Keeping your cat happy at home

Want to know how to make sure your home is the perfect place for your cat? Read our top tips on keeping your cat happy at home.

Did you know that giving your cat enough stimulation to ensure his natural instincts are satisfied can not only help prevent behavioural and associated health problems, such as feline lower urinary tract disease, but it's also the law?

Think cat

It seems clear that to have a happy cat we need to think like a cat! Wouldn't we too become bored, stressed and irritable if we were confined to the house all day with no entertainment or company? Perhaps we would overeat just for something to do and how many of us would want to share a dirty toilet?

Don't forget cats would naturally locate, capture and kill to eat but instead many of us simply give them a bowl of prepared food. Feeding at different times of the day, hiding small amounts of dry food around the house and using puzzle feeders can all help cats to express more natural feeding behaviours. As for litter trays, the Feline Advisory Bureau recommends one tray per cat plus one, placed in different discreet locations away from food.

So how else can we help to keep our cats content? Behaviourist Sarah Ellis says it's important that each cat is treated as an individual with any environmental enrichments tailored to your pet's particular behavioural, emotional, physical and medical needs. However, the following guidelines are a great starting point:

How suitable is your home for an indoor cat?

Personal space is extremely important to a cat's psychological wellbeing. Forcing too many cats to share a small area, will result in behavioural, and?even physical problems as each one competes for their own territory. Each one must have an area to which they can escape.

The perfect cat house:

  • Cats love to run up and down stairs.
  • Large windows will give your cat a view across the garden and provide opportunities to sunbathe.
  • Provide lots of space for your cat's toys and for him to play in and race around at high speed!
  • A cat-proofed fenced garden will give your cat safe access to the outdoors. Be wary of low roofs or sheds,?which could give a neighbour's cat a way into the garden and then be trapped.
  • Leave a radio or TV on for company.
  • A food specially designed for indoor cats can help prevent weight gain and the formation of hairballs.

Don't forget indoor cats can escape and do become ill or have accidents too, so fit your cat with a microchip and get pet insurance.

Rosie Barclay, clinical companion animal behaviourist and Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors committee member, says: "I would only endorse keeping cats inside (if they wanted to go out) if the consequences outweighed the costs of any added stress. It's a such a hard decision to make, but each cat is an individual.

Rosie offers the following ten top tips when keeping an indoor cat:

1. Hide food around the house so your cat has to hunt to find it, thus performing normal cat behaviour. Recycle cereal and egg boxes for this. Cats are mainly active at dawn and dusk so make sure the food is ready and waiting for them at this time.

2. Increase the internal space within your home by adding non-slip shelving and additional high places.

3. Add blanket-filled hidey-holes using cardboard boxes, tunnels and cat gyms. Allow your cat's natural scent to infuse, so wash the blankets only?when necessary.

4. Give your cat a choice of litter trays in quiet private places. Allow choice and control over where they wish to toilet.

5. Bring the outside in by adding trays of suitable cat-friendly grass and soil with interesting scents such as catnip. Record your own cat TV or soundtrack using interesting video images and sounds.

6. Take the inside out, if you can, by adding a cat run so your cat has access to all those enriching scents, noises and air-flows. It doesn't have to be an expensive new sunroom, although it's a good excuse!

7. Place several different styles of drinking vessels around the home and away from both food and litter trays. Use shallow plant pot dishes, wide bowls and even mugs. A dribbling water feature is ideal for them to drink from or even play with.

8. Add plenty of novel predatory toys, which you can rotate on a daily basis, such as dangly toys depending on your cat's preference for fur or feather, and screwed-up sweet wrappers. Supply an endless quantity of small balls as?these will inevitably disappear under a heavy piece of furniture, and most importantly interact and play with your cat as often and for as long as he wants to.

9. Provide lots of different scratching posts at cat stretch height around the home.

10. Don't use chemical air fresheners or over clean your house. Your cat lives in a scent-filled world and may not appreciate the strong smelling odours.

Play and toys

Behaviourist Sarah Ellis says it's important to give your cat as much?control as possible over his environment. Her research has revealed some?interesting, albeit 'typical of cats' some might say, results. For instance, a study of cat toys found a hair band attached to thread was more popular with cats than a ball in a track toy.

Sarah explains: "The success of this [hair band on a thread] is most likely?to be due to its movement triggering behaviours similar in expression to the final parts of the cat's hunting sequence - the chase and/or the pounce, whereas the track toy did not allow the cat to pounce or capture the ball."

The same could be said for a laser which does not allow the cat to complete?the hunting sequence holding the potential to trigger frustration and related behaviours.

Companions

There are differing opinions as to whether an indoor cat needs a feline companion. When once it was considered a must, Sarah Ellis says it is not a blanket recommendation she would ever make. "Free-living cats tend to exist in social groups of related females and even then these groups only form where there is readily available food to support everyone.

"Since we are very social beings where companionship is really pertinent to us, we may think of cats in the same way, but it is not often the case. Introduction of unrelated individuals can often be difficult. Also if two cats do not consider themselves of the same social group, living together in an indoor-only environment where they have limits on the amount of physical space they can put between themselves could be potentially quite stressful and is often some of the factors involved in resultant behaviour problems.

"If someone is thinking of having more than one cat, I may advise them to consider siblings from the same litter rather than getting another unrelated one later on."

"While it is evident that further studies into environmental enrichment are needed, there are definitely improvements we can make to our indoor cats' lives."

Sun worship

Help your cat to enjoy the sun by giving him access to sunny windowsills and placing his beds in any particularly sunny spots. A tall piece of cat furniture positioned next to a window or patio doors can make an ideal sunbathing place. Your cat may not be going out into the sunshine but that doesn't mean he won't be affected by the heat from the sun or radiator. He may moult a little more than usual so if necessary, groom him more often to remove loose hairs and prevent furballs. He is also likely to drink more so ensure he has a constant supply of fresh, clean water. You could also consider fitting window screens to allow him a supply of fresh air.