5 Ways to Keep Your Cat Happy and Healthy!

Sheldon O. Cooper, a happy kitty.

Did you know that scientific studies have shown that happy cats are healthier cats? Since September is Happy Cat Month, we’d like to talk about how we can improve cat wellness by focusing on their happiness. Here are 5 ways that you can focus on your kitty and make sure he is happy and healthy as can be!

1. Annual Wellness Exams – Your cat sleeps about 12 to 16 hours per day, lets you cater to his every need, and probably seems perfectly content to you, right? Chances are, your kitty probably is in good health; however, cats retain many of the instincts of their wild ancestors and are masters at hiding illness, because showing any weakness makes them vulnerable to predators. A cat who is in pain may not growl or whimper, but she may stop jumping up on her favorite chair, eat less, or choose a new place to sleep. A cat in the early stages of kidney disease may seem just slightly lethargic or decide he doesn’t like a particular food anymore. An annual visit to the veterinarian can help you catch these early signs of discomfort or illness and give you the chance to work with your veterinarian on treatments and lifestyle changes that can get your kitty feeling better, and living a longer, happier life!

2. Love and Attention – Contrary to popular belief, cats are not antisocial, and your pet cat needs and wants your love and attention. Of course, each individual cat has “purrsonal” likes and dislikes, and some cats do crave more attention than others. It’s up to you to learn your feline friend’s likes and dislikes (head rubs but no chin scritches, you may pet the back but not the belly, lap time is great but don’t pick me up, etc.) It’s also important to remember that any behavior changes can indicate early signs of illness, so if your normally sweet and affectionate cat seems to be wanting more alone time, a trip to the veterinarian may be in order.

3. Litter Box Happiness  – House-soiling is one of the most common reasons why pet owners give up their cats. The problem can be a complicated one to solve, but you can often prevent a problem before it starts by following some simple rules and paying attention to your cat’s physical and social needs.

  • Rule number one: location, location, location! Your cat wants his litter box in a quiet, private place, but situated in such a way that he won’t feel trapped or “boxed in” if he wants to get out of the way of another pet or family member. He doesn’t want the box right next to his food or water dishes. If you have a senior cat and a multilevel home, you’ll want to place a litter box on the floor where the cat spends the most time (and ideally, a box on every other floor of the home as well!) Think about it: if you had cranky knees and stiff legs, would you want to hike up or down two flights of stairs just to go to the bathroom?? The same goes for kittens: two flights is a long way to go when you’re just a little kiddo, especially if you’ve been busy playing and suddenly realize you need to go potty in a hurry!
  • Rule two: the number of litter boxes in the house should equal the number of cats, with an extra box for good measure. A home with three cats needs at least four litter boxes.
  • Rule three: think outside the box when you’re shopping for a litter box. Most of the boxes on the market are, frankly, too small, and your cat wants plenty of room to find just the right spot, without having to worry about getting his tail wet or where he’s going to put his feet. Consider using a plastic storage bin: they’re available in many different sizes, and are often less expensive than an “official” litter box.
  • Rule four: no scented litter! You may enjoy pine or floral fragrances, but remember that your cat’s nose is much more sensitive than yours. Most cats dislike aromatic litters and litter box deodorizers. Look for an unscented litter and your cat will be happier. If kitty doesn’t like your brand of choice, try a different brand.
  • Finally, even a low-dust litter is going to produce some dust when your cat scratches around in the box. Whenever possible, choose a litter box without a lid so all that dust isn’t trapped inside with your cat. It’s no fun, and it’s not healthy, to have to breathe in that dust.

4. Environmental enrichment  There are many benefits to “indoor-only” living for your kitty, but there are also some risks. These risks include boredom, lack of exercise, and lack of opportunity to express normal cat behaviors such as climbing and hunting.

Many feline behavior problems can be prevented or treated with an enriched environment that includes physical and mental stimulation, as well as allows a cat to perform their normal behaviors such as hunting and stalking. – American Association of Feline Practitioners

To make your house a happier home for your cat, it should have all of these things:

  • High places (with safe access) from which the cat is allowed to survey his kingdom
  • Scratching posts made of the cat’s preferred material, be it cardboard, wood, fabric or sisal (not all cats like the same kind of scratching post!)
  • A window ledge or other safe “perch” from which to watch birds, wildlife, etc.
  • A cozy bed or other hideaway where he can relax and get away from it all

For more information and ideas about enrichment,  the Indoor Pet Initiative from Ohio State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine has a helpful resource checklist on their website.

5. Toys and Playtime – Toys aren’t just for kittens! Cats of all ages enjoy toys, though they can certainly be choosy about them. Playtime also provides good exercise for your cat, and can help keep off those extra pounds that lead to health problems. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to find playthings that your cat likes: sometimes a nice cardboard box or some crinkly packing paper or tissue paper can keep kitty entertained for days! Toy mousies, catnip “kickers” and fishies, wand toys with feathers and “birds” on the end, balls with jingly things inside, and laser pointers can all be great fun for your cat. Ribbon toys are fun too, but be sure to let your cat play with them only while being supervised, to avoid any chance of accidental ingestion. Puzzle feeders are now available in many different shapes and sizes, from balls to mazes, and make mealtime a tasty workout for your cat’s mind and his hunting instincts. Interactive toys – ones that require your participation as well – also come with a bonus: they provide time for you and your kitty to bond and have fun together. Life is short: play with your cat!!

To read more about how to keep your cat happy and healthy, check out the Catalyst Council’s Happy Cat Month blog site!

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