For most of us, cats are beloved members of our family and cherished companions. We appreciate the beauty, joy, love and fun that cats share with us. For some people though, cats are viewed as untrainable, sneaky, cold and destructive animals. I feel bad for those people who are missing out on all that cats add to our lives.
We actually share some similarities with cats. For the people who haven’t been able to relate to cats yet, maybe learning about a few of the things we have in common with these intelligent and loving creatures will soften their hearts a bit. Here are just some of ways in which we’re similar:
1. We Enjoy Affection and Companionship
It surprises many people when they learn that cats are social animals. Although mistakenly labels as solitary, cats benefit from social interaction just as we do. Cats are solitary hunters because they go after small prey and this is probably where the misconception begins. They’re also territorial so social interaction initially requires finesse, but they are social creatures. Just because cats don’t exhibit instant social ease the way two unfamiliar dogs might doesn’t mean they don’t have a social structure.
Cats also display affection but each cat may exhibit it in different ways. People show affection in various ways as well; we aren’t all the same. Some people enjoy being physically close and like to be hugged and some don’t. Cats can be like that as well. Just as with people, some cats prefer a gentle, casual touch over a long, close embrace or hug. A cat may give an affectionate display in the form of sitting nearby or being on a lap without being held or confined. Some people show their love and affection through acts of kindness, thoughtfulness or words as opposed to close physical contact. When it comes to cats, it can be easy to miss subtle signs of companionship and affection. Your cat’s purr, a slow eye blink, relaxed posture or desire to sit close to you are displays of affection. The cat may lean his body against yours, touch your face with his paw or place a paw on your arm, rub his face on you or give you a gentle (or not so gentle) head bunt. Again, these are signs of affection that are easily overlooked. Just as with your human companions, pay attention to individual preferences and displays. Some are grand and hard to miss and others are subtle, yet no less meaningful.
One of the things many people find very appealing about cats is that they can be left alone for longer periods than dogs. Even with the convenience of a litter box and an endless supply of food, cats left alone for long stretches of time, day after day, can suffer from loneliness, boredom and even separation anxiety.
Indoor cats left alone with no stimulation or environmental enrichment are more likely to become bored or lonely. Does that mean the solution is to allow your cat to go outdoors for stimulation and entertainment? Certainly not. The outdoor environment is filled with stimulation but it’s also filled with danger and uncertainty. It’s my recommendation that cats be kept indoors but when you do that, you have a responsibility to ensure the indoor environment provides the enrichment need to keep your cat mentally active and healthy.
Some Signs Your Cat may be Bored
Lack of appetite
Sleeping more than normal
Over-grooming (even to the point of creating bald patches)
Litter Box Issues
If your cat is displaying any of the above behaviors or another change in his normal behavior, the first step is to visit the veterinarian. Behavioral changes can be due to an underlying medical condition so it’s important to get a veterinary exam before assuming a problem is behavioral. If there does turn out to be a medical issue it doesn’t mean your cat won’t also benefit from some boredom busters as well though. Every cat deserves environmental enrichment. To get you started, here are some tips to help prevent boredom in your “Home Alone” cat.
1. Set out Some Puzzle Feeders
Food-dispensing toys are an easy way to provide added enrichment. Working for food is a concept that’s a natural for cats but in many households, food is just piled high in the food bowl so the cat doesn’t get the opportunity to seek out his prey. As hunters, cats enjoy the chance to search for prey, stalk, pounce and enjoy their reward. Use a puzzle feeder so you can enjoy a little bonus playtime during meals. The puzzle feeder also encourages him to eat more slowly. There are more puzzle feeders available for dry food because wet food will spoil more quickly, especially if you plan on leaving puzzle feeders out for the day while you’re at work. You can still use wet food puzzle feeders but they’re best when the cat can enjoy them right away to ensure freshness. Save the wet food puzzle feeders for when someone will be home.
Hide a few treats around the house in places you know your cat typically goes and this will create opportunities for some treasure hunting. Don’t go overboard because treats shouldn’t make up more than 10% of a cat’s meal. Place a few treats around so your cat’s nose can do a little work to locate those tiny but tasty rewards.
3. Scratching Post and Scratching Pads
If you haven’t provided your cat with a scratching post it’s certainly long overdue. If you do have one but your cat doesn’t use it, then it’s time to re-evaluate why it has failed. Most cats prefer sisal-covered posts and not carpeted ones. Make sure the post is tall and sturdy so your cat can lean his weight against it to get a good scratch and stretch. Locate the post where your cat likes to scratch. I find this is one of the most common mistakes cat parents make because they don’t like the look of the post so they place it in a remote corner. Look at where your cat is currently scratching and locate the post there.
Some cats like to scratch horizontally and if that’s the case with your cat, you can purchase inexpensive horizontal scratching pads to scatter around. Some cats enjoy both horizontal and vertical scratching so keep that in mind as you plan your cat’s scratching arrangements.
Scratching is an important part of enrichment in a cat’s life so don’t under-estimate the value of having an appealing post available. Scratching is used not only for nail conditioning but also for stretching, marking and emotional release.
You should have some toys for interactive playtime as well as toys for your cat’s solo play. Interactive toys are the ones you’ll use so you can engage in play sessions with your kitty. These are typically based on a fishing pole design. Interactive playtime is important for all cats but the ones who are left home alone all day will especially need them. Interactive play should be done at least twice daily for about 15 minutes each. There are many types of interactive toys available so when you go shopping, try to match the toy to your cat’s personality or play style.
When it comes to solo toys, don’t make the mistake of thinking that a filled toy basket is all that’s needed. From your cat’s perspective that’s just a pile of already killed prey. You need to add a little life into those toys (not literally, don’t worry). Strategically place toys around the house so they’ll spark interest from your cat. For example, place a furry mouse on the cat tree with its tail dangling down, or maybe put a toy inside an open paper bag for your cat to discover.
You don’t have to have a large amount of toys to keep your cat happy. Rotate toys every week to re-ignite interest.
Cats love being on elevated locations and they also love the process of getting there by climbing or jumping. Create safe climbing options for your cat by having a sturdy cat tree. It may seem like a costly expense but a well-made, sturdy tree should last your cat’s lifetime. Make sure the tree’s perches are large and comfortable. Typically, “u” shaped perches are best because they allow the cat to feel more secure.
Other climbing/perching options can be created by installing sturdy window perches or cat shelving. You can even create cat walkways. Just make sure everything you purchase or create is sturdy, safe and comfortable.
Speaking of climbing, one of the reasons cast love elevated locations is because of the view. Place cat trees near windows for your cat’s viewing pleasure. Even a bed placed on a piece of furniture will do so your cat can watch the outdoor activity. Place a bird feeder outside to create more entertainment.
Photo: Pam Johnson-Bennett
7. Let the Sun Shine in
Cats love to sun bathe. Another benefit of a cat tree or window perch is that can be a comfy place to nap in the sun. If there are windows that allow for a long beam of sunlight to fill the room, make sure you keep that curtain open so your cat can stretch out on the carpet or floor and enjoy a sun-filled nap.
8. Places to Hide
While you’re gone during the day you have no way of knowing whether anything very noisy or frightening occurs right outside your home. Whether it’s construction, a car accident, sirens, thunderstorms or even someone knocking on your door. Make sure your cat has places to hide. Very often cats will seek out a hiding place during severe storms and if you create cozy hideaways they may be a more secure option for kitty instead of ducking under the bed.
Set up a couple covered beds, cat tunnels or even just open towel-lined boxes placed on their sides. In my house, I have open beds and hideaways available for my cat so she always has a comfortable option.
Cats are creatures of habit. Something that tends to cause anxiety is when a cat doesn’t have the comfort of routine to count on. Don’t be inconsistent so your cat never knows if dinner will be two hours late one day and then four hours late the next day. Try to stick to a schedule that won’t cause your cat’s meals to be delayed.
10. Use Boxes and Bags
I previously talked about using boxes as cozy hideaways but you can also use them, as well as bags, for playtime and fun. Leave a couple boxes or paper bags out for entertainment. You can cut holes in a box and then it upside down to create a kitty fort or cut the bottoms out of paper bags and then tape the bags together to make a homemade kitty tunnel. Cats love to explore and this is an inexpensive way to add a little extra activity into your cat’s day. If using bags, make sure they are paper and never plastic and that you cut all handles off to prevent the risk of strangulation.
Photo: Pam Johnson-Bennett
I love to hide little toys in boxes and bags as an added surprise for my cat.
Set out a little dried catnip twice a week so your cat can enjoy a little catnip party. You can just leave it loose on something like a paper plate or you can rub a couple toys with the dried leaves. I typically leave a few toys “marinating” in a container of dried catnip and then offer that to my cat.
Although catnip is safe for cats, don’t offer it more than twice a week because if constantly exposed to the herb, cats can become immune to its effects.
If you spend very long hours away from work or if there are a few days coming up where you know you’ll be delayed, consider having a pet sitter or trusted neighbor come in to care for your cat or offer a little mid-day playtime. Maybe there’s a teenager in the neighborhood who would like to earn a little extra money by visiting your cat every afternoon. Just be sure the person is someone your cat likes so the experience of having someone in the home doesn’t add anxiety.
There are so many interesting scents and textures outdoors and there are a few ways you can bring those indoors so your cat can enjoy them without the danger of being outside. In the Fall, bring in a few dried leaves for your cat to play with. The lightness and crunch of the leaves may make them appealing toys. Bird feathers found on the ground could be brought indoors for playtime as well. If you don’t use any weed killers or pesticides on your grass you could snip a few blades for your cat to munch on. The other option is to get a container of kitty greens from your local pet product store and grow a patch of grass indoors.
For added scratching fun, bring in a small log (as long as you don’t mind the mess from the bark). Don’t bring in a log though unless you know for sure that other animals have not peed on it.
14. Maybe it’s Time to Add a Companion Cat
Adding another cat to the family can be a wonderful way to provide companionship and friendship. Introductions take time and finesse so if you think the addition of another cat would be a good idea, make sure you can devote the time needed to do a gradual and positive introduction.
When you get home after a long day, it’s very tempting to just want to relax and take time for yourself but your cat has been waiting for you all day. When you walk through the door, it’s the beginning of his day with you. Take time to enjoy playtime, grooming and if he enjoys it, lap and cuddle time. Talk to your cat as well so he stays connected with you.
For more specifics on cat behavior and training, refer to the books by best-selling author, Pam Johnson-Bennett. The latest book, CatWise, contains answers to the behavior questions that cat parents ask most often. CatWise is available at bookstores everywhere as well as online at sites such as Amazon.
For many cats, drinking water is a simple process. They walk over to the water bowl, lower their faces near the surface of the water and stick out their tongues to get a little drink. For other cats though, a front paw becomes a vital tool when thirst strikes. Why do these cats dip a paw in the water and then use it almost as if they’re licking a popsicle? There are a few reasons for this behavior.
The whiskers on your cat’s face are very sensitive tactile hairs. They are more deeply rooted than normal hairs and are rich in nerve endings. If the water bowl is too small or deep, the whiskers can get squished when the cat lowers her head for a drink. To avoid this discomfort, a cat may learn it’s easier to just dip a paw in the water.
Ensure your cat’s water bowl allows for whisker comfort by using one wide enough to accommodate those long whiskers. It’s better to have a shallow, wide bowl that you can refill every day rather than use a deep, narrow one to avoid having to replenish the water supply so often.
Photo: Pam Johnson-Bennett
Inconsistent Water Depth
If you are inconsistent in how much water you put in the bowl, your cat may use her paw to test the depth. I’ve seen this with cat parents who don’t refill the bowl until it’s almost dry and then when they do replenish the water it gets filled to the very top. In a multicat house where there may be some tension, a cat may not feel comfortable lowering her head into an almost-empty water bowl so far that she can’t see over the side. It may be safer for her to use her paw so she can keep watch for any opponents entering the room.
It’s important to clean the bowl and refill the water on a daily basis in order to ensure your cat is getting fresh water. By doing this, you are also better able to maintain a consistent water level in the bowl.
Water Bowl Placement
This has more to do with safety and security. If the bowl is up against a wall where a cat would have to have her back to the room in order to drink, she may choose to dip her paw in so she doesn’t become too vulnerable.
To encourage your cat to feel more comfortable drinking the traditional way, slide the water bowl out from against the wall so she can position herself more securely. Have multiple water stations as well because each cat may have preferred drinking locations.
Cats love to play and your kitty may have discovered that when she puts her paw in the water, she can create movement. She may have initially started doing it when she first noticed a piece of fuzz or food in her water bowl. Maybe she started paw dipping out of boredom. For some cats, the behavior is simply based on having a little fun.
Everyone wants their cats to have fun but dipping a paw in the water isn’t great for keeping the water clean. If you think your cat may be exhibiting this behavior out of boredom then it’s time to rev up the fun factor in your house. Make sure your cat is getting adequate stimulation in the form of daily interactive play sessions with you as well as having opportunities for solo play. It may be time to buy or create a food-dispensing toy to keep your cat busy. Look at her environment as well and see if there are other areas that could use a little enrichment.
Need More Information?
If you need more specifics, here are some articles to help you.
You can also find more information in the books by best-selling author, Pam Johnson-Bennett. Think Like a Cat is Pam’s comprehensive guide to cat care and behavior. In CatWise, Pam’s latest book, she answers 150 behavior questions.
This article is intended for general information purposes only and is not meant to diagnose a medical condition, dispense medical information or be a replacement for your cat’s veterinary care. If you have questions about your cat’s health or behavior, contact your veterinarian.
You may live with a cat whose litter box habits are nothing short of spectacular, where not one particle of litter makes its way out of the box. Maybe you’re not so lucky though. Perhaps your cat sends mounds of litter out of the box and onto the floor where you manage to step on it every time you walk by. He may kick so enthusiastically that litter shoots halfway across the room. Why do some cats do that and is there anything you can do to discourage this behavior?
For cats in an outdoorenvironment, staying safe is a priority. The instinct cats have is to find a soft substrate, dig a small hole, eliminate and then cover their waste. This behavior helps hide their scent so predators aren’t alerted to their presence. The locations cats choose for elimination are also a distance from where they sleep and raise their young. Keeping predators away is a top priority.
Litter Box Restrictions
In the outdoors, a cat can stretch his legs out as far as needed to dig to the desired depth. There are also no limitations on how much he covers or how far the substrate particles can fly.
In the litter box, however, a cat has very definite restrictions regarding how much he can stretch his legs and how deep of a hole he can create. The limitations of the box may cause him to dig for a longer period of time in an effort to find the perfect spot. Since he’s limited by the walls of the box and the amount of litter, he may also be more exaggerated and awkward in his covering-up motions.
If the box already contains soiled litter, the cat may keep covering because he still detects an odor no matter how hard he tries to conceal it. Additionally, the walls of the typical litter box aren’t very high so if you have a determined cat, you’re bound to have litter up and over the sides. Even covered boxes don’t necessarily reduce litter scatter if the cat has his back end aligned with the opening.
Create More Room in the Litter Box
Since most traditional litter boxes aren’t big enough, I recommend purchasing a large plastic storage container. As a general guideline, the litter box size should be 1 ½ – 2x the length of your cat from tip of the nose to base of the tail. With a storage container you can also choose one with high sides to reduce litter scatter. This way, you don’t have to resort to a covered litter box. To make it easier for your cat to access the high-sided box, cut a low entryway on one end. Be sure to sand sharp edges.
If your cat is a non-stop litter scratcher, make sure it’s not because he isn’t satisfied with the degree of odor control. Scoop the box at least twice a day. If using scoopable litter, thoroughly wash the box once or twice a month. If using non-clumping litter, wash the box weekly or as often as necessary.
If there isn’t enough litter in the box your cat will probably never feel satisfied in his covering attempt for odor control. The scant amount of litter in the box will undoubtedly end up where you don’t want it as kitty tries, in vain, to conceal waste and odor. If you’ve gone overboard with the litter amount you’ll just be inviting your cat to send half of it over the sides of the box. In general, about a 3-inch litter depth is good but customize the amount based on your particular cat’s habits and preferences.
Need More Information?
For more specific information on cat behavior and training, refer to the books by best-selling author Pam Johnson-Bennett, including her latest release, CatWise, and Think Like a Cat, the #1 cat training book on Amazon.
This article is not intended to replace your cat’s regular veterinary care. If your cat is displaying a change in litter box habits, there could be an underlying medical cause so be sure to consult with your veterinarian.
Please note that Pam is unable to respond to comments. If you have questions about your cat’s behavior, refer to Pam’s book or the many articles on our website.