Challenges of keeping indoor cats happy


From the iCatCare Conference – written by Karen Juffermans

Vicky Halls, the well-known cat behaviour counsellor, was one of the expert speakers at the conference in Birmingham. One of her presentations focussed on keeping cats happy, especially indoors cats. My own cat lives indoors and so do many of our clients’ cats. There are many things we can do to keep our cats happy: activity feeders to prevent boredom and combat overeating, playing games with our cats and providing hiding & resting places for our cats.

The biggest challenge, however, is our relationship with cats and this was the topic of Vicky Halls’s talk.

I will be the first to admit that I talk to my cat and I also talk to your cats when I’m visiting. I say hello to let them know I’m there, they hear my voice and pick up on my energy and decide whether or not they want to coma and say hello to me. I am under no illusion, though: my cat has no idea what I’m talking about. He is, after all, a cat!

Sure, our cats know certain words. ‘Treats’ is one such example. My cat usually comes over when I use his name, but we all know that cats sometimes hear their name being called but choose to ignore it! So cats recognise some words and may respond to them, but this doesn’t mean they always understand what we are saying.

Picture the following ‘ conversation’ with your cat: “Hi sweet pea, I’m home!!! Where are you? Come on out. I’m so sorry I’m late, are you hungry? Did you miss me? Yes, you missed me, I missed you too! I’m sorry I was away all day, you must have been so lonely!”
We may not use those specific words or voice those feelings, but many of us feel guilty for leaving the cat alone all day and feel the need to give the cat quality time when we get home. We tend to think of our cats as family members. While it is great that we care so much about our cats, we should always keep in mind that a cat’s needs are not the same as our own. Or, as Vicky Halls put it, we shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking: me + love = happy cat.

When you read the ‘conversation’ I wrote above you can well imagine that the amount of love and focus and energy is all a bit too much for your cat. Cats are happiest when they have a sense of control over their environment and their interaction with us. Some cats enjoy a lot of fuss and cuddles, but most cats are quite happy just sitting in the same room with us or on the sofa next to us and just being stroked occasionally. They enjoy playing games with us, mainly games that mimic their natural behaviour such as hunting.

When your cat can go outside, they can ‘escape’ us for as long as they want to and they are quite happy on their own! Indoors cats don’t have the luxury of escape, so we should respect their need to control their environment and the quantity and quality of interaction they want. And who knows, your cat may well give you a slow blink to thank you!

Click here if you want to learn more about the human-cat relationship.

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