Have you ever considered that cats, creatures that we commonly deem to call “owned”, are a totally different species to ours? Because cats are relatively common aspects of our households, the fact that their needs to totally unrelated to our own frequently goes overlooked. Dr. Meghan Herron and Dr. Tony Buffington published recommendations for cat owners to provide good health and welfare for their feline friends. Furthermore, ensuring good health and welfare can pre-empt or ameliorate many cat behavior problems! The authors divide their advice into five systems in a cat’s world: physical resources, nutrition, elimination, social, and behavior. My summary of these experts’ recommendations for each system is below!
- Physical Resource System (Home!)
- Indoor cats benefit from secure, seclusive “microenvironments”. These are spaces that a cat can go to be away from loud noises, other home inhabitants (both four- and two-legged), and removed from other things that may stress the cat.
- Multi-cat households may experience a range of cat-on-cat sociality. Cats may prefer a social distant from other cats in the home of between 1 to 3 meters, which includes both horizontal as well as vertical distance!
- Introducing something new to the cat – food, litter, etc. – should be offered near to the current whatever is being replaced so the cat can choose the preferred item.
- Nutritional System (Nom noms)
- Cats are solitary hunters of small prey, so offering food in puzzles that must be manipulated by the cat to release food away from other animals in the household may mimic cats’ natural feeding habits.
- Cats that are “finicky” about their food may be responding to a perceived threat in their environment.
- Offering multiple sources of water, including running water from a pet fountain, may benefit cats.
- Elimination System (When you gotta go…)
- Multi-cat households should have at least one litter box per cat, plus one additional, kept out of sight of other littler boxes.
- Covered, self-cleaning, or too small litter boxes may disrupt a cat’s normal elimination behavior routine, which may cause inappropriate elimination (i.e., going outside the box)
- Cats seem to prefer clumping litter, which should be scooped daily, the entire contents should be dumped weekly, and cleaned with mild soap and water monthly.
- Social System (You talkin’ to me?)
- Other living creatures in cats’ environments basically fall into three categories: threats (dogs, humans); competitors (other cats); and prey (birds, fish, pocket pets).
- Having a perception of control can decrease stress for cats: let cats determine the timing and location of interactions with other species (as safety permits).
- Multi-cat households may experience inter-cat aggression to due a multitude of reasons: health problems, inadequate resources/space, social status conflicts due to other animals inside or outside the home, etc.
- Cats may prefer avoidance (silent conflict) to aggression (open conflict).
- Cats that experience conflict may never be best friends but can usually learn to live together tolerably, sometimes with the help of a certified behaviorist.
- Behavioral System (A cat’s gotta do…what a cat’s gotta do)
- Cats must be permitted to display normal behavior to ensure adequate welfare but many normal cat behaviors can be “undesirable” to owners, including scratching, chewing and playing.
- Directing otherwise “undesirable” towards desirable outlets provides an enriched environment, which can be accomplished by providing outlets that appeal to the cat’s natural behavior.
- Cats prefer to scratch things after rest and that allow them to hook their claws into it. Poles covered in sisal rope or real wood logs may be good options, placed near common sleeping areas.
- Cats can be enticed to chew on cat-designated plants (such as live catnip) by rubbing the plants with tuna or wet cat food, and likewise discouraged from chewing non-cat-designated plants by spraying them bitter sprays from pet stores. Pet toxic plants should be removed from cats’ access!
- Providing a rotating variety of toys (wand toys, stuffed toys, battery-operated self-propelling toys, balls, cat-nip filled toys, laser toys, etc.) will encourage normal cat behaviors like pouncing, stalking, chasing, and biting of said toys (and discourage those same behaviors direct toward the owner’s hands/feet/etc!).
Herron ME, Buffington CAT. Environmental Enrichment for Indoor Cats.Compendium (Yardley, PA). 2010;32(12):E4.