Cats are one of the most commonly owned pets in the United States. According the American Veterinary Medical Association, in 2016 25.4% of households reported owning at least one cat. Though cats have been domesticated and living with humans for thousands of years, they still retain many of their natural needs and behaviors.
Just like people, cats like to have their own space. Perches, comfy resting spots, and spots around the home they can escape to are several things that should be present. Each cat in the house should have its own safe haven that includes all the necessities: food, water, litter, toys, etc. These spaces should be separate from other cats in the house, so your cat does not feel threatened.
Cats, as carnivores, have predatory instincts. Even indoor cats still display these behaviors when they play. The way we feed indoor cats can deprive them of their natural hunting instincts and lead to decreased activity and obesity. As pet owners, we can combat this by offering portions of meals in puzzle toys or even placing wet food inside of a rubber hollow toy to stimulate their mind while they are eating. One thing to remember is that cats as a species are often solitary hunters, so many indoor cats still prefer to eat out of sight of other cats or pets.
Cats have many natural behaviors that would be perfectly acceptable in the wild but may not be so acceptable when applied to your couch. These behaviors include scratching, chewing, and playing. Giving your cat appropriate outlets for these behaviors can help to prevent them from using these behaviors in a destructive manner. Scratching posts are one of the best ways to encourage appropriate scratching behavior. Cats often will scratch after periods of rest or stretching, so placing scratching items near favorite resting places is ideal.
Cats love to chew on plant materials, so having appropriate plants available can be helpful in keeping your cat happy. Fresh cat nip is a great option. If your cat is a little unsure, the cat friendly plants can be rubbed with tuna juice or wet cat food to entice them to chew. It is extremely important to make sure that cats do not have access to house plants that may be toxic. If your cat is not into plants but you still want to allow them to perform their natural chewing behavior, dried fish treats are a great option.
When cats play, they often go through their natural predatory sequence. They stalk, chase, pounce, and bite their toys, so offering toys that they can pick up and toss or pounce on is important. You want to be sure that your cat understands that you are NOT a toy, so purchase toys that separate human hands from play such as feather wands, battery operated self-propelling toys, or laser lights. Any time a laser light is used, be sure to reward your cat with a treat or a toy to reward them for “catching their prey” and to prevent frustration. Other ideas for toys include home made ball pits by placing balls in a box or bathtub, or catnip toys. Be sure to rotate toys so your cat does not get bored!
The social structure within the home affects your cat on a day to day basis. A cat’s social hierarchy includes EVERYONE in the home, include other pets and humans. They may perceive other members of the household as threats, competitors, or even prey. No matter what other pet you have, your cat should determine how much time they spend with them. The only exception here would be prey species such as small mammals, birds, or fish. Cats often have complicated interaction and social behavior with other cats in the home and may show either open or silent conflict. Open conflict is obvious, and includes stalking, hissing, swatting, wrestling, or biting. Silent conflict can be more subtle. The threatened cat will often start to spend time away from the family by staying in areas of the house that the other cat does not use. Sometimes they may interact with the family only if the other cat is not around. If you notice any of these signs of conflict, it is important to call your vet to discuss ways to combat this. We often suggest using Feliway, a pheromone diffuser, in the home to help combat inter-cat conflicts.
Other enrichment ideas and information about indoor cat behaviors can be found at https://indoorpet.osu.edu/cats. If you have any questions about normal cat behaviors or want to make your home more cat-friendly, feel free to give us at call at (630)-985-2777.