Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in the November/December 2015 issue of Catster print magazine. Click here to subscribe to Catster magazine.
Hearing that purr of contentment and seeing a smile on your cat’s face as you cuddle together: There’s nothing like it. But how do you know if your cat is truly happy? Perhaps she could be happier.
Bringing a cat home and plunking her into your world is not enough to keep her content and healthy. Cats need an environment that fulfills their distinct physical and psychological needs. Left too long without mental or emotional stimulation, cats become reclusive and even a bit neurotic.
Don’t panic. It’s not that hard to provide a warm, loving, and interesting home for your cat. These simple tips will ensure that your cat gets everything she needs — without turning your own world upside down.
1. Keep your cat inside
If you want your cat to live a long life, the best way to start is by keeping her indoors. It’s well documented that indoor cats are healthier and live much longer than those who go outdoors.
Even if your cat sits at the door and begs to be let outside, the kindest thing you can do is to not honor that demand. Eventually, she will stop asking to be let out and will be happy to stay inside with you where it’s cozy, safe, and warm. But will she get bored? That’s where my next tip comes in.
2. Provide a stimulating environment
When you do see cats outside, typically they are running, hunting, climbing, chewing on grass, and having a fun time discovering new things. Bring some of those outdoor activities inside to keep your cat happy and lively.
Lots of toys — interactive as well as “self-playing” — will keep your cat active and provide an outlet for her hunting instincts. Swap out her toys for new ones every now and then so she doesn’t get bored. Tall cat trees and places to climb and observe the world as well as cat cubbyholes to curl up in will make her feel like the queen of the castle.
Provide cat grass or tender shoots she can eat, such as kitty-safe lemongrass. A bird feeder by her favorite window will provide entertainment. We call that “cat TV” at my house. And don’t forget scratchers. Providing a good scratching place for your cat to flex her feet and keep her nails healthy will also help save your sofa from her claws.
3. Get your cat a friend
Even with a wonderfully stimulating environment, some cats might still get bored, especially if they’re home alone while you’re at work. Welcoming another cat to your household might be just what your kitty needs. Of course, there will be an adjustment period when you bring the newbie home.
Most cats will become buddies after just a few short weeks of introductions. I’ve been lucky: Most of my cat introductions have gone well from the start. In fact, my BooBoo and Oliver became fast friends the very first night I brought Oliver home. If you don’t yet have a cat, consider adopting an already bonded pair so they can live a long happy life together.
4. Spay/neuter your cat
Spaying or neutering your cat is a very important step to ensuring a happy, healthy, harmonious life with your cat.
Some people assume you don’t need to spay/neuter an indoor cat, but there are many behavioral and medical issues that can occur in unaltered cats. Eliminating the risk of reproductive cancers and pyometra (infection of the uterus) is just one benefit, and aggression and the need to mark territory are reduced.
My late Sadie, who had a severe heart murmur and could not be spayed, suffered from uterine infections as well as crazy aggression caused by estrus. I loved her, but it was unpleasant for us both, not to mention the pricey vet bills. The cost of spaying/neutering will be money well spent.
5. See the vet regularly
I hear it all the time: “Oh, my cat is fine; there’s no need to see the vet.” There’s a chance this is not true. Cats are very good at hiding the fact that they are sick. Usually by the time you see symptoms, they are really quite ill.
A yearly checkup with your veterinarian is the best way to prevent health problems. In fact, about half of the people who call me for behavior advice need to take their cat to see the vet instead of calling me. Even I have fallen into that trap: My 16-year-old started peeing outside the box and, at first, I just chalked it up to old age. I then thought better of it and whisked her to the vet, where a UTI was diagnosed.
6. Give the gift of yourself
Above all else, what your cat really wants from you is you. Spend time with your cat every single day. Playtime, cuddle time, and grooming time all promote and deepen the bond you have with your cat and will help you relax as well. Stroking your cat will not only calm her, it may also improve your own health. It has been reported that owning a cat reduces blood pressure and decreases risk of heart attack or stroke.
How much time should you spend with your cat?
There are no absolute rules on how much time to spend with your cat, especially because some cats seem to need a great deal of attention while others are good with just a few minutes. Here are some general guidelines for the minimum types of interaction your cat needs.
Mealtime play: About five minutes or so of playtime just before breakfast and dinner will stimulate your cat’s natural rhythm to hunt before eating. Get out that bird on a stick, and let her chase it around and eventually catch it.
Also, some cats enjoy being petted while they eat, so try gently stroking your cat’s back during mealtimes. My cat, Abby, likes for me to gently pat her rear end while she begins eating her breakfast.
End-of-day play: Give your cat five to 10 minutes of vigorous playtime before bed so she will expel any pent-up energy and sleep better through the night. This will also stop your cat from waking you up in the middle of the night for attention.
You’ll know when it’s time to stop because your cat will lose interest. My Sunny likes to fetch and retrieve a little white ball. Once he’s had enough, he won’t bring it back for me to throw again.
Petting and cuddle time: Any time your kitty is in the mood to snuggle, give her all the love she can handle. Pet her or brush her only as much as she wants; you can tell it’s time to stop if her tail starts twitching and her eyes get wide. Just having her sit on your lap or next to you on the sofa with your hand gently resting on her is enough to make her feel loved and cherished.
Grooming time: Brushing your cat can also be a bonding experience for you both. Find a brush your cat likes, and lightly brush her with it — not deep grooming but the type of brushing that mimics your hand petting her. This is like a massage, and she will probably run to your side any time you touch the brush — like my cats do.
About the author: Rita Reimers’ cat behavior counseling sessions have helped many kitties remain happy in their forever homes. Visit her website, the Cat Analyst, to learn more about her services and to read her cat behavior blog. Rita is also owner/ CEO of Just For Cats Pet Sitting . Connect with Rita on Facebook and Twitter.