I’ve had cats in my life since babyhood but since I acquired my own cat during college, I have learned a lot about being a good caregiver to a cat. I’ve picked up this information from many, many sources, including veterinarians, behaviorists, veterinary technicians and animal welfare workers but I’ve listed some web-based sources at the end of this post. I’ve obviously learned more than 5 things about cats since I’ve owned one but these are the 5 things that make a big impact on my cats’ happiness and harmony in my home.
1. Cats need things to climb
I’ve always thought that cat trees are fun for cats but I really didn’t understand how important they are to indoor felines. It is natural behavior for cats to climb and, depending on the activity level in your household, an elevated space can mean peace and safety for your cat. For indoor cats, cat trees and alternatives (like those sold here and this DIY version) provide vital enrichment activities to keep your cat healthy and happy!
2. Using a litter box is second nature, having a solitary bathroom is not
As an adoption counselor at a humane society and a life-long cat person, I was surprised by questions such as, “How do you litter-train a cat?” from clients. Cat just use the litter box! It’s in their nature! And it is – cats instinctively want to cover up evidence of eliminations, probably to prevent predators from assessing their proximity. With unlimited territory, however, cats rarely eliminate in the same spot twice. It make sense, right? From an evolutionary point of view, a cat that traced back over their eliminations would be at high risk of contracting a fecally-transmitted pathogen so it makes some sense that this behavior wouldn’t survive. For our indoor felines, we can make their lives much nicer by cleaning their litter boxes daily and providing multiple litter boxes.
3. Stress can make cats sick – REALLY sick!
Dr. Buffington at The Ohio State University has conducted research that links a serious urinary tract disease in cats with stress. Another study by Judi Stella showed that stressed cats experienced nearly twice as much sickness as less anxious kitties, and that sources of stress for cats could be as “small” as unwanted affection, a dirty litter box or a change in routine. Illnesses in cats are no laughing matter: they can be difficult to diagnose, expensive to treat and could result in the cat being euthanized or surrendered to a shelter. Decreasing your cat’s stress levels means health and harmony for your home!
4. Ten minutes of play will go a long way
Cats are great pets for busy people because they sleep, on average, 15 hours a day. As ambush predators, cats sleep this much to conserve energy for the periods of intense activity when they hunt. For indoor cats, sleeping may be followed by a languid stroll to their food and water dish and a bout of looking out of the window before heading back to their bed. This is a really unnatural behavior cycle for kitties! Having a variety of cat toys can help a cat purge those hunting instincts, in addition to tossing the food dish and feeding your cat with an interactive toy, but your cat will really benefit from a mere ten minutes of play with you! One of my cats favors a wand toy while the other prefers to chase after balls or fake mice. (Try to avoid laser toys!)
5. Cats don’t “get” punishment
Cats can certainly learn through positive reinforcement like dogs do, but they just aren’t wired to understand what their human is getting at when they yell about scratching the furniture. It’s a lot easier for a cat to figure out that they get a reward for a certain behavior than to make the connection between a behavior and your displeasure and that they should stop that behavior to avoid your anger. Experts in cat behavior recommend using a cat’s environment to shape a cat’s behavior: deter scratching on “human” furniture with double-sided tape or aluminum and provide a better alternative nearby in the form of a scratching post or cat tree. As always, it’s important to acknowledge that scratching and other natural cat behaviors are subdued at the risk of the cat’s quality of life and welfare!
Buffington, Tony. Your Home Their Territory. Columbus: Ohio State U Veterinary Medical Center, OH.
Boatman, Kim. “Help for House Cats.” WPSD Local 6. Studio One Networks.
Buffington, Tony. “Why Claw Care Keeps Cats Happy.” Vetstreet.
“Look What’s New in Enrichment!” The Indoor Pet Initiative. The Ohio State University Veterinary Medical Center.