by Barbara George
Tellington Ttouch Behaviourist
What does your cat need or want to keep her mentally and physically happy? That depends on a number of factors, her age, personality, breed, preferences, any health issues, the available environment and resources you can provide. Each cat is different so there is no one-size-fits-all answer; one cat will be content to sleep on a windowsill with a view of the birdfeeder while another will need almost constant interaction and entertainment.
All cats need mental stimulation, whatever their age and condition. This may be anything from vigorous play sessions to relaxing in the garden. Games that simulate hunting, chasing and catching use her natural instincts and the most appropriate. Adjust the level of activity to suit her. While there are toys and games she can play on her own, schedule at least one interactive playtime every day.
Another form of exercise is to train her to a harness and go for walks in a safe environment. Even up and down the same street every day will be different as she will smell new scents and see new items, often things that we do not even notice!
Puzzle, or interactive, feeders are a wonderful way to stimulate and exercise her mind. The idea is to simulate her natural feeding routine of hunting, catching and eating small prey during the day. There are many examples on the Internet, both to purchase and to make.
Clicker training is another way to encourage mental stimulation. This is a method of positive re-enforcement training that works well with the more active and out-going breeds of cats.
Indoors is the safest place for cats, unless your garden is secure and cat-proofed for both outgoing and in-coming cats or you have a catio. Visual stimulation is also necessary for a happy cat. A perch near a window where she can watch the world outside is a good start. Create interest outside by adding a bird feeder. If you are out for a long time leave the radio or TV on as background noise. Many cats enjoy music; videos and soundtracks are available on the Internet.
Enhance her environment to give her more options. High places to watch the world go by, warm and safe places to sleep, scratching post to keep her claws trim, boxes and tunnels to play in, and add an indoor garden with cat-friendly plants. Where possible, make a change every week so that there is something to investigate; the level of change must be acceptable as some cats find change very difficult.
Create a grooming routine. Even short-haired cats should be groomed. This is also a good way to identify any physical issues such as bites, fleas, dental issues, and early signs of arthritis.
In some instances, depending on personality and available resources, introducing a new cat or kitten as a friend can help an active cat in need of interaction feel happier.
A healthy cat is most likely to be happy. A good diet with the right ingredients and nutrients is important. Any change in behaviour or routines that cannot positively be explained may indicate a health issue and require a visit to the vet.