What makes cat tick? The natural behavior and needs of cats

Although the cat became the most popular pet on both sides of the Atlantic many years ago, cat behavior science has lagged. That changed in 2004 when the Feline Advisory Bureau in the United Kingdom and the American Association of Feline Practitioners in the United States each published results of their separate but similar feline findings and recommendations for veterinarians and cat owners. Here are some insights on how to understand feline friends a little better and enjoy enriched relationships.

To address the growing trend of maintaining cats indoors for their health and safety, behaviorist Peter Neville offers a four-point plan to keep them stimulated and active using their natural instincts and behavior.

• Play the right games: Instigate hunting type chase games with a range of moving toys.

• Social contact: Always respond to your indoor cat when he or she comes to you, especially when returning home after some hours away.

• Create novelty: Bring in lots of new objects with different smells attached for your cat to investigate every day like tree branches, rocks, cardboard boxes and tubes, newspapers folded into run-through arches, natural platforms, cat furniture etc., as well as a steady flow of new toys.

• Introduce constructive frustration by making feeding more difficult: Provide complete dry food in foraging toys that must be manipulated for the food to fall out. Divide the daily recommended ration into as many refills as possible and hide the toys in different places every time, including in and around the new objects that you bring for feline exploration.

The AAFP suggests additional ways to provide a healthy, enriched environment, to increase activity and mental stimulation, and to prevent behavior problems.

• Vertical space: Provide cat trees with hiding spots, cat perches, and shelves.

• Accept that scratching is normal: Provide sturdy vertical or horizontal scratching posts or acceptable scratching objects made of feline preferred wood, sisal rope, or rough fabric.

• Social interaction: Interaction can be in the form of gentle petting and stroking, feeding, grooming, and play. If away for a large part of the day, it may be helpful to bring in a companion cat.

• Prevent startle: To enhance the cat's coping skills, make regular small changes in the environment to provide novelty. For significant changes in the family, such as adding a new pet or baby, introduce the cat gradually to these changes through smells and sounds and controlled introductions.

Cats can be trained and they enjoy the attention. Train under calm, fun conditions using positive reinforcement (e.g., treats, toys, massage, praise). Feline clicker training is very effective. Cats can learn to "sit," "come," "high five" and a variety of other tricks. You can also train your cat to allow teeth brushing, nail trimming, and grooming and to see a travel crate as a positive place to be safe.

• Provided by the Lake Tahoe Humane Society and Society for the Prevention of Cruelty of Animals to help "Keep Tahoe Kind." Dawn Armstrong is the executive director of the Lake Tahoe Humane Society and SPCA.


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