Many, possibly most, of the undesirable behavior of cats result from inadequate or even harmful elements within their environment. Often these result simply from us not knowing just what cats need in order to feel safe and be happy.
This Faq page addresses those factors. Keep in mind that undesirable behavior such as house soiling may have a medical cause which must be considered first and addressed.
Provide safe places. It is not enough for your cats to be within a home which you feel to be safe and secure – cats need safe and secure places within that home that are, not just particularly, but only, for each of them. This is true if you have one cat or multiple. All cats need their own space/spaces. These spaces should be large enough to fit only one, have three sides and and can be exited fairly easily. Some cats like a low ceiling in order to feel fully enclosed. And as nearly everyone knows, boxes are favorites for many cats.
Many cats like high places from which to survey their surroundings and low places in which to hide. Our cat, Bijou, is always finding new spaces – the cloak closet on a raised shelf with a cushion with another shelf just above him; under the kitchen sink near a heating vent; the laundry hamper; in a little niche on top of the sofa cushions. And some cats like to be really high, like refrigerator high. Think of cats in the wild – and most all cat behaviorists insist that cats have one foot in domesticity and three in the wild. A small den is so much safer, warmer in cold weather, cooler in hot weather and much easier to defend than open or large spaces. High spaces give them a perch with an overview of the surrounding – very comforting to predators who may also become prey.
Provide multiple, separated resources. Resources include food, water, elimination areas, recreation areas and areas for sleeping and resting. If your cat is an indoor/outdoor cat this also includes the cat door(s). If you have more than one cat it is important that access to a necessary resource can’t be hampered by another cat. It is vital that a less dominant cat need not go through a more dominant cat’s ‘territory’ to get to vital resources or be challenged in any way when attempting to do so. Such conflicts cause considerable stress and not necessarily only in the cat being challenged. Challenging can be stressful too and such scenarios are almost certain to result in undesirable behavior, such as marking, clawing, aggressiveness, etc., and can easily give rise to physical ailments as well.
Provide space, time and opportunity for ‘Catness’ Catness is what cats do because they are cats. They are not dogs and above all, they are not people. Everyone who has a cat knows they like to play and have their own ways of doing so. Cats need to play in part, simply for the fun of it. They play for the needed exercise and also to invoke and exercise their natural predatory activities. And play helps them remain alert, active and engaged. Today there are a vast range of cat toys, cat furniture and interactive devices designed with considerable awareness of what cats like. Some of these they can play with on their own through their own manipulation. Some are motorized and can provide extended periods of activity and some allow you and your cats to play together. These come in a variety of styles so you don’t have to compromise the aesthetic of your home. Be sure to have several toys and to cycle them in and out so they remain engaged. Some cats are happy to play with toys together but if you are playing with them be sure to play with them individually as well.
Provide appropriate human interaction. Cats vary greatly in this department, some needing and wanting a great deal of human interaction, others extremely independent and wanting largely to be provided for but generally left alone. The extremely informative book “Encyclopedia of Cat Breeds” rates all the breeds on this quality (and a host of others) on a scale of 1 to 10. Many of us have cats that are not one specific breed, however, and even within a breed there are variations. The degree of comfort cats feel with human interaction is in part determined by their experiences as kittens but even this is not a ‘written in stone’ determination. Our orange tabby, Bijou, lived on the street from the time he was a kitten until we found him (he found us) at around 8 months old and he loves nothing more than to come onto a lap and be pet and he warms up to strangers pretty quickly too. The important thing is to provide him all the attention he wants but not to force our or allow others to force their attention. Even the most passive cat has a degree of autonomy that needs to be respected.
Provide an environment that respects the acuity and importance of a cat’s senses. Cats’ sense of hearing and smell is far more acute than ours and what may not affect us in the least may have a powerful, and disturbing effect on our cats. Loud, harsh music can be hurtful to a cat. (They can positively melt in ecstasy hearing classical, or harmonious music however.)
Artificial scents such as those from cleaning agents and air ‘fresheners’ are not appreciated by cats. (There is considerable evidence that they are extremely harmful to humans too. Do a search on ‘truth about air fresheners’. You’ll never use one again.)
Cats leave their own scent in a variety of places (including on us) by rubbing. This deposit of their scent on objects in their environment helps establish a sense of security. They know this is ‘their’ place. That is why they do this more when the environment becomes more stressed, as with the addition of a new cat or other new inhabitant or new furniture or objects.
It is often said that a cat rubs against us to establish a ‘communal’ scent. This may be so. It may also be that it is the ‘combined’ scent that they are creating and appreciating. Like, ‘you and me, we’re together’. In any case it is important to allow this scent-leaving and not try to clean it off. If they are not able to scent their environment, of which we are a part, they may become so stressed as to begin eliminating outside their litter box, or begin scratching or spraying, or developing other inappropriate and unwanted behavior. Undesirable behavior in a cat almost always stems from a stressed, unhappy cat. Just as it is our responsibility with an infant to know why they are crying and to try to alleviate the discomfort, it’s our job to understand what our cats need and how to satisfy those needs.
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