of three different good hiding spots. Also consider any health issues your cats may have when choosing locations. For example, a geriatric cat probably has some arthritis and will need locations with floor access, whereas a kitten will enjoy higher perches. Finally, think about your cat’s outside environment, if they do venture outdoors, and make sure hiding options are provided there as well.
Aim to provide multiple, separated key environmental resources of: 1) food/water 2) bathroom 3) scratching posts. Provide a minimum of two of each resource (two water bowls, etc) and spread everything out. Even the food and water bowl should be separated from each other across multiple rooms for maximal feline comfort. Some cats want to cuddle with their housemates, but sometimes when we provide the option to spread out, we find that the cats end up resting separately. They didn’t actually want to sleep together – there was just nowhere else to go.
Play and Predatory Opportunities
Cats require opportunities to hunt and play. Putting food down twice a day does not allow cats to exercise their predatory instincts and leads to begging, obesity, stress and anxiety. In the wild, cats hunt 10-20 times each day. This is an entire topic unto itself, so hop over to our last post for suggestions of fun and easy ways we can use food to give our cats a chance to engage in these normal behaviors.
This one is simple. Provide positive, consistent and predictable human-cat social interaction. Do not force your cat to play with you, and allow it space to retreat. If you need to train your cat, use positive methods rather than punishment, so no shaking a can of pennies to scare your cat off the counter. It’s nearly impossible for humans to be 100 percent consistent with punishments, as sometimes you’re not home or are otherwise occupied when your cat jumps up on the counter, so we can appear unpredictable and therefore scary to our cats.
Provide an environment that respects the importance of a cat’s sense of smell. When it’s time to launder a cat’s bedding, don’t wash everything at the same time. Leave a few things out of the wash until the washed load is back in the home and smelling “normal” again to your cat. If you wash everything at the same time, all her beds/toys will be foreign to her, which can be very unsettling for cats.
The smell of their housemates is also very important for cats. If one leaves and comes back smelling different it can cause discord in the household. To minimize this, arrange vet trips for all cats at the same time. Use a pheromone diffuser (such as Feliway) upon return. If you have to take just one cat, take some care reintroducing that cat to the house. Separate the recently out-of-the-house cat from the others until all is calm.
Establish a “common scent profile” to get everyone smelling the same and minimize signals that the cat who was gone is now an outsider. To establish a common scent profile, use a cloth to rub down the cat who was out of the house, then take that fabric and rub down a housemate, continue with the same fabric for each cat in the house and end by re-rubbing the cat who was out of the house. More information about successful transportation can be found here.
If we can meet as many of these needs as possible, we can maximum the healthy and well being of our feline companions.