IF YOU THINK CATS ARE EASY YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG Part 2 – Enrichment and Every Day Life
Part 1 of this series addressed the diet. Part 2 is about basic needs that are often overlooked.
In no way am I suggesting that cats are difficult. As I mentioned in Part 1, my goal is to banish old myths and misconceptions and share information about what your cat needs to be a happy, healthy kitty.
Cats are amazing. They are intelligent, curious, affectionate, funny, athletic and often animated.
They are also territorial, neurotic and masters of hiding illness. Some of their behaviors can be misconstrued as being vindictive, when all they are really doing is trying to communicate with their humans.
Since the most common misconception about cats is that they are easier than dogs because they can pee and poop in a box, let’s start with that topic.
Litter Boxes should be hidden
The size doesn’t matter
It doesn’t matter what litter is used
Scooping once a day is enough
Nope, nope, nope and nope.
It is certainly convenient that most cats can instinctively pee and poop in a box (and takes like a day to show those few cats that don’t know how, how). While this is a hell of a lot easier than house training a dog, providing the appropriate litterbox and litter and situating them in the right place or places is very important.
As cat behavior consultant Daniel Quagliozzi (DQ) of Go, Cat, Go Cat Behavior Consulting says, “people put litterboxes in places that are convenient for them, not necessarily socially significant for the cat.”
What does this mean? Most people place boxes where they cannot be seen.
“As a consultant that troubleshoots litterbox avoidance problems in your home, I often see well-intentioned cat guardians making choices for their cats that are based solely on their own preferences and not so much in the best interest of their finicky friends. It seems some folks just don’t want to live with certain cat accommodations creeping into their personal space. Some guardians even find out the hard way that their decision to tuck litterboxes away in backrooms, garages, under stairs, in cabinets or hidden in a designer – “camouflaged” litterbox set up, may ultimately back fire from the back end of their cat,” explained DQ.
In the wild, a cat will look for a place to relieve him or herself that is private, but also gives a good vantage point. They want to see what is coming. In a multiple cat home, hiding the boxes can lead to a great deal of anxiety for a less than confident cat. This, in turn, can lead to litter box avoidance.
“Sometimes the litter box needs to be in a bedroom or living room, someplace the cat needs to feel ownership. Over time, you can slowly move it to a place you and the cat can both agree on.” offered DQ.
The size of a litter box matter, too. A cat should be able to turn around easily. Most experts recommend a box that is one and a half times the length of the cat.
It is equally important to provide enough boxes for the number of cats in the house. The rule of thumb is one box per cat, plus one. They should be in different rooms. If the home is more than one story, boxes should be located on each level. In smaller spaces, this isn’t always possible.
A covered box is also one of those things that are made for humans. Sure, less litter makes its way out of the box, however odors stay trapped inside. Do you like going in a porta-potty? Guess what, neither does your cat.
In the end, covered boxes are actually not very convenient for people, either. It means having to clean two pieces instead of one!
The next issue is litter. Scented litter is often used, but the thing is, this is an assault on a cat’s nose. For cats with respiratory issues, such as asthma, scented litters are incredibly irritating and can cause difficulty breathing.
Unscented litter, preferably made from natural materials such as corn, walnut, grasses or wheat, is a healthier option for cats. Some great brands include World’s Best Cat Litter, SmartCat, sWheat Scoop and Naturally Fresh.
I advise my clients against using clay litters. Not only are they not environmentally friendly, they are dusty, messy and when eaten (think cleaning the paws), clay can build up in the digestive tract and cause a blockage.
I do suggest clumping litter, but again – only ones made from natural materials. The brands I mentioned do not add chemicals. Most clumping clay litters do.
In addition, many of the natural clumping litters are flushable (approved for sewers and septic tanks). Please note: in certain states, like California, it is illegal to flush cat waste down the toilet.
Keeping the litterbox clean is really important. Everyone likes a clean bowl. Boxes should be scooped a minimum of two times per day, more often if possible. The entire box should be emptied and thoroughly cleaned monthly. This prevents bacteria from building up. Simply empty and wash boxes with a mild soap, like castile soap. Be sure to rinse will and dry completely before refilling the box.
Next topic is the importance of playtime.
PLAY AND EXERCISE
Cats can entertain themselves
Cats do not need interactive play
Cats are aloof and don’t play
Cats would rather sleep
Wrong, wrong, wrong and wrong!
Cats need to play.
It is important for them physically, mentally and emotionally. Physically, play provides exercise for strong muscles, proper circulation and keeps cats ifit. Mentally, play keeps cats sharp and entertained. Emotionally, interactive play helps strengthen the bond between cats and their humans.
As Jackson Galaxy, Cat Daddy, cat behaviorist and star of the Animal Planet show, My Cat From Hell points out, cats have a routine of hunt, catch, kill, eat, groom, sleep, repeat. Playing with a cat before mealtime feeds his/her instincts. It also helps burn off a ton of energy.
Many cat behaviorists recommend that people play with their cats for ten minutes, two times per day. DQ doesn’t believe this is nearly long enough.
“Your cat quickly gets on your schedule. So if you are gone all day at work, your cat is most likely napping, saving up his/her energy. Once you get home, it’s go time for your cat. You should really spend around an hour playing with him/her,” he shared. “Think of it as an hour of meditation. For that time, you get to be a bird or bug or mouse.”
It is important to learn how to play with your cat. Stop rolling your eyes – most people really don’t think about this.
“As a consultant that visits your home, I see all the lonesome toys that you choose for your cat. I see the baskets (aka toy graveyards) filled with discarded and skinned mice of all sizes, clunky automatic toys, broken wands, wet and shriveled feathers, laser pointers, cat dancers, catnip socks, rainbow fleece shoelace things that are disintegrated from cat saliva and that homemade contraption that’s hanging by a thread and falling apart, but it’s the only thing your cat truly loves anymore. We can do better,” shared DQ.
Cats know that prey doesn’t come to them. To effectively play with your cat, move things away from your cat. Pull wand toys under and over furniture and watch your cat leap into action. A great toy like Da Bird or Neko Flies (both favorites at chez Ziskin) will get your cat flying or pouncing. Catnip filled toys hidden under cushions, in cubby holes around the house or on the opposite side of a door can be really enticing.
Another good idea is to rotate your cat’s toys. Keep four or five out for playtime and hide the rest. Every couple of weeks put those away and take out four or five different ones. I choose to store many of the toys in an airtight bag with some catnip. Quick note: catnip toys stay fresh if you store them in the freezer.
CATS AND VERTICAL SPACE
Cats are happy hiding behind the couch
Cats do not need to climb when they live inside
No and no.
Cats need vertical space.
Keep in mind that by nature, cats are both predator and prey. In both cases, getting up high is a great way to survive.
Cats love a good vantage point where they can take in the whole room/house. Adding a tall cat condo and some shelving can do wonders for his/her happiness and confidence.
Cats also love having the option of circumnavigating a room without touching the floor. It is a good idea to keep this in mind when setting up your cat’s furniture.
Other things to consider – look for towers/condos/trees that offer a vertical area for your cat to stretch his arms and file his claws (never declaw a cat – more about that in part 3 of this series). Furniture that offers a sleeping area is optimal, as well. Some cats like a curved surface, some a covered one. Obey the kitty.
Gone are the days when the only options were the ugly carpeted cat towers/condos. Now there are beautifully designed pieces that fit every type of décor and budget. You can strategically place shelves to give your cat a whole world high above the humans.
Books like Catification by Jackson Galaxy and Kate Benjamin offer great DIY tips. Kate’s site Hauspanther features some of the most beautiful cat furniture out there. Visit The Refined Feline, Pinterest and Etsy for even more ideas.
Providing the exercise, stimulation and space your cat needs will go a long way in keeping him/her happy, healthy and help avoid behavioral issues.
Of course there are cats that don’t make a fuss when their needs are not being met. Instead, they suffer in silence. They are bored and often times just keep to themselves. Is this any way to live?
However most cats will let their humans know that something is missing. They communicate in many ways – like eliminating outside of the litter box or scratching furniture or attacking ankles or climbing on counters.
Never punish your cat for these things. There are plenty of behavior specialists out there offering tips for solving these issues (and most of the time it means changing your behavior). If you feel things are out of hand, consider professional help. There are a number of behaviorists/behavior consultants that can work with you by phone or Skype. I personally recommend Daniel “DQ” Quagliozzi of Go, Cat, Go Cat Behavior Consulting.