May 18, 2021

Dr. Susan Head


10 Things Your Cat Wants You To Know

Here are some things your cat would like you to know about.

Consistency: Have you ever seen a cat that clearly knows exactly when meal time is? Or when play time is? Cats are creatures of habit and feel most secure when they can trust that events happen at around the same time each day. For instance, they like to have a very consistent feeding schedule. And play time schedule. And grooming sessions, etc. If you are in the position that you cannot be consistent, you can either have a friend/neighbor/pet sitter fill in the gaps or, for meals, you can purchase timed feeders that feed specific amounts at specific times so the meal schedule is always the same. Bonus: this can also teach kitty that you getting out of bed does not equal a meal, so you may get to sleep in longer.

Resources: What if you felt uncertain about if you were going to get enough to eat, and especially if someone else had access to eat as much of your food as they wanted? It might make you nervous as well as having negative feelings toward the other individual. Cats like to feel secure that they will have plenty of their own food, own water, own safe sleeping spaces, and own personal attention. It is best to allow cats to eat from separate containers, far enough from other cats that they do not feel competition. Cats are generally less stressed in a household where there are multiple water containers throughout the house as well as multiple soft, safe sleeping areas (ie, sleep will not be disturbed by children, dogs, other cats, etc.)

Claws: It is natural for cats to scratch. They have scent glands in their paws that allow them to communicate with other cats and mark territory when they scratch. They also get to stretch and remove the outer claw layers. To help your cat feel calm and to protect your furniture, provide multiple types of scratchers (vertical and horizontal) with multiple materials (sisal rope, cardboard, wood). Place sturdy scratching posts near prominent furniture (such as couches) and their sleeping areas. Pro Tip: cats prefer stable cat trees 3 feet or higher with at least 2 levels and with scratching material wrapped around. Reward your kitty when he uses the post. Try sprinkling dried cat nip on the post. Keep kitty's nails trimmed regularly. There are many online video tutorials for nail trimming.

Vertical space: In nature, cats have acres of land to cover. They often climb into trees or other places up high to monitor for predators as well as hunt for prey. This behavior often provides a sense of control and comfort. Inside our houses, most of us do not have full grown trees for our pet cats to climb. Providing cat trees/gyms, mantles, empty bookshelves, shelves mounted on the wall, or built in cat walks can give pet cats the same sense of control and relaxation.

Carbohydrates & hydration: Because cats evolved from the desert, their bodies are designed for high protein/high water/high fat meals (such as rodents, reptiles, and birds) and to get their water from their prey rather than from a body of water. They do not generally have a high thirst drive unless they eat a very dry diet (such as dry cat food). Additionally, cats are designed to eat minimal carbohydrates since they eat live prey rather than large amounts of fruits or vegetables. Canned foods have very high percentages of water, whereas dry cat foods have very low percentages of water. Canned cat foods can be very low in carbohydrates like prey (unless there is added rice, pasta, or vegetables). So feeding meat based canned cat food is more like consuming prey (high water, high protein, low carbohydrate). If your cat eats exclusively or mostly dry food and you are interested in feeding exclusively or more canned food, consider offering just a bite or two of the canned food and slowly working up. Otherwise, eating a whole lot at once can be too rich if kitty is not used to it (resulting in diarrhea or vomiting). There are several medical problems in cats that can be prevented or treated simply by feeding a diet higher in water and lower in carbohydrates. These diets can also help maintain a healthier weight than dry food. Pets typically live longer and healthier if they maintain a normal weight.

Masters of hiding: Cats are the ultimate poker player-you often can't read what they're thinking or feeling if they don't want you to. Cats are designed to always pretend like everything is ok. If you think about cats in nature, they are pre-wired to not let on if they are sick or in pain because they would be more likely to be chosen by a predator. So, they just pretend like everything is just fine. The problem that presents us as caretakers is that we often do not know our cat has a source of pain or disease until it is quite advanced and they cannot keep going without expressing how they feel. Nearly all cats with tooth resorption (a common cause of oral pain) suffer in silence and their owner has no idea they have a chronic tooth ache. Many significant diseases go unnoticed until advanced. This is where having examinations every 6-12 months can pick up on changes such as weight loss, a new heart murmur, thickened intestines, or a hole in a tooth far before you would notice problems at home. Additionally, little changes at home such as changes in appetite or behavior can be subtle clues that something needs to be addressed before it becomes severe.

Boredom: In nature, cats spend the majority of their awake time hunting, stalking, chasing, interacting with other animals (fighting, mating, playing, etc). Indoor cats have very little mental stimulation since they don't have to hunt for their food and they generally have less to do- especially if spayed/neutered-no mating or raising kittens. Indoor cats, quite simply, are often bored. You can offer multiple short vigorous predatory sessions to allow kitty to "hunt" (and successfully capture) their false prey.  These play sessions (especially with prey-like toys such as toy mice, toys on a wand, battery operated toys) are like playing a sport or a child going to the playground- it gets out some of the pent up energy and decreases "bad behaviors" that they may take out on humans or other pets (such as aggression or destruction of your home). Think of how cardio exercise can help anxiety and depression in humans- it can be very helpful mentally for kitties as well!

Work for it: Having to work for a meal is quite natural for cats. It is mentally and physically engaging. Some ideas include tossing treats or dry food one at a time across the room for kitty to hunt. Some cats get so excited that they will happily run through the house from room to room chasing a piece of food. Another fun game can be for you to hide the food in different places throughout the house for kitty to have to hunt. This slows down their eating and engages them physically and mentally because they have to walk around, jumping up and down from surfaces, searching for food. One more option is feeding in food puzzles. These are mobile or stationary containers that make kitty have to figure out how to get the food out of the container to be able to eat. This website features DIY or purchased feeders with varying difficulty levels:

Nature lovers: Have you ever been stuck inside and wished you could spend some time outside? Cats love being outside- it is natural for them. You can purchase or construct a "catio" (patio for a cat) that can be simple or quite elaborate to allow your kitty some safe outdoor time. You can also train your cat with a harness and go for leash walks. And believe it or not, some cats love stroller walks through the neighborhood!

Indoor health: Many people think that indoor cats are not at risk for becoming ill because they do not have much exposure to elements, toxins, predators, or injury. But did you know there are many diseases that can happen to indoor cats? Some of these include overactive thyroid, diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer, dental disease, heart failure, and kidney failure. These can happen due to age, obesity, inactivity, endocrine disruptors in our households, and genetics. Please make sure that your kitty is examined at least once per year (and more often if over the age of 13 years).

10 Things Your Cat Wants You To Know

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