I have been around cats far longer than dogs, but my feline friends remain more of a mystery than their slobbery loveable housemates. It has been noted in research that humans distinctly domesticated dogs as they were seen a valuable assets for security, clean-up and companionship. In researching cats it has been noted that cats basically domesticated themselves and since they were good at keeps rodent populations down we passively agreed to the domestication. I think that speaks volumes about the relationships we have with cats and dogs. We created hundreds of breeds of dogs, each serving us in a different and unique way. We bred for looks first, then smarts and always complete adoration for humans. For cats there are a handful of breeds, and none of them serve us in any ways other than companionship. In a way, we are the all mighty creator for canines and they treat us as such. Whereas cats although willing to be part of human experience would never consider us an authority nor treat us as a creator. This month I want to show what makes cats different, unique from dogs and how we can enrich and improve their quality of life.
When I became a dog owner for the first time I was blown away at how much unconditional love and affection my dogs had for me. I was used to living with a furry housemate that pooped inside (sometimes in the bathroom sink), ignored my advances for affection until I was reading, on the computer or asleep, and left nasty wet “gifts” right next to my bed for me to step in first thing in the morning. Yet I still call myself a “cat person.” I can’t get enough of them and will always have a cat in my house. An animal behaviorist named John Bradshaw from the University of Bristol recently published a book called Cat Sense, and details that although cats have learned to live with and appreciate us they do not relate to us the way dogs do and probably never will. As some evidence of this he goes on to detail that 70% of cats who can hear their owners’ voice will not respond. That is in contrast to about 5% of dogs. He also details the idea that cats may see us as well just another big cat. To prove this he tested the behavioral changes in play with humans between cats and dogs. Dogs changed almost all their behavior when in the presence of playing with humans whereas cats had almost no change at all. The behaviors that cats presented to other cats they were comfortable with are almost identical to how they react to humans.
Some other things of interest he noted were that dogs had a much higher rate of success in social interactions with a new dog, and cats rarely had a successful introduction to a new cat. They are not hard-wired to be tolerant to new additions which can cause a whole lot of stress when a human decides to bring a new cat into the house. He also noted many of the cats he tested showed symptoms of illness when a routine was changed, yet when they are put through a whole battery of diagnostics they showed no physical problems. He felt that stress caused more problems for cats than we understand and finding and either reducing or eliminating the stressor can have as much of a positive effect than medication. Of course it is vital that your vet clear any potential illness if your kitty is not well, but before the stress occurs consider how it may affect your cat. Even in healthy cats it has been noted that a change in routine can cause refusal to eat, vomiting, and refusal to use litter box. All of these behaviors are not normal, and should be addressed but it doesn’t always have to be with medicine. The role of stress in kitties is often revealed when symptoms are linked to recent events such as boarding, traveling, a new person or pet in the household, the use of pet sitters, or even inclement weather. Another stressor in homes with more than one cat is intercat aggression due to competition for food, litter boxes, space, etc. Consider what changes are made to your cats’ routine and change it. If you have two cats that don’t get along at the food bowl, feed them in separate places. Have more than 1 litter box if you have multiple cats. Create places up high for cats to observe the household hustle and bustle without being in the mix. The higher they can get the better they feel. If your cat gobbles up food like it’s the first or last meal ever and throws it right back up slow them down. Use a mini muffin tin for feeding, and put a small quantity in each spot. This works for wet and dry food. Also consider that most cat households fill a big bowl and each morning and let a cat free feed. I can’t stress enough that this is a terrible idea and contributes to vomiting, obesity and bad habits. Although most cats are considered untrainable they are quite the trainers. Cats have a knack at manipulating their humans to get what they want which is mostly food, which is why we are willing to fill that bowl up. Healthy cats do best being fed their daily portion split into two or three feedings. Smaller meals timed well are much better than a perpetually full bowl and can still satisfy your small household beast without creating too much drama or stress. Eliminating stressors and bad eating habits can help your cat live a longer and help them be well-adjusted.
So we know how cats relate to us versus dogs and what can cause stress, but how do we make them happy? Most house cat, even cats that spend time outdoors do not get enough exercise. It’s not about taking the cat for a walk, but rather enriching their predatory and territorial instincts. Playing regularly with a wand or laser toy and encouraging them to stalk, chase and pounce will help keep their minds and bodies active. It is also noted that cats are the most active in the two hours before they are fed a meal. So two meals a day gives them more time to be active and three meals creates maximum opportunity for play during their active periods. We know cats are very routine based, but another aspect of this is how they move through your house. They will often travel the same route in the same way over and over again. They create tracks through scent glands in their foot pads, and scratching marks on anything that is along that path. This is why they scratch up your couch or rugs. Vertical and horizontal scratching is a way to show other cats of their presence and give the cat a path to follow for food, water, or their favorite sunning spot. Learn your cats scratching style and provide something appropriate to scratch along that path (i.e. scratching posts next to or in front of your couch legs if they are a vertical scratcher). If they scratch up your dining room rug provide a horizontal cardboard scratcher right on their favorite spot, and slowly move it over to a better location to give them an appropriate outlet. Work with their instincts instead of against them to help them lead a happy and healthy life, and of most importance take your cat for regular wellness exams. Most cat owners only go to the vet when there is an emergency. Although we want to create less stress in their lives and routines, a regular check-up can prevent the emergency in the first place!!