Cat Behaviour, BOREDOM & FOOD

2016-05-13

Modern domestic household pet cats come in many different colours, breeds and sizes as a result of their genetics and human breeding programmes. Cats have been known to be companions for humans from as long ago as 7000BC. From archaeological studies in the Mediterranean, on the island of Cyprus a grave was found a few years ago containing the skeleton of a lady cuddling her cat. Scientists have concluded that this is the earliest known recording of human-cat bonding which to modern day exists for a variety of medical benefits to humans. The psychological benefits to humans of living with a beloved pet include companionship, a feeling of being needed and less depression. The physical benefits include decreased blood pressure, reduced risk of a second heart attack and decreased triglyceride concentrations. Children who live and work with pets gain increased self-esteem, are happier at and do better in school and talk to their pets when they can’t or won’t talk to their parents or teachers. For these reasons alone pets are wonderful household companions.

Cats big and small use body signals to communicate with their human pet parents and kitty carers. Cats can’t verbally talk to us so it’s important that we learn to understand and decipher cat signals when they are trying to tell us what they want. Cats are natural born predators made for a life of action stalking food prey to eat. In a natural outdoor setting an adult male cat would probably spend around 12.5% of his time eating and to fulfil his body nutrition requirements needs to hunt and kill about 12 mice/day. He would also sleep on average 12.5 hours per day, not at the same time as normal humans, with cats being active at dusk and dawn, similar times to their prey. So if you have ever wondered why your cat wakes you up at 5.30am for attention or food quite simply it’s because his natural ‘body clock’ is telling him it’s time to stalk, kill and eat!

However despite continued advances in cat health care and wellness, according to an advanced study done in 2000 and reported in an Animal Welfare Journal, behaviour problems are still the most common cause of euthanasia in pet cats surrendered to animal welfare organizations in the USA.

So when we become cat guardians and keep our cats confined in our apartments 24/7 we are subjecting them to the possibility of extreme BOREDOM unless we understand their needs, can communicate with them and provide a variety of toys, games and interaction to beat the ‘BOREDOM PIT’. Following are some tips on ‘BOREDOM TRICKS’ to beat that “BOREDOM PIT”. By nature many of our household cats nowadays are content spending their life sleeping and eating, being lazy and getting fat by living on quick and easy fed diets that as busy humans we provide…because it makes our life simpler. Unfortunately this leads to obesity and other health concerns including diabetes, arthritis and respiratory problems. Making cats work for their food is where to start. Allowing cats’ ad lib free access to a bowl of dry food should stop.

I recommend the use of making feeding more of a game and in fact advocate that 100% of your cats’ food can be given this way. Instead of giving food in bowls to cats twice/day use food dispensing toys and slow feeders. These have an added bonus of providing mental stimulation for our bored felines. Many commercial products exist like Buster Food Mazes and Twister Food Balls, however it is important when selecting these that we teach our cats how to use the new games and toys. Creating multiple feeding stations around the home with just a small amount of food at each station simulating natural hunting and making your cat forage or climb to get them not only extends eating time, this relieves boredom and make feed time more fun too. Cardboard boxes and tubes, paper and towels or even your old clothes can be made suitable to hide food very cheaply around your home using your vertical space with the help of fixed shelves and perches as well as your floor.

Other boredom tricks include allowing your cat the opportunity to be able to look out your window, buy or make cat furniture with plenty of hides and scratch areas, use the herb ‘cat nip’ in toys or alone on surfaces, a new ‘Nip-Stick’ drives my cat wild, get a pet DVD and have a feline movie night, play with your cat with some of the many cat toys around that use feathers on the end of a stick, or lasers, these are great play time props. Last but not least make time to socially interact by cuddling and talking with your cat every day. Your cat will love you more that way too.

Dr Pauline Taylor

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