In the wild, cats hunt for food, hide from predators (often by climbing), and defend their home territories. Indoors,
these behaviors may look hostile (biting and scratching) or spiteful (climbing, spraying, marking), and we may not like them. The keys to enjoying cats in our lives are to provide acceptable outlets for their natural behaviors and reduce their exposure to threats.
Cats are unique in a number of ways
Cats do not have a daily sleep-wake cycle and may want to sleep or play at any hour of the day or night. Dogs and primates (humans) are cats’ natural predators. By understanding this, we can learn to “get along.” Cats are not a pack species such as dogs and humans. This makes them more independent and self-contained and also means they learn differently, which can put them at risk for conflict with others. These checklists describe the indoor resources cats need to live happy and healthy lives. More extensive information is available at: indoorpet.osu.edu
When making changes, start with what is easiest!
What you can do to keep them happy and healthy
We developed this resource checklist to help you learn what indoor-housed cats need to enjoy their lives with you. Essential resources include:
- Fresh food and water
- Litter boxes
- Informed owners
- Scratching and climbing structures
- Rest and relaxation, and safety
- Play opportunities
Because all cats are unique, we can tell what works for most cats but not what will work for your cat. Please use these checklists to get you started, and then have fun exploring what works best for you, your cat, and your situation.
Fresh food and water
Give each cat his own food and water
bowl in a safe, quiet place. Some cats prefer different shaped bowls, some like running water, and some may not like the taste of some water. Offering alternatives will let your cat show what it likes. Change food form (e.g., dry to canned) only when both the owner and cat want to. (see “ask the cat” section under-informed owners) Once you learn what food and water your cat like best, don’t change without “asking” your cat first.
Cats eliminate to fulfill a fundamental need. They also use eliminations as a way to mark their territory. Since your home is their territory, you can avoid elimination problems by providing an attractive litter box. There are four basic things to consider when setting up a litter box:
Litter box hygiene
The litter box must be scooped daily and washed weekly with mild dish detergent.
Litter box type and size
Litter boxes are available in a variety of sizes and shapes. Cats generally prefer large, uncovered litter boxes, about one
and a half times the length of the cat. Research has shown that most cats prefer fine-grained, unscented litters.
Litter box location and number
- Cats need quiet and privacy when using their litter box.
- The litter box must be easily accessible.
- The Golden Rule is “one litter box per cat, plus one.”
Our favorite books for cat owners:
From the Cat’s Point of View by G. Bohnenkamp. ISBN: 0964460114 and
Cats for Dummies (2nd ed.) by G. Spadafori. ISBN: 0764552759.
Your Home, Their Territory by C. A. Tony Buffington, DVM, Ph.D., DACVM. The Ohio State University Veterinary Medical Center, The Indoor Pet Initiative
How cats are… Cats are not “pack animals” like people and dogs, so they respond more to rewards and are more fearful of punishment (hitting, yelling, “rubbing their nose in it”). Instead, we can reward cats for doing what we want by offering food or affection. We can make areas off-limits by using sticky tape, foil, citrus scent, or upside-down carpet runners in those places.
Ask the cat!
When making changes, always offer any new article, food, litter, etc., next to the familiar one so the cat can tell you if she prefers the new one to the old one.
Scratching and climbing structures
Scratching is a natural behavior for cats. Even declawed cats retain the instinct to scratch. Scratching posts provide cats with an outlet for their instinct to scratch and save your furniture and carpets.
Most, but not all, cats prefer scratching posts made out of rough material they can shred.
Scratching posts should be stabilized to ensure that they don’t move or tip over and scare your cat while she is using them.
Scratching posts should be located in “public” parts of the house that the whole family uses. In multi-cat households, there should be several scratching posts, both vertical and horizontal, located throughout the house.
Rest and relaxation, and safety
Cats are at their most vulnerable while sleeping, so they prefer to rest in areas where they feel safe and secure. Cat beds can be purchased, but snug blankets and towels are just as appealing to cats and are easy to wash. The refuge should be a place where your cat feels safe and comfortable, for example, a bedroom or back room. Your cat can retreat to her refuge when she wants to rest.
Cat play is “pretend hunting” for birds, bugs, or mice. Some cats like toys that mimic their favorite prey, such as feather toys, play mice, or pieces of food rolled across the floor. If your cat isn’t interested in toys, he may prefer to be brushed or petted. Don’t let your cat “go in for the kill” on you!