Last updated September 15th, 2020
How to keep your cat happy
It seems that cats have it made. The internet worships them and judging by those viral Youtube Best Cat compilation videos, they rule their households with a firm furry paw. And we like it.
“Hey Mr. Dog, I need your bed if you don’t mind, thanks, you’re too kind!”
But despite this overall perception of a cat’s elevated status as Ruler of the Drooler, cats are still largely misunderstood. Cats are viewed as independent, aloof and in need of less medical and preventative care than dogs, but this could not be further from the truth.
September is Happy Cat Month, an event in its 9th year running, created by the Catalyst Council, to help promote the health and well-being of our purry felines, focusing on the different ways to ensure your cat is happy, enriched and healthy.
Why are cats misunderstood?
Let’s start with the good news. There are many more people adopting cats because of rental restrictions not allowing dogs or due to lifestyle changes. Hooray, more cats in forever homes! But because of prevailing myths such as “cats are low maintenance” and the thinking that they can be left alone for long periods of time, many cats are cooped up in apartments with no vertical space, no environment enrichment, no mental stimulation or exercise. An environment in which cats just exist with no outlet provided to do all things “cat”, soon opens the doors to boredom, stress and behavioral problems. Make no mistake, Mr. Tiggs is not being a jerk by scratching your couch, but enacting his natural instinct to scratch and mark his territory. Cats are not small dogs and require different approaches to training and positive reinforcement.
Living in a threatening or unenriched environment is stressful for cats, according to veterinarian and CATalyst Council board member Dr. Tony Buffington, Clinical Professor Department of Medicine and Epidemiology UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.
“When cats perceive a threat or don’t get adequate stimulation, their stress response system is triggered,” says Buffington.
“Happy Cat Month is a time to promote feline wellness by highlighting the link between feline happiness and health, and to encourage actions and activities that support happy and healthy cats.” as stated by the Catalyst Council. “Studies show that happy cats are healthier cats, and healthy cats are happier cats,” says Jane Brunt, DVM, Executive Director of the CATalyst Council and owner of Cat Hospital At Towson in Maryland. Read on for simple actionable steps to a happier chirpier cat.
It’s time to put our ‘thinking cats’ on and think like a cat!
1. Have the right kind of scratching posts
Cats are hardwired to dig their claws into a hard substrate and pulling their weight downward. This action, called stropping, actually conditions the claws by removing the outer nail sheath, which you can often see deposited next to their scratching posts. Not only is scratching highly satisfying to a cat but it conditions the muscles in his spine and front legs and acts as a means of communication to other cats by depositing his unique scent in the area.For a cat, scratching is like leaving little invisible post-it text messages for other cats and the humans in the house.Click To Tweet
I can just imagine, our house is probably flooded with post-it notes such as “Ollie was here” or “Dudes, 5 pm sharp, the top tier is mine, signed, Baggy”
It’s important to observe your cat’s scratching rituals in order to get it right. Is your cat a low ground scratcher and prefers your area rug? Then getting him a variety of horizontal carpet scratchers would give him utmost satisfaction. If he loves a good long stretch after a snooze, he would give you extra cuddles if you invest in a solid tall sturdy scratching post.
What to do if your cat refuses to use his scratching post
Experiment with different textures and styles, vertical or horizontal and encourage use by rubbing the new post with catnip. Check out the different things we do to attract our cats to their cat tree and turn them into happy tree huggers.
Engaging in interactive play on and around the scratching post using fishing rod toys is a surefire way to get your cat excited.
Clicker training using a favorite treat is another sneaky way of getting your cats to use and love the scratching post or cat tree.
You can teach your cat to use their scratching post, to stay, sit, high five or any other tricks or desired behavior using clicker training.
2. Is kitty a high flyer or bush dweller?
In the Chirpy Cats household, we are entertained by both high-flying tree-dwellers adept at negotiating the highest cat tree or ramps as well as the cats who prefer to be more grounded. Today’s modern cat furniture has come a long way since the modest sisal rope tree. Enter the age of modern cat chic. The varieties of cat trees and cat furniture are endless ranging from beautiful modular cube-like structures to minimalist Ikea hacks which can blend seamlessly into one’s decor.
In a multi-cat household, providing these “happy high spaces” not only engages their territorial instincts to safely and confidently view their surroundings for potential predators but also provides a means of timesharing with their housemates. It is important to place the cat shelves or ramps into different pathways with clear exit routes. If a more timid cat is confronted on one end, there should always be an escape route to a higher or low ramp without fear of confrontation.
You don’t need to invest in expensive or elaborate cat trees for your cat to thrive, as long as you carefully observe your cat dynamic and provide adequate escape routes. We built cat ramps throughout the entire perimeter of the sitting room which has access to a ‘bridge’ connecting to the kitchen. If George wants to steer clear of Charlie, his nemesis, he can go from sitting room to kitchen without having to touch the floor. He has earned himself another nickname, Ceiling Cat.
Does your cat have tunnel vision?
Most cats love to tunnel their way under and through things. Their territory consists of pathways which they themselves ‘map’ out in their heads. Whether it’s across the couch, to the mantelpiece to the cabinet, they are mapping out a space that belongs to them and that makes sense to them. You can add to their enrichment by mapping out appropriate vertical and horizontal spaces for your cats to own with confidence. Check out how we built some outdoor cat tunnels attached to the existing catio to further increase their space.
Some cats also enjoy the safety of hanging out in low spaces such as under beds, nestled on couches and right there in the middle of the floor, no bed needed, thank you! Our tortie girl, Scout, just loves our closets and has caused many a panic when we were looking high and low (low mostly!) only to find her nestled on one of my clothing shelves. This is one ground-dwelling gal that couldn’t care less for the grandiosity of high catwalk ramps and has her four paws planted firmly on the ground. Throw a box on the kitchen floor and it’s hers for the rest of the afternoon.
3. Ownership of Space
Let’s take a moment to celebrate the box, a simple cardboard 6-sided structure providing endless entertainment for your cat.
In my opinion, the box is the ultimate man cave of the cat world.
Just as my husband enjoys time alone in his man cave, so too, do our cats. I consider the box the feline equivalent to the man cave (or she-shed, if you prefer) as it offers everything in the way of comfort, warmth and a safe retreat from the rest of their cat surroundings. The cardboard substrate also makes for an attractive scratching surface and provides a cat a temporary barrier from any minor stressors and stimuli. A cat literally melts into its space and hence the old adage “If I fits, I sits” is so appropriate. Even at big cat sanctuaries, big cats enjoy the comfort of boxes. If you do lots of online shopping, you have your cat enrichment game sorted out!
Tip: When you’re trying to work and kitty has other plans for your keyboard, place a shoebox on your desk to ‘trap’ him. Sometimes your over-zealous snooperviser needs to be put in his place!
For some outdoor enclosure and catio ideas check out how to build a catio your cat will love, which also features some cat condos for those cats that love to get away from it all – a little home away from home. A few years later we added a skywalk cat bridge to the catio for the cats to explore and time share.
Creating these little nooks and crannies for cats to own and explore, high and low, is essential to improving your cat’s confidence, reduces stress (especially in multi-cat homes) and will make your cat a happier and healthier cat.
4. Litter box Rules!
Don’t fall out of favor with your cat over a dirty litter box. This seems like a no-brainer to keep it clean, but I still come across people who only clean the litter box once every three days or even worse, once per week! The horror! How disgusting if we only flushed our toilets once every three days! To avoid litter box aversion problems you definitely should be scooping at least once per day, at best, twice.
Litter box arithmetic is important – follow the rule of 1 + 1 – meaning there should be the same amount of boxes as there are cats, plus another litter box. Ensure that the litter boxes are big enough and use a cat litter that your cat prefers. Some cats will outright refuse to use the litter box for various reasons but it’s important to do some detective work to find the cause. Ensure that the litter boxes are not all placed in one location, the favorite being the basement. Spread them out on all levels of your home, especially to provide easier access for a senior cat.
5 Engage your little hunter
Cats are born to hunt and kill prey. We are bringing these hunters into our homes expecting them to live indoors without any platform to engage their instincts. That doesn’t mean we have to re-enact a scene from National Geographic, but it is our responsibility to provide them with an environment that mimics their natural world as closely as possible.
Check out our post on how to make a food puzzle for your cat using household packaging such as egg cartons and cat toys. We added a little extra touch by including some cat grass too!
Offering food puzzles is a great way to fulfill your cat’s instinct for foraging for their food which makes the ‘hunt’ all the more satisfying. Besides being a wonderful source of stimulation and overall environment enrichment for cats, food puzzles are great for preventing feline obesity, which is so often seen in indoor cats!
There is no secret to a happy healthy cat. All it takes is a deeper understanding of how inter-connected cats are to their environment and to offer up environment enrichment solutions that will benefit both you and your cat in the long term. A happy chirpy cat equals a happy you!
So, is your cat a happy cat? Do you think cats are misunderstood? Do you think your cat thinks she’s misunderstood?
Okay kitty, can you give back the dog’s bed now?
Watch Jimmy and friends having a little box fun on a Caturday night! The best things in life are free!