Addressing environmental needs is essential for the optimum well-being of your cat. Most behavior concerns, such as inappropriate elimination, aggression, scratching, and others, can be caused by one of the following:
• not providing cats with the resources they need
• not understanding the cat’s social relationships with other cats or people
• an underlying medical problem
Your veterinarian should talk with you about your cat's environmental needs with every preventive care exam. If you think your cat may have a behavior problem, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian to speak about possible solutions or potential underlying medical issues that cause certain behavior changes. At Family Veterinary Mobile Clinic, we integrate behavior into every exam, making sure each pets' needs are addressed and everyone is getting along well.
Provide a safe place
Every cat needs a safe and secure place where it can retreat to so that it feels protected or which can be used as a resting area. The cat should have the ability to exit and enter the space from at least two sides if it feels threatened. Most cats prefer that the safe space is big enough to fit only themselves, has sides around it, and is raised off the ground. Good examples of safe places are a cardboard box, a cat carrier, and a raised cat perch. There should be at least as many safe places, sized to hold a single cat, as there are cats in a household. Safe places should be located away from each other, so that cats can choose to be on their own.
I love these cat walls because they don't take any floor space like a cat tree does.
Provide multiple and separated key environmental resources
The calico kitty at the top of the stairs is preventing the other cat from accessing that area of the house. If the only litter boxes are upstairs, this owner is running a real risk of the tabby toileting outside the litter box because he doesn't want to fight the calico.
Key resources include food, water, toileting areas, scratching areas, play areas, and resting or sleeping areas. These resources should be separated from each other so that cats have free access without being challenged by other cats or other potential threats. Separation of resources not only reduces the risk of competition (which may result in one cat being physically prevented access to resources by another cat), stress, and stress-associated diseases.
Litter boxes deserve their own discussion because nothing is worse than what we call a pissy cat- one who doesn't pee in the litter box. You need at least one more litter box than you have cats. If the cats have access to more than one level of your home, you need at least one litter box on each floor. Putting a row of litter boxes together does NOT count as a separate toilet- it's like a trough urinal and cats are way too private to use such a thing. The litter boxes must be separate from each other in order to count.
Some cats are extremely fastidious about the cleanness of their litter box. This is especially true if the cat has experienced any medical issues such as cystitis, a urinary tract infection, or blockage. It can also become a problem if one cat is urinating a lot more than usual due to diabetes, chronic kidney disease, or other medical issue. Just like everyone else, cats prefer a clean toilet.
Most cats prefer unscented clumping clay litter- the cheap stuff. If you want to train your cat to a different litter, try covering the new litter with their old litter during the transition period. Some cats prefer different substrates. If your cat is constantly peeing on cloth objects, try putting cloth in the litter box with a little litter on top.
Make sure the cats can all easily access the box. Boxes with high sides are difficult for older, overweight, arthritic, or sometimes kittens to get into. We had a client who couldn't understand why her cat suddenly stopped using her litter box. One look at the cat and the box and the reason was clear. The owner had been using a plastic storage bin with a hole cut in the top as a litter box to keep her dog from enjoying "tootsie rolls." And it worked great until the cat was too arthritic to make the 18" jump onto the box. We devised another dog-proof litter box protection system that allowed the cat easier access and the problem was solved.
The location of the litter box should be somewhat private, but away from things that can startle a cat like the washer or dryer. Cats also like a 2nd escape route from the toilet area especially if there are any other pets in the home. Nobody likes to feel trapped in a bathroom. A cat may avoid a toilet area if they have been ambushed coming in or out of the area, like the picture above.
Provide opportunity for play and predatory behavior
Play and predatory behaviors allow cats to fulfill their natural need to hunt. Play can be stimulated with the use of interactive toys that mimic prey, such as a toy mouse that is pulled across a floor or feathers on a wand that is waved through the air. Cats need to be able to capture the “prey”, at least intermittently, to prevent frustration. Early in a cat’s life introduce interactive play so they learn to avoid going after your hands and feet for play. Using food puzzles or food balls can mimic the action of hunting for prey, and provides more natural eating behavior. You can encourage your cat’s interactive play by rotating your cat’s toys so they do not get bored and rewarding with treats to provide positive reinforcement for appropriate play. If you have more than one cat, remember to play with them individually.
Provide positive, consistent, and predictable
human–cat social interaction
Cats’ individual preferences determine how much they like human interactions such as petting, grooming, being played with or talked to, being picked up, and sitting or lying on a person’s lap. To a large extent this depends on whether, as kittens, they were introduced to and socialized with humans during their period of socialization from 2–7 weeks of age. It is important to remember that every cat interacts differently and to respect the cat’s individual preferences. Remember to remind guests and all household members not to force interaction and instead let the cat initiate, choose, and control the type of human contact.
Provide an environment that respects the importance of the cat’s sense of smell
Unlike humans, cats use their sense of smell to evaluate their surroundings. Cats mark their scent by rubbing their face and body, which deposits natural pheromones to establish boundaries within which they feel safe and secure. Avoid cleaning their scent off these areas, especially when a new cat is introduced into the home or there are other changes with pets, people, or the environment of the home. The use of synthetic facial pheromones, such as Feliway®, can mimic a cat’s natural pheromones and provide a calming effect in a stressful or unfamiliar situation. Some smells can be threatening to cats, such as the scent of unfamiliar animals or the use of scented products, cleaners, or detergents. Threatening smells and the inability to rub their scent can sometimes lead to problematic behaviors such as passing urine or stools outside the litter box, spraying, and scratching in undesirable areas. In some cases, stress-related illness may develop. If any of these problems occur, contact your vet right away.
A natural behavior of cats is to groom, including their claws. Providing adequate scratching areas is the first step to protecting your furniture, drapery, and walls from a very frustrated feline. It is best to provide a couple of different options for scratching, such as both vertical and horizontal posts, in a variety of different materials, and especially if you have a multi-cat household, in a variety of different areas of the house. If you think you will solve a scratching problem by declawing your cat, think again. Almost every vet- the good ones anyway- has stopped chopping off cat toes for the convenience of their owner. It's even illegal in a lot of places. We certainly do not declaw cats (haven't for a decade).
If your cat insists on scratching the furniture or walls, try temporarily placing double-sided tape on the areas where they are scratching. You can also try tin foil. Block the area she is scratching with an acceptable scratching post. One picture above shows an owner who just attached the scratching post directly to the sofa. Once your cat starts using the real scratching post instead of your furniture, start slowly moving the scratching post to the area where you really want it. Make sure there are plenty of scratching areas for each cat as well. Cats generally want the scratching posts to be in areas where they are being social, as scratching is not just about the mani-pedi but is also a scent marker.
Bottom line, there are many things you can do to make your cat happy. And we all know that's why we have cats- to make them happy!