by Barbara George
Tellington Ttouch Behaviourist
Cats sleep on average between 16 and 20 hours per day. While they are awake they eat and groom, with the remainder of the time used for interaction and play. With so little spare time, how could they possibly be bored?
Boredom is more a state of mind than lack of physical activity. It is possible to be bored while you are busy if your mind is not engaged, challenged and stimulated. The same applies to our cats.
Boredom varies by day and by cat. One boring day in a while is not a problem; permanent boredom can lead to depression and illness. Cats can retreat into a state similar to boredom in order to avoid elements in their environment that they cannot deal with successfully.
As with many behaviours, the symptoms of a bored cat can also be symptoms of other issues. It is necessary to take all factors, including environment, age and health, into consideration before deciding your cat is, or isn’t, bored.
It is very important to note that some of these behaviours will be displayed by cats that are not bored at all; it is either in their nature or a learnt behaviour that gives them a reward or prevents an action from happening. Similarly, it is highly unlikely that any cat will display all of these symptoms at once.
The most common symptoms of boredom include:
- Destructive behaviour, often of items that belong to you or that you use often. These include your clothes, important papers, and cupboards.
- Overeating, when there is nothing else to do, eat. These cats will persistently ask for more food and eat it all.
- Undereating, too bored and listless to be interested in food even the most delicious treats.
- Oversleeping, longer than normal and showing reluctance to wake up. This is a way of avoiding having to be bored.
- Overgrooming, including pulling out fur and continually scratching. Licking and scratching are comforting behaviours that release good endorphins.
- Undergrooming, no interest in keeping smart and clean, and not much interest in anything else either.
- Scratching and digging, furniture, plants, people, having anything to do is better than not doing anything.
- Aggression towards most/every member of the family, including other pets. These cats may appear as victims, being attacked or bullied by other pets, and develop a reluctance to interact.
- Attention seeking, including knocking items off shelves. Any attention and interaction may be better than being ignored.
- Vocalising, also at night. This can be seen as a cry for attention.
- Pacing, continually walking the same paths. A mindless activity that requires no thought or emotion.
- Reluctance to be engaged in any games. Often when a cat has been bored for a long time they forget how to interact, and no longer have the desire to do so.
- Territory marking, females can spray too! A cat that feels solitary and alone may need these markers to navigate without conscious thought.
- Litter tray issues, including marking items of importance to you. These are among the most powerful messages cats use to let us know they have something to say. As with territory marking, this may be a way to map out areas that are safe.
In order to have a conclusive diagnosis it may be necessary for a full veterinary checkup and an assessment by a behaviourist.