Cats certainly have a mind of their own, but if you understand what they need in terms of housing, companionship, and entertainment you will have a happy cat!
Although we have been coexisting, and typically sharing our homes, with cats for about 10,000 years these intelligent creatures still remain somewhat of a mystery1. Unlike dogs and many other domesticated animals, cats are independent and really don’t take direction well, as most cat owners are probably all too familiar with. It is for this reason that some researchers suggest that, despite their efficacy as mousers, cats may not have been purposely domesticated by people, but simply accepted into the community1. This sets the stage for a very interesting, often humorous, and sometimes tense relationship with our feline companions. Holding the title as the most popular pet throughout the world, humans seem inexplicably drawn to these adorable and intriguing little animals and if we give them the care that they need it can turn out to be quite a rewarding relationship.
- Kitty-fy your house
Making your cat comfortable in your home goes beyond simply making sure they have a warm bed and access to food and water. Allowing cats outdoors may offer them more stimulation, but it also exposes them to many other stresses and potential dangers. Indoor cats may be safer, but they can become bored more easily, so it is important to understand what they need in the absence of their natural environment.
- Make sure your cat has enough space to themselves, as they are territorial animals and need somewhere to roam.
- Have places that they can jump to in order to gain a better vantage point, like a cat tree or cat condo. This will help keep them entertained and to feel more comfortable.
- Make sure they have access to a window. Cats love to watch out of the window, which can provide hours of entertainment. Look into buying a window seat
- Provide a social life
Cats are generally independent, but that does not mean that they don’t require companionship. Having more than one cat can be a way to give them the socialization they need. However, it is important that the cats have enough space as well as places where they can escape to in order to be alone. Too many cats (or other animals for that matter) within one territory may introduce a certain amount of stress, but if you only have one cat, then you will be responsible for being their best friend. Commonly cats enjoy affection and can be affectionate in return, but often a new pet parent makes the mistake of overstimulating their cat by petting them too roughly or being too pushy. Cats prefer soft pats around the head and scratches under their chin. It’s important to let them guide you. Cats can tolerate being handled if you are respectful of their space and take the time to build up trust. In general, move slowly when you go to handle your cat, especially when picking them up, and be sure to support both of their back legs so they feel secure. Would you like being picked up around the middle with your legs dangling? There may be times when you need to transport your cat, clip their nails, or brush their teeth. You can find more detailed guides on how to pursue this from your favorite cat magazine or your local veterinarian.
- Prevent boredom
Cats are playful and extremely inquisitive. They are hunters by nature so the way that you play with them should imitate what it’s like to stalk and capture prey. There are many different options for toys and it could take some time to determine your cat’s preferences. Some suggestions:
- A wand with a feather attached is a good way for you to interact with them.
- If you have to be away for a portion of the day, there are toys that you can get that will move on their own or require your cat to search for a hidden treat. Kong and Catit are a couple examples of brands that make toys such as these.
- Videos you can play on your TV that will prompt your cat to chase an image on the screen. Youtube has its own channel called “Videos for Your Cat.”
- The key is that they toys generally need to be moving.
- It also may be a good idea to rotate toys since your cat will easily get bored with toys just lying around.
Many people may find a cat’s aloofness tries their patience or that their strong predatory instinct is at the least unpleasant and at the most potentially damaging to wildlife. Owning a cat might not be for everyone. Even those of us who love cats still need to realize that we are often asking a lot of them, to live in an environment under conditions that are not natural from them. Some researchers would even suggest that cat behavior is going to need to change in order for them to remain such a popular pet2. While it is impossible to know exactly what the future holds, we do know that one of the most rewarding aspects of having pets is developing an understanding of a different creatures’ nature. With time and patience we can learn to communicate with our cat friends and appreciate them for what makes them unique.
There are many different resources out there to help you provide your cat the enriching life that they require. Picking up a cat magazine at the pet store, doing a simple google search, or talking to your local veterinarian are just a few suggestions. The most important thing to remember when dealing with your cat that you will get a lot farther by working with them, rather than expecting them to blindly do what you say. By giving them the respect and love that they deserve (and demand) these fascinating creatures can become truly good friends.
1 Driscoll, C.A., MacDonald, D.W., and O’Brien, S.J. (2009). From wild animals to domestic pets, an evolutionary view of domestication. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, 16: 106, Suppl 1, 19971-8.
2 Zuckerbrot, Daniel and Zuckerbrot, Donna. (2015). The lion in your living room. In Daniel Zuckerbrot, Donna Zuckerbrot and Joshua Zuckerbrot, The Nature of Things. Canada: CBC.