Cats have a reputation as being lazy, easy pets. But sometimes I think this attitude can get us in trouble – we end up with cats climbing our curtains, shredding our couches, chasing our feet, peeing outside of their box, and driving us generally nuts. But if you stop to think about it, domestic house cats aren’t so different from their wild cousins: they’re meant to spend some time climbing, stalking, hunting, etc. If all they do is sleep on a couch and eat from a bowl they get bored, and they’re more likely to develop behavior problems. There’s a lot of things we can do to help cats lead more enriched lives to help prevent these cat behavior problems. The first one I want to talk about, is “real estate” (a term I borrowed from my favorite cat book that I highly recommend “Starting from Scratch” by Pam Johnson-Bennett.)
Most of you probably have a couple cat beds. I walked around my house and took an inventory. I have 21. Including some designated blankets on shelves but not including cat trees, big dog beds, the couch, my bed, etc. 2 of these are heated. 2 are window seats. (my kids are certainly not spoiled!).
But when we were trying to get 4 cats and 4 dogs to get along and live together peacefully, we decided to step it up a notch. We added shelving and walkways. We have a long walkway in the hallway so that no one ever has to walk down the narrow hallway on the same level with someone they don’t like. There’s a similar series of steps and walkways around the living room to allow the cats viewing access from a safe vantage point. It lets them see each other and the dogs with out having to interact if they don’t feel like it. Many of the shelves lead to cat trees or tall pieces of furniture so the cats can then camp out on top of the pantry and watch the world for awhile.
You may catch yourself wondering – what about the counters and tables? In my house these are allowed. There are times when I’m trying to fix something to eat and this drives me crazy (more on this topic another time), but in general it works for us. However, I know for a lot of people cat paws on food prep surfaces are a no-go. No problem. Just be clear about your rules. Show them where they’re allowed and use praise and treats when they’re up there, use a squirt bottle if they’re on areas you don’t want them (but make sure everyone in the house follows the same rules).
After we completed the walkways we were hooked. Then it was on to the “catio”. A catio is a patio for your cat. It allows your cat to enjoy the outdoors, but is enclosed to prevent interaction with cars/wildlife/etc. The sky is the limit in terms of design options – big, small, pre-made, do it yourself, whatever you’re up for. We positioned ours next to the patio door and found an door insert with a cat door so the cats can come and go as they please. They love it!
So, there you have it, a crash course in cat behavior and feline real estate. Cats are 3-dimensional creatures and most of them love to look at the world from above, it can help them feel secure, especially if other dogs/cats (or small children) are around. Offering elevated escape routes for them can be a great stress reliever. And if you’re really feeling generous – cats love to watch the outdoors – birds and bugs are great cat-tv, so whether it’s a catio or a window seat, they’ll thank you for it!
– Your Friendly Chanhassen DVM