The Growing Kitten: Providing resources for natural behaviors
Many cat parents who have rescued either a kitten or a cat, experience frightened, shy animals that most likely did not have the benefit of early socialization. Even if these cats would rather not be touched or sit on your lap, they may follow you around, give and seek attention in other ways and form a very close bond with you. If your cat missed out on early socialization (or you simply do not know about your cat’s early life), don’t worry. Behavior can be modified and it is still possible to build a bond. It just may take longer for an adult cat or older kitten to be comfortable with surroundings and people.
Cats need resources and the ability to perform their natural behaviors, as well as having control over their social interactions. Every cat needs a safe place he can retreat to so he feels protected, a place he can also use as a resting place. The cat should have the ability to exit and enter the space from at least two sides if he feels threatened. Most cats prefer that the safe space is big enough to fit only themselves, has sides around it and is raised off the ground.
If you have more than one cat, provide multiple and separated key resources such as food, water, litter boxes, scratching areas, play areas and resting or sleeping areas. Separation of resources reduces the risk of competition and challenges from other cats which may result in stress and behavior problems.
Provide opportunities for play and predatory behavior. Cats need to fulfill their natural need to hunt. Interactive toys, such as DaBird, that mimic prey are ideal. Allowing the cat to intermittently capture the “prey” and be given a treat as a result will ensure he completes the prey sequence and help prevent frustration, unlike laser pointers that do not direct the cat to prey. (Note: Laser pointers can be an excellent toy for cats if used properly—pointing the laser onto soft toys and treats so the cat can complete the prey sequence.)
In addition, respect the importance of your cat’s sense of smell. Cats use this to evaluate their surroundings and mark their scent by rubbing their face and body, which deposits natural pheromones, to establish boundaries within which they feel safe and secure. Avoid cleaning their scent from these areas, especially when a new cat is introduced into the home, or when there are other changes in people or pets, or in the environment of the home. Be aware that some smells can be threatening to cats, such as the scent of unfamiliar animals or the use of scented products, or detergents.
One excellent way to provide environmental enrichment is to introduce food puzzles so your cat can forage for part of his meal, providing a more natural feeding behavior. Also, provide appropriate places for your cat to scratch throughout the home. Vertical scratching posts should be tall enough that an adult cat can stretch out completely as this is the way they stretch their back and shoulders. Try both vertical and horizontal scratchers, as cats may prefer one over the other. If you need to get your cat interested in a scratcher, use catnip on it, or play a game with him around and over it.
Provide positive, consistent and predictable interaction with your cat. Cats have individual preferences with respect to how much and what kind of interactions they prefer, such as petting, grooming, being picked up and sitting or lying on a person’s lap. To a large extent, this depends on their early socialization. Respect your cat’s individual preferences and don’t force interaction. Instead let the cat initiate, choose and control the type of human contact.
Contributed by Francine Miller