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What Does Your Cat Really Want?


As we’ve gotten older, our desire to simplify our lives has increased.

We have only one dog (a record low) and haven’t yet acquired another cat since our great Buffett died. We deeply miss a feline presence in our family, and we know another cat will come into our lives soon.  Although cats still require us to be actively involved in their care, cats in many ways present a more simplified version of pet ownership compared to dogs. It’s not that cats don’t have just as many behavioral needs as dogs, it’s just that it is often easier to meet the needs of cats.

Cats don’t need regular “potty walks” and many cats do well with free-choice feeding rather than scheduled meals. And if your cat is likely to overeat, it’s easy to portion out meals using one of the many programmable food dispensers. So if you don’t want to be tied to a regular schedule, or if your activity level has decreased a cat may better fit your lifestyle.

Despite their flexibility, the behavioral needs of cats aren’t always met. Research shows that obesity has become a big problem for pet cats. The animal welfare community and many veterinarians have long advised people to keep their cats indoors.  While there are many good reasons to not allow cats to roam freely, the other side of the coin is that we need to make extra efforts to ensure an indoor only environment provides sufficient exercise and mental stimulation for our cats.

It’s true many cats spend much of their day sleeping, but that’s often because they don’t have enough opportunities to be more physically and mentally active. Just like too many people, too many cats have gotten in the habit of being sedentary. For weight management and overall well-being, people are being encouraged to simply start moving more, and that’s a good starting place for improving the quality of life for our cats.

The selection of interactive toys for cats has expanded dramatically in the past few years. There are puzzle toys, remote controlled moving toys for cats to chase, toys that dispense food when the cat paws at or rolls them around, and of course the old favorites of crinkle balls and cat dancers. Buffett’s favorite toys were the crinkled up little empty packets from coffee sweetener Dan would give him to chase and bat around every morning.

Depending on your housing situation, it’s entirely possible to provide a safe, secure way to allow your cat to spend time outside. Cats can easily be trained to go for short walks wearing a walking jacket and leash. With all the commercial products available, it’s relatively easy to create a safe outdoor enclosure or to “cat-proof” a yard. Buffett enjoyed spending a large portion of his day in our backyard during nice weather because we modified the fence to prevent him from getting out of the yard.

The majority of cats would appreciate more physical activity and mental stimulation than they are getting. Clicker training is a great way to provide both and also gets us moving and thinking as well. Improving the quality of life for our cats, will likely improve ours at the same time.

Dr. Suzanne Hetts and her husband Dr. Dan Estep are Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists. They provide professional behavior education services online, and resources to prevent and resolve pet behavior problems to both pet pros and pet owners. Coral, their diva-dog Irish setter provides daily inspiration.

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