Behaviour

Cats about the house

Claire Dunling

If you are a cat lover, you’ll know that living with them can be a challenge at times. Cats are contrary creatures that will only slowly change their behaviour to accommodate new conditions or companions.

Indoors or out? The only decision they’ll let you make

It is a bit of a Marmite situation, you are fundamentally either an indoor or outdoor cat person. You can procrastinate about it when you get a new cat or move to new house, but you probably won’t change. There are pros and cons for both approaches.

Free-roaming outdoor cats encounter more disease vectors so can be susceptible to more illnesses and parasites, while there are very real risks of life changing injury from cars or attacks by other animals. The upside is that there is plenty of stimulation and they have the opportunity to satisfy their core territorial and hunting instincts.

Do indoor cats get bored?

On the other hand if your cat never leaves the house, they need additional stimulation to avoid boredom and you’ll need an indoor toilet for them; but they are far less likely to be prey to parasites and utterly safe from traffic (unless you’re insanely unlucky).

Whatever your cat disposition (as an iny or an outy) we’ve got some suggestions on how to direct your cat’s behaviour so that the cat’s house is a happy house!

"Do not try to understand them; and do not try to make them understand you. For they are a breed apart and make no sense".
James Fennimore Cooper, Last Of The Mohicans

If they’ve got an itching to scratch, let them!

Scratching is a core component of cat behaviour. This instinctive activity surfaces in kittens when they are 3-4 weeks old. Scratching and rubbing allows cats to leave chemical and visual signals that, act as ‘messages’ to other cats. This is normal for them and can become a big problem for you if they start scratching your carpets and furniture. For furniture, the answer can be as simple as moving or covering the scratched item, but that’s less feasible if they have a liking for the carpet.

The most practical solution is to give the cat a special scratching place, typically a cat scratching post or board. But of course, they are cats and buying them something almost guarantees that they will not use it straight out of the box. First it will be new and new means change, and no cat likes change. So first they have to become accustomed to it. Don’t just throw it away if they don’t scratch it on the first day.

How to stop your cat scratching in your home - Feliway

Not all scratching posts are made equal

It really is a matter of finding the right flavour scratch post that your cat likes. Some like sisal wrapped around wood, others cardboard and some wood. The most important characteristics of a post are that it be taller or longer than the cat standing on hind legs. Also, an upright post that is sturdy enough not to tip over and that it is right in the heart of the cat’s home. Whatever its construction, the scratching post should not be changed as long as your cat is still using it. The more scratched and tatty, the more your cat will love and use it!

A new weapon in the armoury is the product are scents to make posts more interesting. You can now buy cat nip seeded cardboard scratchers or pipettes of ‘Feliscratch’ which are squeezed onto existing posts. ‘Feliscratch’ is designed to distract cats away from the furniture and onto the post!

Playtime helps keep your cat healthy and happy

If you have an indoor cat or inactive outdoor cat you can increase their stimulation levels with play that satisfies their natural instincts (or at least tricks them into some movement). It may also help them shed a few pounds. Look for toys that bounce or flutter which stimulate their prey spotting instincts, so they can “set, pounce and chase”.

Some cats love to chase moving spots of light, whether they’re produced by mirrors, hand held lasers or even on the screen of your iPad. Just pay attention to what seems to get a reaction and then elaborate these games. You’re ideally looking for a minimum of one daily 15-minute interactive play session.

Cats appreciate clean facilities, too

Cats are fastidious creatures, so providing your pet with a clean, easily accessible litter tray will mean they don’t feel forced to use other parts of the house. Again, the litter is a two-part decision, being one your cat will use and one you prefer to clean up. Cats generally prefer unscented, soft-textured fine litter, whereas owners tend to prefer litter that clump for easy removal.

The classic rule of thumb for multi-cat households is that the number of litter trays required equals the number of cats plus one, with these being in different rooms. This is an ideal scenario, but you want them in places where the cats can’t be seen by the others – after all we have locks on our loos! And don’t put litter boxes in noisy places (next to the boiler or tumble drier) as cats prefer quiet.

Keep it clean

Scoop out clumped litter daily and wash litter trays boxes with water and mild detergent weekly. If they start to miss or not even try to use their tray it is a sign that something is up (cognitive, vision or the incontinence) so pay a visit to the vets if your cat suddenly changes behaviour.

While scooping out used litter is never a pleasant experience, it does give you a window into your cat’s digestive health because you get to see stool and urine samples. You’ll notice if they have the runs or there’s blood in it. This means you’re well placed to spot issues – especially urinary – as soon as they occur. If you see something that worries you, don’t wait, your instinct is right and they need to see the vet.

Don't close your eyes as you scoop out the tray, its contents are an invaluable guide to your cat's health. Still smells though!
John Campbell, Head Vet of Pet Drugs Online

Cat spraying or urine marking, either way it still smells!

Some cats spray, normally on vertical surfaces or over objects. Why? Well the bad news is that some cats just do. Urine marking while more prevalent in entire cats 10% of neutered males and 5% of neutered females persist in this behaviour. Spraying is most associated with a territorial dispute. The usual cause is either a new cat or change in another cat’s behaviour – for example they’ve matured and the spraying is used as a marker to say “this is mine and I live here!”

Try to determine the cause and exclude it – a microchip cat flap for instance to stop next door’s moggie getting in, or keeping two rival house cats apart as much as possible.

Something in the air

The cause isn’t always feline though, it can be a new flat mate, pet or partner. A change in working hours can disrupt a cats treasured routine, while noisy new neighbours can also stress the cat out. In these circumstances this is how they tell you something is up. An effective solution is a synthetic pheromones which fill the air with the sense of “it’s all good, it’s all safe”. The Feliway Classic plug in diffusers is a best seller for anxious cats, while the Feliway Friends diffuser is designed to create a more harmonious atmosphere in multi-cat households.

This post is an opinion and should only be used as a guide. You should discuss any change to your pet’s care or lifestyle thoroughly with your vet before starting any program or treatment.

If in doubt contact your veterinary practice

And always keep your vet's phone number handy - just in case!