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Understanding Your Cat

Introduction

Cats share our homes and enrich our lives. They have a natural empathy with humans and have been our companions (and pest-controllers!) throughout human history. Unlike dogs and other domesticated animals, cats retain the same physical form as their pre-human ancestors. Many cats survive without any support from humans whatsoever. Humans have enabled cats to colonise almost every major land mass in the world- they are one of nature’s born survivors. It a privilege that cats choose to live with us. This article is not intended as a substitute for properly qualified behavioural advice, but hopefully will give you a better insight into your cat’s world.

A cat’s eye view

Cats are “super sensory” creatures. Their vision in low light levels and their highly sensitive hearing are virtually unequalled in the animal world.

Cat’s whiskers are able to detect minute vibrations and provide them with more information about the world around them.

It is not just dogs that have an acute sense of smell. Cats can detect minute quantities of substances by smell, including those formed in foodstuffs when they are going stale. Cats really can tell when their food has been down for more than half an hour or so! Just like dogs, cats are acutely aware of the scents of other animals, especially other cats. Scent is a vital method of communication between cats.

We all know how tactile cats can be, they love stroking and cuddling, but can go from happy to cross about being touched in an instant.

In addition to their incredible senses cats have super fast reflexes and considerable intelligence. Their spatial awareness (including their ability to navigate) is quite extraordinary.

Because throughout their evolution cats have been both predator and prey they are adapted to be cautious and sensitive as well as inquisitive and playful. Cat’s sensitivity to possible threats means that they are prone to stress if they view something in their environment as a potential threat to their safety or well-being.

When cats are rubbing their faces on something (or someone) they are smearing on tiny amounts of a chemical they produce called a pheromone. Face rubbing is a sign of calm and contentment. When a cat detects the smell of this pheromone it reinforces these positive emotions. Scientists have managed to reproduce cat’s facial pheromone, which is available as a spray or plug-in diffuser called Feliway. We can use this product to help to keep cats calm and happy when anything occurs that may cause them stress. You can purchase this product from us without prescription. Feline facial pheromone is undetectable to the human nose.

Good behaviour, bad behaviour, normal behaviour

Cats are complex in their relationships and they are able to exist happily as solitary individuals and also as mutually co-operative groups. They are capable of deeply affectionate relationships with some cats or extreme hostility and aggression towards others- a bit like human relationships really!

Cats are very territorial and spend considerable time and energy checking that their environment is safe. When they are doing so both males and females (including neutered individuals) will mark their territory using smells (face-rubbing, urine spraying and faeces marking) or by scratching vertical surfaces. If performed in your house most of these methods of marking are undesirable to humans, however we need to understand that they are normal and therefore cats should not be considered to be “naughty” for doing these things and will never understand that they are doing something “wrong”. Scolding or any punishment is therefore always an inappropriate way to respond to marking behaviours and is likely to stress your cat, usually making the problem worse.

Cats were born to hunt mice, birds and other small creatures. It is unreasonable therefore to be cross with you cat for bringing you their prey (dead or alive). We must remember that taking a cat’s prey from them may cause considerable frustration and it is therefore appropriate to wait until he or she has finished with what they have caught. If you really have to intervene, substitute the unfortunate creature with a suitable toy (preferably one with catnip) or provide some food to simulate a successful hunting session.

Some cats may experience similar frustration after play sessions if their toy is taken away afterwards, especially if the session is not long enough. It is a good idea to play with your cat before feeding, as this simulates the natural process of “hunt it, kill it, eat it”.

Home, sweet home

Cats naturally patrol a wide area and exploration of this area provides plenty of physical exercise and mental stimulation for cats. Within that area (termed a “home range”) cats will establish a safe area (referred to as “core territory”) usually within somebody’s house.

Cats will tolerate rival cats or other potential threats within their home range to a greater or lesser degree, depending on the individual’s nature, previous experience and level of the threat.

Threats (including hostile cats) within their core territory cause all cats high levels of stress.

Cats show their stress in a variety of ways, including urine and faecal marking and irritability or aggression toward other members of the household (including both animals and people).

Start as you mean to go on

Imagine if one or more people who you had never met before turned up uninvited and stayed in your house, how would you feel? If these strangers were agitated, hostile or over-familiar toward you this would be an even more stressful experience. Why should we expect their cat to cope straight away when they bring a new cat or dog home?

As discussed under the “starting off with you new cat/kitten” section it is essential that cats should be introduced slowly and be prevented from being aggressive to one another. This is essential to avoid negative associations becoming reinforced.

Providing every cat with a choice of “resources” that is to say hiding and sleeping places, food, water and a litter tray is essential to maintaining their happiness.

Give us what we need, where we need it, when we need it!

Cats love to hide and snooze in small, enclosed spaces. It is even better if these “dens” are off the floor. If you leave a draw of your chest of drawers open for long you are likely to find your feline friend asleep on your socks! If you don’t like your socks being slept on, then why not provide him or her with an alternative. We stock a wide choice of cosy cat dens and activity centres with sleeping platforms. Strategically placed cardboard boxes with bedding in the bottom will do the job nicely.

Cats are very particular about their food and water supply. Cats show strong preferences not only what the food the food is but the type of bowl (particularly the shape, but also the material it is made from) and the location of the food is important. Make sure you feed your cat in a quiet spot, well away from doorways, cat flaps or busy corridors. Many cats prefer their water supply to be well away from their food and may prefer it to be running water from a dripping tap or from a cat drinking fountain. Cat food and water should be located well away from their litter tray- would you like to eat your meals in a toilet?

Just like with their other resources cat litter trays should be located in a quiet spot. Cats are very clean by nature and definitely put off using a dirty litter tray, especially if it is another cat that has used it. Litter trays should be checked and cleaned if necessary at least twice daily. Cats do not like litter trays to be cramped and are likely to put their front paws into the tray and deposit their urine and faeces outside if it is too small.

It is important to provide a variety of feeding, watering and toileting places if you share your home with more than one cat (preferably at least one each).

Help!

If you are experiencing a problem with your cat’s behaviour it may be as a result of illness or stress. Please book an appointment for them to have them examined and a plan of action made to help them.