What do cats need?
This is the key question. To answer this question is to be halfway there in providing our cats with a happy life. However, we need to detach ourselves from the cuddly surrogate child that our cats often become, and remind ourselves that a cat is an animal, not a human. Key differences perhaps need to be reviewed!
- Social structure. Cats are dependent upon their mother when young and as adult cats are often sociable with one another. Indoor cats should not be kept alone if at all possible. However, cats usually hunt alone, so will often vary their daily activity to match what they want to do and whether they want to do it alone or with company. Indoor cats have less choice in these decisions
- Hunting instinct. The feline brain is much more complex and advanced than their sleep-loving habits would have us believe. By evolving to be effective hunters, the cat has become hard-wired to detect, stalk and catch prey. The opportunity to express these behaviours is as vital to a cat’s happiness as the food, water and affection we provide it with. This extends from the rescue moggie to the most expensive pedigree cat!
- Senses. Alongside the need to express ‘detect – stalk – catch’ behaviour patterns, the cat has acute hearing, smell and specialised eyesight. They can hear much higher pitch noises than humans can, and few people realised that their sense of smell is superior to that of most dogs
- Frustration. Whereas humans view frustration as a negative emotion, cats would naturally only catch about in 1 in 3 of the prey they hunt, so problem-solving is an essential ability that needs replicating in a pet cat’s life on a regular basis. Cats get a positive feeling of reward when they relieve a mild frustration or when they investigate new objects/situations. These little frustrations and problem-solving exercises should form part of a cat’s play and feeding regime, as well as access to novel items
- Free will. Cats are lucky in that they can do what they want, when they want. Or at least, some can. However, if an indoor cat is not given adequate opportunity for exercise, toileting and sleeping where, when and how they want, then psychological and even medical problems can arise
- Psychology. An expectation that your cat’s needs will match your own human ones is a recipe for feline discontent and underlies many behavioural problems. A cat’s emotional needs are as different to ours as their idea of a cosy bed! How many of us have bought cosy fluffy cat beds only to find they prefer to sit on the newspaper?!