Welcome to 2022! To start the year off on the right foot with your cat, why not resolve to follow through on the following six resolutions, all of which are very simple “investments” that will make your pet so much more content?
1. The trick is to give the reward within just a couple of seconds of the cat’s performing as you wish. For instance, if your cat scratches on her scratching post instead of your furniture, immediately give her a delectable treat, or a soft stroke under the chin — whichever she would prefer. She’ll get the picture that scratching on her post instead of on the furniture leads to good outcomes. Likewise, if she doesn’t jump on the counter when you ask her not to, let her know how pleased you are by rewarding her in the moment. Not only will you elicit the behavior you desire, but you’ll also strengthen your bond with your pet. Reward your cat for getting it right. You may think your cat is not interested in collaborating with you, but that’s not true. In fact, you can train her by rewarding her for a job well done. It’s called positive reinforcement, and the American Association of Feline Practitioners says it’s the best way to teach a cat behavior that you desire.
2. Speak softly and move about gently. As you well know, cats don’t wear their emotions on their sleeves, and it unnerves them considerably when we do. They like things quiet and serene. With that in mind, make a point of not yelling — not just at the cat herself but at anybody in your household. When you yell, your pet doesn’t know what you’re upset about, but she certainly picks up on the tone, and it rankles her. Ditto for slamming things down in frustration or even walking with heavy footsteps resulting from anger.
Anger is part of life, and sometimes we need to express it. But at the brink of those temper-losing moments, think of your cat the way you would a toddler — someone who requires a sense of harmony to feel secure and who you would want to shield from harsh words or angry gestures.
It is particularly important to keep strife from cats because they can become physically sick from emotional stress. One illness sometimes triggered by stress is cystitis, characterized by pain upon urinating, blood in the urine, and sometimes even an inability to urinate, which can be life-threatening if not treated immediately.
3. Engage with your cat. By this we don’t mean just pet your cat or force her to sit on your lap when she doesn’t feel like it. What we mean is that as beautiful as cats are to look at, they are not goldfish — or ornaments to be admired but not interacted with. They want some attention from you. Throw a little ball with a tinkling bell inside for her to chase, or move a beam of light around a wall. She wants to know that you are interested in engaging with her (when she feels like it).
4. Set up another litterbox in your home. Everyone has heard so many times that the right number of litterboxes is the number of cats you have plus one — but the cat(s) in your home seem to be doing okay with the number you have so it’s easy advice to overlook. This is especially the case for people with one cat. But your pet will be so much happier if you find a place for another litterbox. Cats are extremely fastidious. And even though you clean the litterbox once a week and scoop out waste and clumps of wet litter at least once a day, your pet would be significantly more pleased if she had two “bathrooms” and didn’t have to use a “toilet” that was cleaned thoroughly only on a weekly basis. Ditto for two or more cats who have to share. An extra litterbox reduces anxiety about having to use a spot frequented by others.
5. Create a high-up perch for your cat to hang out. Cats are descended from tree dwellers— wildcats whose Latin name was Felis sylvestris (loosely translated as “cat among trees”). And they still are genetically encoded to climb to high places; it’s a biological imperative for them. With that in mind, make sure there’s something higher for your cat to jump to than a windowsill or a kitchen counter. Some people will leave open a linen closet so a cat can make her way to the highest shelf. Others are content to let their cat sit atop a bookcase. But if such options don’t exist (or you don’t want them to exist), consider installing a shelf of sorts high up on a wall that your cat can reach from the top of the couch or perhaps the top of the refrigerator. You can even make a point of installing a bookshelf high up on a wall and leaving most of it empty for your cat to use as she wishes.
6. Stick to a predictable routine. Cats appreciate structure in their lives. They want to have a good sense of what time of day they’re going to be fed and even when during the day you’re going to interact with them. It will make them look forward to it.
Of course, you won’t always be able to stick to the schedule you create for your pet. A visitor may come over, or you may be stuck late somewhere. At those times, do what you can to let her know you’re aware that she feels distressed by the disruption to her routine. Perhaps give her a special treat or wash and then dry and fluff her favorite blanket or towel. On some level, she’ll understand that you have her best interests at heart.