Cats are predators - and debate rages as to how domesticated they truly are. This means the feline lifestyle often seems at odds with household living. There are a variety of ways to work with the natural behavior of cats to create happier, healthier felines which will blend more harmoniously into the human lifestyle.
Wild cats spend their days just lying around. Well, actually it’s protecting their territory, conserving calories, digesting, and - most importantly - hunting their food. The largest portion of feline days are spent thinking about how to get to their next meal. This makes food, regularly-occurring in a bowl, maybe even available all-day, a novelty to say the least. This can lead to boredom and with boredom comes destructiveness, lack of exercise, and overeating (cats, like people, eat when they’re bored). Obesity is rampant in our feline friends and in huge conflict to living a long, healthy life. How can you deal with this? Here’s my suggestion, turn mealtime into a time for your cat to use her instincts. Your feline will burn calories and extend her mealtime into play time. Cats have to work hard for their food in the wild (or even in the semi-wild - think of those “gifts” you may have received from your feline friend) and engaging in those activities daily will enrich the lifestyle of your feline friend.
Recommendation for feline enrichment products are below. Suggestions include using feeding toys - like the Kong cat toys in which you can place food - maybe even to freezing wet food into the Kong. Toys which will emit individual pieces of kibble when batted are also effective feeders. If toys aren’t your thing, you can distribute kibbles around your cat’s living space - on shelves, under things, and maybe even some out in the open. Create a search for food to keep your cat engaged.
One of the areas of greatest stress in the human-feline relationship has to do with cats and how they might mark their territory. Ways of achieving a good mark include scratching (which is also useful as nail sharpening) and rubbing. Admittedly, most people don’t have a problem with cats rubbing...we think it’s affectionate (which it may be), but it’s also an effective means of getting scent on a person or object. Cat paws are also an effective way of spreading scent by scratching or rubbing paw pads (going through the motions of scratching for the de-clawed among us). Advice for those who have scratching problems include putting items which are more appealing and "scratchable" near the item you don’t want the cat to scratch. If your cat prefers scratching the carpet (a horizontal surface), place a horizontal scratching pad rubbed with catnip at the area which is being scratched. If you cat prefers stretching upward and scratching your couch, place a tall sisal post or a cat tree next to the scratched couch and redirect your feline when he scratches.
You might also begin to use a product like Feliway. Feliway is a feline adaptive pheromone and reduces stress. This is a similar hormone to what your cat produces when she rubs her chin. Feliway has shown to be relaxing for many of the felines in your life and can help reduce the overall stress your feline feels living in a house.
Many cats exhibit their stress by urinating in inappropriate places. The first thing to do if your cat starts urinating inappropriately is bring your feline in to the veterinarian to make sure there is nothing medical causing this behavior. Once physical pathology has been eliminated as a cause of the behavior change, you can take several steps to lower stress and improve the likelihood of your cat using the litter box. The first thing you should do is make sure you have enough litter boxes - cat behaviorists recommend that you have at least as many litter boxes as you have felines plus one extra! The litter boxes should be in accessible locations, be easy to enter and exit, not have high walls or a lid, and be away from any food bowls. Litter boxes are frequent areas for felines to fight, so having multiple areas with clear visibility is very important to cats. You should clean your litter box at least daily, use a clumping litter (most cats prefer this), and avoid strong smells in the litter. Some cats don’t read the book and prefer to urinated or defecate on something which is not litter - if your cat urinates every time you put down a newspaper, try putting newspaper in the litter box. Follow your cat’s lead to create a low-stress environment and reduce the likelihood of inappropriate urination and defecation.
Your cat’s first priority - beyond food or affection is safety. His or her own safety. This is the why felines are so determined to jump. Off the ground you can survey your territory far more effectively. Further, you can see if there’s anything to hunt and avoid other predators. It’s just an instinct! Us humans need to remember there’s no way to keep a cat from jumping, but there is a way to make certain places more appealing than others. I, for one, prefer my cats keep off the counters in my kitchen. How can you make one place more appealing than others? Well, it’s all about the real estate. Cats tend to value the highest spot in the room. Cat towers and cat trees are ideal for this, or consider making the top of shelves accessible. Cats also like the spot with a good view - perhaps in a corner with a panoramic view of the room, or next to a window. If your cat favors a certain room or area, move your cat-friendly furniture to that spot or improve the cat furniture (by improving the height or unobstructed view) to tempt your feline. Also, keep in mind that the same-old-same-old can get tedious for cats, just like anyone else. You can occasionally switch things up by moving your furniture, hiding or redistributing toys and treats, rub dried catnip into the preferred areas for feline visiting.
Remember, cats are derived from solitary hunting felines. If they show signs of illness or pain, another solitary hunter may take over their territory - by force. Our domestic felines have good historical reasons for hiding their illnesses, but it makes it very difficult for owners (and even veterinarians) to evaluate feline health. Compounding this problem is that it’s hard for owners to recognize gradual changes that can indicate serious underlying disease. Going to the litter box a little more often, drinking a little more, grooming less frequently, or losing a small amount of weight can all indicate underlying disease. Bring your cat to the vet to help recognize the signs of illness at least once annually in their prime and twice a year once they hit 9 years-old.
written by Dr Sandra J. Platt