How to create a home environment that will keep cats content and comfortable
By Kim Campbell Thornton
Andrews McMeel Syndication
Is your cat happy? September -- Happy Cat Month -- is a good time to find out what makes cats purr and ensure that you’re meeting their needs.
Cats have a reputation for being mysterious, aloof creatures, but if we look beneath the surface, we find that what makes them happy isn’t so different from what makes us happy. They enjoy companionship with people and other animals, play and activity, good food, proper care and an interesting environment. None of those things is difficult or expensive to provide.
Contrary to popular belief, most cats enjoy spending time with their people. A 2017 study at Oregon State University’s Human-Animal Interaction lab found that half of the 38 cats in the study sought out the company of humans -- even when food and toys were alternatives. Make it a priority to spend time with your cat in a way they enjoy, whether that’s a few minutes of lap time or play with a favorite toy.
Cats also can enjoy the companionship of other animals. When adopting a kitten, current advice is to get two from the same litter so they can be lifelong friends. Cats can also learn to love dogs, especially when introduced at an early age. The idea that cats and dogs are sworn enemies is a myth, a truth borne out by the many cat-and-dog friendships in thousands of households.
Watching a kitten or cat play is often more entertaining than any television show. Kittens, especially, will leap and spin and chase until they collapse for a nap. And you don’t have to spend a lot on toys for them. An empty box (uexpress.com/pets/pet-connection/2016/12/26), a wadded-up piece of paper or a paper bag with the handles cut off are all feline favorites.
Zazie Todd, author of “Purr: The Science of Making Your Cat Happy,” says that rather than sturdy toys that hold up for a long time, cats may prefer paper or cardboard items they can shred. “Cats sometimes like when their toys start to disintegrate because it’s more like if they had actually caught something.”
Cats like variety and novelty, too. It’s a good idea to rotate toys regularly. When you bring them back out a few weeks later, they’re new again.
Cats have a reputation as fussy eaters, and that may be partly related to their status as obligate carnivores, or hypercarnivores, meaning they must have meat in their diet. That’s because cats lack the enzymes needed to produce the essential amino acids arginine and taurine; vitamins A, D and niacin; and some essential fatty acids. They have a genetic mutation making them indifferent to sweet flavors, plus at least seven functional bitter receptors, which may also influence what they’re willing to eat.
According to a 2019 study, cats appear to prefer diets containing about 30% of calories as protein, 27% as fat and 43% as carbohydrates. Always choose a food with a statement on the label saying the diet is complete and balanced and has undergone feline feeding trials.
One common misconception is that cats don’t need to be groomed because they clean themselves. Not so! Brushing is important to help remove dead hairs, distribute skin oils and make sure medium- and longhaired cats don’t develop mats and tangles. Most cats love the feel of being brushed, and it’s a great way to spend time with them.
What makes an interesting environment for a cat? Places where they can perch high, ideally in front of a window; places where they can hide; some safe, tasty and easily accessible potted plants to nibble on, such as tender grasses, parsley, thyme, valerian and of course catnip (no lilies!); an assortment of toys that will stimulate their hunting and pouncing instincts; a great scratching post (uexpress.com/pets/pet-connection/2017/12/18) and for cats who delight in the wet stuff, a small fountain. For more ideas, look here: fearfreehappyhomes.com/its-cat-play-fun-feline-enrichment.
Q: We live in an upstairs condo with a small balcony, and it would be great to have an option for our dog to potty on the balcony during rainy or cold weather, if we’re unable to take him up and down the stairs because of our own illness or injury, or if he’s recovering from surgery or injury and shouldn’t use stairs. Do you have any tips?
A: You bring up some important concerns for people who don’t have yards. Both pet product manufacturers and clever pet owners have come up with several approaches that might work for you, depending on the size, age and trainability of your dog.
One is pee pads. Lots of people who live in high-rises use this method to housetrain their puppies or to give adult dogs a potty option if they’re gone for several hours. Start with an extra-large one so they have plenty of space to target, use a holder or frame to keep it in place or place it inside a small exercise pen or other area with limited space so it’s the only place the dog has for eliminating.
Some people place sod inside a kiddie pool or on top of a tarp so their dogs have a natural substrate where they can potty when the weather is bad or it’s too difficult to get them up and down stairs. You can also purchase squares of artificial or real grass to use on a balcony. Spritz it with water after use or change sod regularly to control odor, or purchase one with a bottom tray that captures urine and can then be removed and cleaned.
You can teach your dog to use a litter box filled with the litter of your choice, including shredded paper, paper pellets or dog-safe bark or mulch. -- Dr. Marty Becker
Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.
-- With the recent deadly wildfires in Lahaina and Hurricane Idalia in Florida, it’s a good time to remember that September is Disaster Preparedness Month, and that means pets, too. To be ready for a quick emergency evacuation, they need to be wearing updated ID tags and have a microchip registered with an organization so you can be contacted in the event you’re separated. Pack a storage bin or an easy-to-grab bag with a week’s worth of food, water and necessary medication for each pet (use and replace regularly so it’s always fresh); bowls, a can opener and spoon if you use canned food; a copy of your pet’s rabies certificate; an extra leash and poop pickup bags; and a favorite toy.
-- If you’re housetraining a new puppy or learning the potty habits of an adult dog, try tethering. That means the dog is leashed at your side at all times. It’s a great way to learn the signals a new dog or puppy gives when they need to go potty. It keeps them under your watchful eye so they can't get into mischief, and helps build a bond between you.
-- Have you ever looked at your cat's toes -- really looked at them? They have five toes on their front paws, but only four of them touch the ground when a cat is walking. The fifth toe, known as a dewclaw, is the feline equivalent of the thumb. While it's not opposable, the dewclaw does help the cat grasp things and climb trees. The toe anatomy makes it easy for cats to go up trees, but not so easy to come back down. The back paws have four toes but no dewclaws. Some cats have extra toes and are known as polydactyls, meaning "many fingers." -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet care experts. Veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker is founder of the Fear Free organization, co-founder of VetScoop.com and author of many best-selling pet care books. Kim Campbell Thornton is an award-winning journalist and author who has been writing about animals since 1985. Mikkel Becker is a behavior consultant and lead animal trainer for Fear Free Pets. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/Kim.CampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.