Aug 28 2017

Dr. Nawas’s Top 5 List for a Happy Cat!

Cats. Anyone who has the pleasure of sharing their lives with feline family members knows how diverse they can be. From the snuggle bugs to the pet-me-if-you-dares, cats come in many shapes, sizes, hair-coats, and demeanors. As a veterinarian I have seen all types, and I’ve experienced some of them first hand as my own pets as well! I can’t tell you for sure what your cat will like or dislike, as they are all unique and individual, but over my years of practicing veterinary medicine and through observing my own munchkin, Ms. Celest, I have compiled my top 5 things that will make your cat’s life better!

 

1) LOVE

Yes, this one is a bit intuitive but what we need to realize is that what we consider as “acts of love” may not translate to the same feeling for our cats! Cats are creatures that rely greatly on body language, giving physical cues to show their love and affection. The LAST thing most cats want is a hug and a kiss (although I must admit I am guilty of subjecting my cat Celest to forced snuggles on occasion!). Showing your cat love may be letting them lay next to you, or on you, with or without petting them (depending on their preference), playing with them, brushing them, having a set followed schedule (cats love this one!), and giving them space when needed. If they don’t like to be picked up…don’t pick them up unless necessary. If they love to be brushed, do this for them often! Basically, loving your cat is listening to what they need and want, and delivering on both.

One of the ways that cats tell us they love us is by doing the notorious “slow blink”. You know the one…when your cat makes soft eye contact with you and suddenly looks a bit tired… It’s not a sign of sheer exhaustion from laying in that sunbeam all day, it’s your cat saying “You know what? I love you!” Feel free to do it back to relay the message!

slowpblinkmovement

 The “slow blink” in action!

** A side note…FOOD IS NOT LOVE…we see a tremendous amount of overweight cats and the health consequences of obesity in cats are numerous and are paralleled to the same health conditions seen in humans with the same condition (heart disease, diabetes, cancer, joint disease, etc). Feeding your cat a balanced nutritious science-backed and veterinary approved diet in the correct amounts for their metabolism IS, however, a loving thing to do…and since most cats love eating, they will feel the love 🙂

 

2) PLAY

Playing with your cat is one of the most important things you can do to show them you care. Most cats love to engage in play at least a few times per day. This is not only very important to give them exercise, it also gives them an outlet for stress and anxiety as well as satisfaction of their strong prey drive. Cats love to hunt (play) and then eat and drink, and then groom/rest. This is a natural routine for them. So if you play with them about 30 minutes before you feed them (leaving at least 15-20 minutes for “cool down” before actually offering them food), this will tap into this primal routine. Also, it’s important to learn your cat’s preferences. Fur or feathers? Chase or Hide and Seek? Finding out what your cat’s favourite thing to play with and how they like to play are very important as well! Celest is a feather girl 100% and will not engage in play unless I am actively moving the toy around. Her favorite game is hide and seek and she also loves twist ties to chase, but I have to supervise her closely to make sure she doesn’t eat them!

catplay

 

3) GETTING HIGH

No…not that “getting high”…I mean physically up in the air! Cats need areas that are high up in the house where they can feel safe and observe their surroundings. This allows them to stalk prey, see other predators approaching, and it allows them to be able to get away from the hussle and bussle of what might be going on down on the ground. This can be accomplished by a high cat tree, building shelves on the walls for them to jump up on, or purchasing a window perch. This becomes especially important if you have a multi cat household or if you cat is generally skittish, but its extremely important for the health of a cat in a single cat or single pet household as well!

**note…the other kitty version of “getting high” with the use of catnip is ok too when used in moderation. Catnip can be a great addition to play time and can also be used to train your cat to use the litter box or scratching posts! It’s a reward and an attractant!

cat high

 Here’s an example of some neat window seats that can help to get your kitty off the ground! Celest loves hers!

4) LITTERBOXES

Uggghhh…one of the least exciting parts of having a cat as part of your family…the dreaded litter. I can’t stress enough the importance of the litterbox to your cat’s happiness and well being. Every year I see many cats having to be put to sleep due to issues with inappropriate urination and defecation, and litter can have a role in this unfortunate issue! Does your cat like clumping litter or non clumping? Scented or non scented? Clay or paper or paper pellets? Every cat is different and will prefer a certain litter type, so be sure to know your cat’s preferences and STICK WITH IT! We also have the litterbox type…high or low sides? Covered or uncovered? Plastic or disposable? SO MANY OPTIONS and every cat will have their specific preferences. Once you find what your cat prefers do not change ANYTHING unless directed by your veterinarian. Cats should have a minimum of 1.5 litterboxes per cat in the house…this means 2 for 1 cat, and 3 for 2 cats, etc. They need to be in different places in the house well away from food or sleeping areas, and they need to be scooped AT LEAST once per day and completely emptied, cleaned, and disinfected every week or so. I scoop Celest’s litterbox twice daily and totally clean it out once weekly (she’s a paper pellet kind of girl by the way so I use Yesterday’s News in her box). In general cats prefer lower sided boxes (especially if your cat is over 7 years of age and likely has some degree of arthritis) in a quite area that is easily accessible with good lines of sight so they fee comfortable that another predator isn’t going to ambush them while they are “doing their business”. Also litter should be kept quite shallow as well as cats don’t generally like feeling as though they are in quick sand when they are trying to posture to urinate or defecate…I think we can all empathize with that one :).

cat litter

 

5) FEEDING AND ENRICHMENT

Cats like to hunt. I’m sure they also seem to like having their food served to them on a silver platter twice daily as well, but I assure you, they like to hunt! As we discussed earlier, playing helps to tap into this urge, but a little known tip that can really satisfy any cat is the hunt for their meals as well! Instead of plopping that 1/4 cup of dry food or tablespoon of wet food into kitty’s bowl at the next meal time, consider trying a treat ball or putting the food spread out in several places around the house! Also you can get puzzles to put your cat’s food in to make them paw at the kibbles or take them out of a maze to get their meal! This gives them exercise AND stimulates their kitty brains in a way that not much else can! Give it a try, but be patient! Many cats that have been being fed from a bowl for years will need some time to learn how to hunt their food, but once they figure it out, they will be a happy kitty! You can check out our online store for some really cool feeding games for your kitty 🙂

cat feeding enrichment

A cat “hunting” for his food! Try toys like this spread out around the house 🙂

Also always be sure your cat has several places to hide out when needed and sleep etc and be sure to provide them with several types of scratching posts. Do they like horizontal or vertical? Cardboard or Rope or Carpet? Wall-leaners or stand-alones? So many choices and an equal number of individual preferences. Try them all until your cat shows you which one they prefer, and then make them available! Teach your cat to use the scratching post from a young age using catnip, play, and reward when they are using it correctly! This will save your furniture and your sanity all in one (yay!)

 

There are so many aspects to keeping your cat happy, and since keeping an indoor cat is the safest route for them and for us, it’s important to know what your cat needs in order to be truly happy living with us humans. It really comes down to individual behaviour and preference as every cat is different, and respecting this is one of the best things we can do to keep our cats happy!

Although I am not likely to be your cat’s “favourite person” in the world (despite my best efforts!), it’s extremely important for me to see them for a check up at least once per year, even if they are indoor only kitties. Being indoor only doesn’t exempt them from things like parasites (houseflies can carry tapeworms, potted plants can carry roundworms…yuck), metabolic diseases (kidney disease, diabetes, etc), dental disease (VERY common and painful) and behavioural issues, just to name a few. One of the best things you can do to keep your cat HAPPY is to keep them HEALTHY by following the tips listed above, keeping up with their healthcare, and asking us questions! As veterinarians we are here to help! Myself and all of the veterinarians at Erin Mills Pet Hospital are deeply dedicated to your cats and their needs both medically and behaviorally, and to show that we have been AAFP Feline Friendly Gold Certified. We can help you to make their experience at the vet as calm and stress free as possible, just ask us how!

 

            Cats are full of fun, intrigue, love and excitement! They add so much to our daily lives and, as their guardians, it’s on us to do all we can to make their lives as close to “purrrrrrfection” as we can!

 

Dr. Christine Nawas BSc. DVM

** for more great information on cats check out this link: https://indoorpet.osu.edu/cats

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