Paw Talk: Active Cats are Happy Cats

“I’m not being challenged.”

When an indoor cat is screaming and clawing at the windows, I immediately think of prison: the window as a jail cell, constricting the feline’s innate need to roam, the cat a convict still alive enough to feel angry. We all know that walking dogs is crucial for their physical and mental health; it is not extraordinary to see dogs on leashes. But a cat on a leash?

In my neighborhood, a woman walks her fluffy tabby cat on a leash; I am always too far away to approach her to chat, but I will see her a block or so away, stationary while her cat sniffs the grass. The scene may trigger a smile or widened eyes from me, but one thing becomes obvious: dogs walk to exercise, to see the world in an actbefore- thought sort of way, bustling onward to claim the prize. Cats walk to visit or to smell one clover flower for at least 5 minutes, contrary to their human and canine opponents. In order to tire out Henry the pit bull, I have to walk him for a minimum of 10 blocks; but to please Solomon jailbird cat, letting him mosey along the side of the house is sufficient.

What’s the point of walking a cat on a leash? Cats have a natural inclination to explore which ties back to their hunting nature. In order to feed themselves in the wild, they have to be constantly alert – sneaking, creeping and watching. They will spend hours a day hunting in the wild. If cats are not stimulated, as with any living thing, they can become depressed, causing aggression and anxiety. Unhappy felines will try to let you know their displeasure by doing one or more of the following: urinating on fabrics such as couches (usually right where you sit), defecating in a spot that is hard to notice so that you will step in it and never forget, moan loudly in the middle of the night – typically right by the bed to startle you awake – or vigorously scratch at a door so that you think someone is burglarizing your house. As surprising as it may seem, your feline is not trying to annoy you.

The UK Feline Advisory Bureau (FAB) published a talk given at a conference in 2004 on how to keep your cats happy, which includes a delicate balance between safety and stimulation. Perhaps this is why when indoor cats venture outside, they do not plunge full-force across the street like escapee pups; they saunter and smell, soaking up everything. Vicky Halls of FAB writes, “Indoor cats will adapt to their environment but can fall victim to a number of physical or emotional problems associated with boredom and lack of activity. In the absence of the challenge of hunting, exploring and social contact, cats will fill the void of activity with those that are readily available such as sleeping, grooming and eating.” They will also fill that “void of activity” with destructive behavior. In order to evade not only the irritatingly destructive behavior that can arise from a bored cat but also the possible physical and mental problems, Halls recommends ways to enrich your feline pal’s environment. Here are a few:

  1. Supply your cat with a food foraging system. This could be as simple as using toilet paper or paper towel rolls to build a three-dimensional triangle and placing pellets of dry food in the rolls. Leave space when you tape or tie them together so your cat can stick its paw inside to try and find the food. You can also grow certain herbs (or buy cat grass at the pet store) to put around the house for kittie to munch on. Similar to this is making sure you have water supplies in various locations around the house – keep it interesting.

  2. Play stimulation can occur through predatory mimicry (such as rods with a toy at the end). This can be as simple as dragging a toy around so your cat can chase it. Play stimulation can also include scent stimulation (catnip, valerian) and fresh air (opening the windows or bringing your cat outside for a walk).

  3. Cats like to climb, so high resting places are crucial. They also like time away from their owners or other pets so if high enough, these climbable retreats could suffice for private time as well. After all, cats belong to nobility, so viewing the world from above is only natural.