By Dr. Karen Becker and comments by Diane Weinmann
How to Create a Happy Cat
In addition to feeding a nutritionally optimal, species-appropriate diet, keeping kitty at a lean-and-healthy weight, and providing exercise incentives, there are several components to her indoor environment that you’ll need to consider from her uniquely feline perspective. These include:
- Litterbox location — In the wild, cats not only hunt prey, they are prey for other animals. Certain activities make them vulnerable to predators, including eliminating. This vulnerability is what causes anxiety in your kitty when her litterbox is in a noisy or high traffic area.
Your cat’s “bathroom” should be located in a safe, secure location away from any area that is noisy enough to startle her or make her feel trapped and unable to escape.
- The opportunity to “hunt” for meals and snacks — Your cat, while domesticated, has maintained much of his natural drive to engage in the same behaviors as his counterparts in the wild, including hunting for food, which also happens to be excellent exercise. A great way to do that with an indoor cat is to have him “hunt” for his meals and treats.
Separate his daily portion of food into three to five small meals fed throughout the day in a variety of puzzle toys or indoor hunting feeder mice (available for raw and canned food, too!). You can also hide his food bowls or food puzzle toys in various spots around the house.
- Places for climbing, scratching, resting, and hiding — Cats are natural climbers and scratchers, and those urges don’t disappear when they move indoors. Your cat also needs her own resting place and a hiding place where she feels untouchable.
Cats prefer to interact with other creatures (including humans) on their own terms, and according to their schedule. Remember: well-balanced indoor kitties are given the opportunity to feel in control of their environment. Jackson Galaxy has written several books on creating feline environmental enrichment around the home that I highly recommend.
- Consistency in interactions with humans — Your cat feels most comfortable when his daily routine is predictable, so performing little rituals when you leave the house and return can help him feel more comfortable with your comings and goings. A ritual can be as simple as giving him a treat when you leave and a nice scratch behind the ears as soon as you get home.
Playtime should also be consistent. Learn what types of cat toys he responds to and engage him in play, on his timetable. Of course, while you can encourage him to play, it’s pointless to force the issue. Oh, and when he’s had enough, he’s had enough!
- Sensory stimulation — Visual stimulation: Some cats can gaze out the window for hours. Others are captivated by fish in an aquarium. Some even enjoy kitty videos.
Auditory stimulation: When you’re away from home, provide background noise for kitty that is similar to the ambient sounds she hears when you’re at home, for example, music or a TV at low volume. Olfactory stimulation: You can stimulate your cat’s keen sense of smell with cat-safe herbs or synthetic feline pheromones (e.g., Feliway).
All in all, paying attention to your kitty, interacting and talking with them will go a long way to ensure their happiness. Provide stimulation—you get bored right? Well, they will to! If they seem upset or sad consider what may have changed in their life or environment to have caused their issue. When all else fails, contact Diane who is an animal communicator at firstname.lastname@example.org.