Whether you are introducing a new cat into your household, or already have established feline family members, be sure you have met their basic needs. Cats need more than just food and water available. When cats are stressed, it can affect their health and behavior, causing inappropriate urination, lack of appetite, inter-cat aggression, and much more. By making your house “cat friendly” and providing these basic needs, you will be helping to give your cat a healthy and happy life.
Basic Needs for Cats
Provide a safe place. Cats need a space they can retreat to where they feel protected and safe. The cat should be able to enter and exit from two sides. It should be big enough to fit one cat, and most cats prefer that it be off the ground. You can create a safe haven for your cat using a cardboard box or making a raised cat perch. If you have multiple safe places, be sure they are located away from each other. Each cat in the household should have their own space away from the other cats.
Provide multiple and separate key environmental resources. Key resources include food, water sources, elimination areas, scratching areas, play areas, and resting or sleeping areas. Especially in multiple cat households, these resources should be separate from each other so if one cat is eating, another cat can drink without causing concern for the cat that is eating. Cats are solitary hunters in the wild and many prefer to eat alone. They also don’t like to eat and drink where they eliminate. Offer multiple stations so that if one station is in use, the other cats can go to an available station. Provide fresh water, food and clean elimination areas. Place food and litter boxes away from appliances, air ducts or anything that makes noise or may startle your cat. Also, use areas that are out of any household commotion and where no other pet could sneak up and surprise them. While some cats like covered litter boxes, most prefer the box to be uncovered (see this article for more information about choosing litter and boxes). In most cases, there should be separate resources for each cat, although some cats are willing to share.
Provide opportunity for play and predatory behavior. Cats have a strong desire to hunt, so it is very satisfying to them to have interactive toys that allow your cat an opportunity to stalk and capture the “prey.” Food puzzles provide a more natural eating behavior, since cats typically eat multiple small meals that they have to work for. Give your cat something with texture that they are allowed to scratch on. You may have to try several textures to find one they like. A tall scratching area is best, since it allows the cat a natural scratching motion of extending their legs and stretching through their back. Provide both horizontal and vertical scratching areas. By providing scratching outlets you will decrease the likelihood of them destroying something important and scratching is an important outlet to prevent stress.
Provide places to climb and perch. Cats like to sit and perch high in their surroundings. This allows them to watch what is going on in their household. It also gives them a place to feel safe and in control of their environment. Many cats like to look out of windows. Watching birds, squirrels and other outdoor activity can keep many indoor cats happy and engaged. However, if other neighborhood cats are coming to the windows and agitating your cat, you may have to block access to the area.
Provide positive, consistent, and predictable human-cat contact social interaction. Every cat has a preference of how much interaction they want. Some cats can’t get enough attention and others may prefer minimal or limited interaction. Playing, petting, grooming, sitting on or near your lap and talking are all interactions. Be sure you spend time each day with each cat separately, but don’t force interactions.
Provide positive reinforcement, not punishment. Cats DO NOT respond to force or punishment! They DO respond to praise. If your cat is doing something inappropriate, make a distracting sound to attract their attention/interrupt the behavior or gently pick them up and move them to a new location. Punishing your cat could make him or her afraid of you in the future, especially if they can’t understand why something bad suddenly happened. Remember stress creates behavior problems in cats, so be very careful with your corrections.
Provide an environment that respects the importance of the cat’s sense of smell. Cats use their sense of smell to evaluate their surroundings. Cats mark their area by rubbing their face and body on surfaces to establish boundaries. Avoid cleaning these areas especially when new cats are being introduced. Some smells can be irritating or threatening to cats. Harsh cleaners, scents from unfamiliar animals, scented cat litter, or scented sprays can sometimes lead to problematic behaviors such as elimination outside of the litter box. Use of synthetic pheromones such as Feliway can mimic a cat’s natural pheromones and create a calming effect in a stressful situation.
Visit your veterinarian at Animal Hospital of North Asheville regularly. By providing preventative health care, your veterinarian can help with detecting medical issues early and address behavior problems as they arise.
Basic Needs for Cats information provided by The American Association of Feline Practitioners and the Indoor Pet Initiative.