Did you know that there are five key needs to a healthy environment for your cat? The Association for Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) and International Society of Feline Medicine (ISFM) call these “five pillars,” and just like a pillar supports a building, each of these supports helping keep your cats feeling healthy, comfortable, and confident in their environment.
A Safe Place
A place that makes your cat feel safe is somewhere she can retreat to feel protected. For many cats, this is a high place, though some cats prefer to make their hiding places at ground level, especially older cats who may difficulty jumping or climbing due to arthritis, and your kitty should be able to retreat somewhere outside of the high-traffic area of your home. There need to be enough safe places so that each cat can have their own, since although cats may choose to spend time with each other, they need to have a retreat all of their own, too.
Cats like to have high sides on their safe place rather than being out in the open. A cat carrier lined with a favorite blanket tucked into a quiet corner may work for some cats, while others may enjoy a perch at the top of a cat tree. Even a cardboard box can make a safe place for a cat, provided it is in a location where they can relax and sleep while feeling they have some control over their environment.
Separated Key Environmental Resources
To your cat, key environmental resources include feeding, drinking, litter box, claw scratching, play, and resting areas. Your cat prefers they be spread out, separate from each other. You probably don’t want to eat next to your toilet, and neither does your cat! Separating these also enlarges your cat’s environment, encouraging both exploration and exercise.
If you have multiple cats in your home, provide multiple resources. Private eating locations reduces stress and allows your cats to feel like they don’t have to compete for food. In smaller spaces, you can even use visual separation to help cats feel they have private spaces, by feeding them around the corner from each other rather than in the open in the same room.
Opportunity for Play and Predatory Behavior
Wild cats spend a significant portion of their day hunting for and and catching prey in order to survive, and your cat needs the mental engagement that activity provides. Make sure he has toys that let him stalk and pounce. If your cat likes wand toys, this is a great way to bond with your cat while also fulfilling one of his needs to stalk, chase, and pounce the way that his wild ancestors did.
Cats who don’t have opportunities for predatory-type behaviors can get bored act out in frustration. On the other hand, cats who do get vigorous play time are less likely to become obese. Predatory play helps your cat stay fit both mentally and physically.
Positive, Consistent, Predictable Human-Cat Social Interaction
Positive interaction with humans from a young age is important to helping cats avoid stress or even fear when interacting with humans. This is critical for kitten socialization, but it continues throughout your cat’s life with you to reinforce your bond with each other. In a multi-cat household, make sure every cat gets individual attention and isn’t left out or crowded away from you by other cats.
Interaction in the form of play is fun for both you and your cat, but as your cat gets older, she may not want to play as hard or as long. Pay attention to your cat and keep it positive. If your cat doesn’t enjoy being picked up, that’s something at adds to their stress rather than building a happy environment for her. Make sure you are providing positive social interaction the way the cat prefers.
Environment Respecting the Cat’s Sense of Smell
Cats have a sens of smell much stronger than ours, and it’s easy to forget that they are experiencing the world in part through that sense. When your cat rubs against the corners of furniture or walls, he is depositing scent there, marking an area where he feels safe and secure. If you can avoid it, don’t wash these marks away.
Try to avoid using cleaners or cat litter that disrupts the cat’s sense of smell. A sudden, strange smell in the house can make the house feel less secure to your cat, whether it is from a new cat litter or from something you tracked in on your shoes. The synthetic pheromone product Feliway helps reduce anxiety in your cat by introducing a scent like the one your cat deposits throughout his familiar territory, and it is one scent you can introduce that can help reduce anxiety in your cats, especially in stressful situations.
Cats like to feel like they are safe and in control of their environment, and you can use these five pillars of feline environmental needs as a checklist to find little adjustments you can make around the house that can make a bit difference for your cat’s feeling of security in her environment.
Reference: AAFP and ISM Environmental Needs Guidelines
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