Do You Speak Cat?
Dogs? Dogs are easy. They are pretty much little humans in fur jackets but cats? Cats are different, very different.
Literature is full of stories about cats being aloof and mysterious; Mrs Norris in the Harry Potter series and Macavity the Mystery Cat are just two which sprig to mind. We also often like to say ‘dogs have masters but cats have servants’ and how the cat ‘treats this house like a hotel’.
However, this is merely the cats true nature, which is something we need to learn accept, rather than trying to mold them into our idea of how they should be and how they should live.
Until fairly recently cats were not really pets like dogs, they were more functional; there to keep the vermin population down and otherwise left to their own devices. Which is just how they like it; living life on their own terms, with freedom to come and go as they pleased.
It is only really in the past few decades we have decided to clutch them to the bosum of our families, bring them indoors, give them ‘friends’ to live with (ie other cats) and dictate when and where they should eat, poop and sleep.
All of which cats can find horribly confusing and extremely stressful. It is hard to hear but it is entirely possible that things you have done for your pets, which you thought were a good idea, might actually be making their lives miserable.
Our biggest assumption is that our cat will be ‘lonely’ on it’s own. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Cats are perfectly happy with their own company, thank you very much! Although it is possible for related animals to live together in reasonable harmony, it is very challenging to introduce stranger cats to each other and for them to get along.
Basically, cats hate to share. They do not want to come together for a meal every day, they do not want to sleep beside their housemates and they very definitely do not want to use the same lavatory facilities, especially if they are dirty – and actually on this point I don’t think many of us would disagree!
If you have more than one cat you must provide a feeding area for each one (not just a bowl each on the same mat but a bowl per cat, in a different area of the house), the same for litter trays (a bunch of trays in the same place are just one giant tray to our felines) and a variety of beds and sleeping places, some up high where cats feel most secure.
Cats are highly territorial creatures and find it very difficult if this territory is constantly invaded or under threat. This is a particular problem for those living in built-up areas, where there will be many cats in a small area. However, it doesn’t particularly matter how big the territory is, just that the cat feels secure with it. An easy option is to keep your pet permanently indoors but I am not a fan of this because I think cats have much better, fuller, lives being allowed access to the outdoors if it is safe for them to do so.
Great ways to help your cats feel secure in the outside world include discouraging strange cats from your property, keeping some areas of your garden deliberately unkempt so your cat can hide (music to my lazy-gardener ears!), and providing elevated resting platforms from which they can keep an eye on the surrounding area. There are also several products available which go on fence tops to keep your cats in and others out, or you could provide a secure run.
You might, at this point, be feeling smug. Thinking that your cats are fine, they all get along, they aren’t stressed at all. However, you could easily be wrong.
Cats are brilliant at hiding their problems and internalising their stress. The cat that is ‘anti-social’ and is always hiding, may, in fact, be finding life incredibly difficult and rather than come into constant conflict with it’s house mates, be opting for misery and solitude.
Often stress will eventually manifest in physical diseases such as cystitis or over-grooming or in behaviour we find unacceptable such as urine or faecal marking in the house. (At which point the guilty party is probably shouted at and therefore made to feel even more nervous and insecure) Then the poor creature is finally dragged to see the vet but often the problems are so entrenched it is really difficult to make changes and we really struggle to get their owner to see and accept the bigger picture.
The truth is, if you have more than one cat, especially if they are unrelated, you need to make sure that you provide a home that allows them to live their lives without having to share or make compromises to each other.
So, follow my advice in this article and start to think like a cat; an anti-social, imperialistic, megalomanic with psycopathic tendencies towards small rodents!