The CATalyst Council, which promotes improving the cat-human bond and feline wellbeing — celebrates September as Happy Cat Month. And over the years, the definition of what makes a cat happy has changed and evolved. A decade or so ago, who knew there would be so many cats exploring nature with their humans, working as therapy pets, or that there would be whole conventions devoted to cat culture? So the idea of what makes a cat happy has also changed. A healthy cat is a happy cat, of course, but these days, feline wellbeing has taken a more holistic outlook. Humans are more open into looking into a cat’s mind and understanding her reactions and instincts, and working from there to give her a better life.
For this year’s Happy Cat Month post, I have some new thoughts for cats and humans. My three tips for a happy cat may surprise you this time around, and they are deeper than my usual, more lighthearted posts about cat behavior.
1. Find out who your cat really is. Is she really a shy and withdrawn creature, or does she only hide in certain circumstances? If she is outgoing, are there things that still make her nervous or startle her? Cats are not black and white creatures. They can be 80% shy or 60% outgoing, so you can’t expect them to behave a certain way all the time. If you learn your cat’s personality quirks, you can create a better life for her based on those.
For example, we have two outgoing cats — me and Binga — and one shy cat, Boodie. My human worked very hard to socialize Boodie. She handled her frequently, in a non-threatening way, for many years. But at the same time, she never demanded that she be outgoing around strangers. She was allowed to come and go as she pleased. She learned who was family, and eventually figured out that people who came over weren’t threatening or scary. So now she hangs around when people come over. She even let someone pet her recently. For Boodie, that is a big deal. She still is a little shy about being petted and handled, especially when she is having to go through a round of meds, but over the years, she went from 90% shy to being maybe 55% shy. I like to think that Binga and I helped too, by example.
2. Figure out if your cat is a loner, a cat’s cat, or prefers people to cats. A lot times, humans with a multi-cat family want everyone to get along, and they put a lot of effort into trying to make that happen. The thing is, sometimes that will never happen. Some cats just don’t want to be around other cats. Some cats will never get along together. Some cats would rather be with their humans than with another cat. If you have two or more cats, observe how they interact with each other, and with you. Do this without making any judgments, or desiring to “fix” things. The cats don’t need to be fixed… but their environment may need some changes to accommodate their personalities and needs.
Loner cats need to be able to spend time away from other cats. You may have to create levels in your house to give territorial cats more space. Maybe you have a cat that wants your undivided attention and does not want to have to share you every time she sits on your lap. It is a lot easier to create peace in a multi-cat household when you come from a place of wanting to make things comfortable for each individual instead of trying to encourage friendships that may never happen. Forced friendships never work with humans — why would they with cats?
On the other hand, if you have just one cat, is she happy that way, or does she seem lonely? This is easier to gauge if you know the cat’s background, or if she once lived with another cat that is no longer there. Cats that are used to the company of other cats may miss that. If the cat spent a lot of time alone and away from other cats, but she still seems lonely, it may be because she wants more time with you. If your cat seems like the type that would enjoy a kitty companion, consider bringing one into her life. If she is more of a loner, then make her happy by allowing her to be your one and only, and make sure you give her quality time.
3. Understand that your cat’s behavioral problem may be health related. When a cat eliminates inappropriately, humans often will assume right away that the cat is mad, jealous, spiteful, or some other emotion that is more human than feline. The truth is that often the problem is health-based. Even if emotion is involved — for example, if you’ve made changes in your household or adopted a second cat she doesn’t like — it could still be health related. Stress induced urinary tract infections are as real as any other UTI, and will need meds to clear up. Of course, if stress caused the UTI, you need to also figure out how to improve your cat’s living situation to relieve her stress.
Is your older cat yowling at odd hours? It could be she is getting senile… or she could have a digestive upset that is distressing her. Has your cat mysteriously stopped eating? Maybe it’s not because she dislikes her food — it could be dental disease. Nearly 60% of American housecats don’t get regular veterinary care, and that needs to change. You and your cat need a relationship with a good veterinarian to keep track of her health, and to catch any problems before they develop into something bigger and possibly life threatening.
These, of course, are just the beginning of keeping your cat happy, and healthy. But they create a great foundation to build upon. Many years ago, people assumed that cats were low-maintenance pets. You just got one, let her come and go as she pleased and that was it. These days, people want to forge a much closer relationship with their cats… and the cats benefit from that too. But it’s important to really understand cat nature (and maybe something about human nature too) to make the most out of the feline-human bond.