Cats are fascinating, smart, and loving companion animals. Understanding your own cat’s behaviors, and communication methods will help you build a strong bond, prevent or resolve behavior problems, and set your kitty up to live a healthy, happy life.
There are many tips to guide you in nurturing and understanding your cat, but to get you started, here are 10 basic ones.
1. Provide a Safe and Enriching Environment
Your cat is curious, adventurous, and playful. Provide an environment that’s safe but also stimulating. Before you even bring your new cat home, take care of cat-proofing tasks ahead of time. If your new feline family member is a kitten, safeguarding will require even more detail as the newcomer will surely embark on some questionable undertakings as he discovers his emerging skills and sense of balance.
The indoor environment should offer your cat the opportunity to safely employ his instinctive curiosity. Simulate a natural feline habitat without any of the dangers found outdoors. Vertical territory, hiding places, scratching surfaces, playtime, and positive training, will help keep your cat mentally and physically engaged.
2. Litter Box Set-up
Provide a litter box set-up that’s large enough, the right type, easily accessible, and cleaned regularly. Cats can have texture preferences and generally prefer a soft, sandy substrate. Scoopable litter is often most comfortable for the cat and convenient for cat parents when it comes to keeping the box clean. To avoid litter box aversion issues, ensure the set-up fits your cat’s preferences, and if you have a multicat household, furnish enough boxes in numerous locations.
3. Scratching Posts and Pads
Scratching is a natural and normal behavior for maintaining claw health, marking territory, stretching, and exhibiting displacement behavior. Your cat should never be punished for scratching furniture. Instead, provide sisal-covered scratching posts for vertical scratching, and corrugated cardboard pads for horizontal scratching. Locate scratching posts in convenient, socially significant, high-traffic flow areas of the home. Don’t hide them in corners or unused rooms.
4. Pay Attention to Your Cat’s Body Language
Your cat communicates in multiple ways. An obvious and basic form of communication that can have a significant effect on the cat/human bond is through body language. A cat’s body language speaks volumes about current mood and desire for interaction or distance. Pay attention to the cues your cat gives by watching posture, ear position, tail movement, pupil size, and even whisker position.
5. Choice and Consent
The power of choice. Don’t underestimate its worth in trust-building and stress reduction. Offer choice so your cat doesn’t feel backed in a corner. Your cat needs personal space and the freedom to control how much interaction is wanted. Respect boundaries and always provide a place where your cat can retreat. In a multicat household, provide enough personal core areas for each cat so there’s always an option to retreat when peace and quiet are needed.
Consent is also important. Your cat’s body posture (along with other cues) is letting you know whether consent is being given to engage or touch, or whether kitty would prefer you keep your distance. Don’t just startle your cat by a sudden approach and then picking kitty up. “Ask” for consent by making sure your cat is aware of your presence, and then if you want to engage, use a gentle approach (you can also use a soft tone of voice as well). Pay attention to how your cat responds and don’t just reach over and grab him.
6. Socialize and Train Your Cat with Love
It’s important to recognize that behaviors your cat displays are normal and natural. Punishment should never be part of your training technique. Learn what your cat needs so you can provide appropriate outlets (such as appealing scratching posts to prevent furniture scratching). Use positive training to reward your cat for behaviors you want repeated. Be consistent with training and make sure everyone is on the same page about training methods. Train early and with kindness, to help your cat become comfortable with typical aspects of life, such as being in a cat carrier, veterinary visits, being handled for medicating or grooming, and so on.
Socialization is also important to help your cat become at ease with humans and other animals. Use gentle techniques to ease your cat through the process and increase comfort levels.
7. Have a Consistent Routine
Cats take comfort in routine and predictability. Sudden changes are unsettling and stressful. Work on establishing a consistent schedule for mealtime, interactive play sessions, and other aspects of life with a cat. A predictable routine in the home builds security, reduces anxiety, and contributes to a stronger bond.
8. Playtime and Activity for Your Cat
Cats are born to move. Incorporate both interactive play sessions with opportunities for solo play. Use interactive toys (based on a fishing pole or wand toy design) so you can mimic prey and stimulate your cat’s natural predatory instincts. Move the toy like prey so your cat can plan, stalk, pounce, and capture the toy multiple times throughout the session. Since routine is important to your cat, interactive play sessions should take place at least twice a day. Aim for about 15 minutes each time. Keep toys put away after each session to prevent the risk of strangulation.
Solo playtime is also important. The toys you leave out for your cat should be safe so always do a check-over to ensure there are no parts that could be swallowed.
Playtime for a healthy cat life is beneficial in multiple ways. Playtime provides exercise, promotes a healthy appetite, relieves boredom, reduces stress, and builds confidence.
9. Introducing New Cats
Cats are sociable but that sociability is built around resource availability. It’s critical that every cat feel secure in accessing resources and having enough personal core areas. Introducing a new cat to a resident cat requires planning, patience, and an understanding of how to set up the environment for success. A sanctuary room needs to be set up for the newcomer so he can get his bearings and feel secure. The actual introduction process is done in stages, allowing the cats to have very limited and positive exposure to one another. If the process isn’t rushed and you give the cats a reason to like each other and not feel threatened, they often will begin the slow process of acceptance, and then hopefully, friendship.
Even long after the introduction, pay attention to relationships between the cats so you can nip behavior issues in the bud. Just because you may not actually see physical fights doesn’t mean there isn’t mounting tension between two or more cats. Stay on top of how relationships are going and whether you need to intervene with a behavior plan. If you suspect all is not rosy between your cats, don’t wait to work on repairing that relationship.
10. Health and Nutrition
Regular veterinary check-ups are fundamental for health monitoring, spotting problems in the earliest stages, and minimizing suffering. Cats are very stoic, and many signs of illness or pain can easily be missed by cat parents. Even if your cat appears healthy, don’t skip those yearly veterinary exams. Your veterinarian will also guide you on appropriate vaccinations, flea/tick prevention, as well as whether heartworm protection is recommended as well.
Keep your cat on a sound nutritional program. Cats are obligate carnivores and must get vitamin A from meat sources. Feed good quality food in the right amounts to help your cat thrive and maintain a healthy weight. If you’re unsure how much to feed, your veterinarian can guide you.
Provide fresh water for your cat. Wash the bowl daily to prevent biofilm build-up and replenish with fresh water. Don’t use a double-feeder dish that holds both food and water because food can spill over to the other side and cause contamination.
The above tips are just general guidelines. Use them to discover more about what your cat needs. Learn about your cat’s behavior so you can nurture a happy relationship and provide an environment that brings out the best in your feline family member. Provide mental and physical stimulation, respect body language cues, keep a consistent routine, resolve behavior problems early, provide good quality nutrition, and maintain regular veterinary care.
The more you learn about your cat, the more you’ll want to learn. Before you know it, you’ll be well on your way to developing a strong and loving bond.
Need More Information?
For more information on cat behavior and training, check out the books by best-selling author, Pam Johnson-Bennett. Pam’s books are available at your favorite bookstore and online. For your convenience, you can also use the Amazon link here on our website.
This article is intended for general information only and is not to be viewed as a replacement for your cat’s regular veterinary care. If you have a question about your cat’s health, consult your veterinarian.