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Cat Behavior: Who are these crazy predators we call pets?

Posted 07.15.15 by Emily Lindsey

Cats are low maintenance right? Easy keepers? All you need to do is get a litter box, a food and water, and you’re all set! Your independent kitty will appear for petting and purring, maybe demonstrate some instagram-worthy hijinx, and then go entertain herself.

While appealingly easy, this scenario is usually not the reality of owning a cat. There are many aspects of feline behavior that go unaddressed, sometimes leading to unhappy outcomes for owners and their felines. Many cat behavior “problems” arise when indoor cats do not have an outlet to perform the natural behaviors they would do if living outdoors. Then why keep a cat indoors at all? Because research shows that indoor-only cats live longer, healthier lives than cats who go outside, mostly because hazards like cars, coyotes, and infectious diseases don’t usually come into your house!

So what are normal cat behaviors?

  • Climbing and Hiding – Cats like to spend time on perches where they can keep an eye on things from above. You can provide your cat with a cat tower for this purpose. They also provide hiding places in which they can curl up and relax. Perches near windows offer stimulating views of the outside world. Bird feeders outside a cat’s favorite window can serve as great programming for this type of “cat TV”.

cat behavior perch watching bird

  • Scratching – This is a NORMAL cat behavior, and if you don’t give a cat a place to scratch, chances are, he’s going after the furniture! Teach your cat to use a scratching post early, and praise him for using it. Cats respond well to praise and poorly to punishment, but if you do scold your cat (say with a squirt of water) for scratching the furniture, it must be done DURING the bad behavior, or the cat will just become generally afraid of its surroundings.
  • Litter box – Cats have a natural urge to bury and hide the evidence of their eliminations in a clean place. Provide large litter boxes with plenty of litter, and scoop daily. Replace the litter once a week. The recommended number of boxes is (number of cats) + 1. This provides everyone their own box, plus a backup in case the primary box is unappealing. Be aware that some cats have strong preferences regarding litter type, so if you find one that works, stick with it. You want to place the box in a location where the cat feels secure and cannot be surprised by other animals (or humans!) mid-business.
  • Playing – Cats are born hunters, and unless you have a rodent or bug problem in your house, you will need to provide play and toys to satisfy this need. Different cats prefer different prey-type toys, so experiment to find out if your cat prefers rodent, bird, or bug toys best. Rotate out your cat’s toys to make sure he doesn’t get bored. Laser pointers can also stimulate cats to play and exercise. Some experts recommend you always end the laser play on a toy the cat can “kill” to give some closure.

cat behavior

  • Sleeping – Cats don’t put in 7-8 hours of sleep once a day like humans do. They sleep for shorter stints throughout the day in deference to their hunt-then-rest-then-hunt-again wild lifestyle. Many owners complain that their cat will wake them in the middle of the night for food or play. Exercising your cat during the day can help avoid some of this late-night activity. Some cats are so obnoxious about wanting their morning meal that an automatic feed may help. This will keep your cat from thinking of YOU as the kibble machine.
  • Socializing – Cats are not usually terribly social animals. Many cats are perfectly happy to be the ONLY cat in a household, getting any attention they want or need from their humans. Female cats may be more receptive to a new feline friend since they require less territory than a typical male. Spayed and neutered animals will be more amicable towards each other as you have taken hormones out of the behavioral mix. If you have cats who do not get along, they may be happy to claim different areas of the house as “their” territory and have little contact with one another. Be aware that adding too many cats to a household can be stressful for all, leading to chronic stress and even illness. Also remember that dogs in the house may cause your kitty stress, so make sure he has a dog-free refuge to escape to if needed.

cat behavior perch

Please keep in mind if we give them an outlet for their in-borne behaviors, they are less likely to exert their energy in a negative way aka bad cat behavior. We will  also avoid a lot of stress in our kitties’ lives. A lot of research now points to chronic stress as a contributing factor to many feline diseases, like bladder inflammation and urinary obstruction. By keeping our cats happy, we also keep them healthy. And happy, healthy cats make for very happy owners!

For more wonderful information on feline behavior, as well as trouble-shooting tips, please go to https://indoorpet.osu.edu/cats

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