Five Pillars of a Healthy Feline Environment

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At their core, cats are still wild animals, and while we’ve invited them into our homes to share our lives, we can’t expect them to completely give up all their instincts. We have to look at our living space from the cat’s point of view and provide an environment that keeps them stimulated. Feline behavior experts agree. Jackson Galaxy introduced the concept of catification on his hit show My Cat From Hell. Catifying your environment means providing a space for your cats where they can exercise their natural instincts in the safety of our homes.

The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) introduced the five pillars of a healthy feline environment in their Feline Environmental Needs Guidelines. The guidelines address the needs of cats in the home, as well as in veterinary hospitals and shelters.

When cats needs are not met, cats will be stressed, and this stress will often demonstrate itself in behavior issues such as inappropriate elimination, scratching, and aggression toward other cats and even the humans in the household. Accommodating cats’ needs is critical to ensuring that cats are happy and healthy.

The five pillars of a healthy feline environment are:

Provide a safe place

Every cat needs a safe space they can retreat to where they feel protected. Depending on your cat’s personality, this can be a cat condo, a raised perch, a cat carrier, or even a box. Typically, cats feel safest in spaces that are enclosed, but have a way for them to enter and exit from two sides. In a multicat household, you should have as many safe spaces as you have cats, and it’s best to not have them located too close together.

Provide multiple and separated key environmental resources

Key environmental resources is a big word for food, water, litter boxes, play areas and sleeping areas. Cats should have easy access to each of these areas without having to compete for them or being threatened by other cats in the household.

Provide opportunity for play and predatory behavior

Play is crucial in keeping cats happy and healthy. Play behavior is a way for cats to exercise their hunting instinct. Toys that mimic predatory behavior, such as interactive wand toys, are a great way to not only encourage play, but for cat and human to bond. Puzzle toys keep cats mentally challenged. It’s a good idea to rotate toys so cats don’t get bored with the same old toys.

Provide positive, consistent and predictable human-cat interaction

Cats have a reputation as being independent loners, but nothing could be further from the truth. Cats thrive on interaction with humans, and while your cat’s personality will determine what type of interaction and how much she will enjoy, consistency is important. Take your cue from your cat’s preference for how much petting and cuddling she will enjoy. Never force interaction with a cat. Let the cat initiate and choose how much human contact they want.

Provide an environment that respects the cat’s sense of smell

Cats use their sense of smell to evaluate their environment. Scent marking, by rubbing their face and body against objects in their space, helps cats claim a space. Try not to clean their scent off these areas, especially when a space or an object is unfamiliar to the cat, or when a new cat joins the household. Cats’ sense of smell is much stronger than ours. Avoid using highly scented products in your home. This is especially important when it comes to the litter box. Scented litters may be pleasant to the humans in the household, but the scent can be overpowering to cats, and can lead to litter box avoidance.

Providing a healthy environment is essential to your cat’s health and well-being.

Click here to read the full AAFP Environmental Needs Guidelines.

What have you changed in your cat’s environment to make it more cat-friendly?

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5 Comments on Five Pillars of a Healthy Feline Environment

  1. Pamela Bruinsma
    January 26, 2015 at 5:52 pm (3 years ago)

    I adopted two cats at the same time, they where kittens about 1 month apart. They were currently about 18 and 19 months old. while I was away this past weekend my male cat got out and was hit by a car. I am devastated, but I’m concerned for my girl cat. Will my other cat miss her friend? Will she be lonely as the only feline in a house of 3 small dogs?

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      January 26, 2015 at 6:21 pm (3 years ago)

      I’m so sorry about your cat, Pamela. Kittens and young cats tend to do better with a companion, but there’s never a guarantee that two cats will get along. No two cats grieve the same way. If your female gets along and plays with your dogs, she may not miss her companion as much. Here’s more on cats and grieving: http://consciouscat.net/2011/08/01/do-cats-grieve-for-other-cats/

      Reply
  2. Sue Brandes
    July 24, 2014 at 10:46 am (3 years ago)

    Thanks for the wonderful post. Very good advice.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      July 24, 2014 at 3:48 pm (3 years ago)

      I’m glad this was helpful, Sue.

      Reply
  3. Fur Everywhere
    July 23, 2014 at 5:14 am (3 years ago)

    From this list, our house is a healthy one for cats 🙂

    One thing I’ve changed fairly recently is the number of resources my kitties have access to. Specifically, I used to one have one food bowl with dry kibble that sat out for the kitties to graze on during the day. They’ve always gotten fed wet food in separate bowls, but it wasn’t until recently that I realized that they would benefit from more than one dry food feeding station. Now, I take their daily allotment of kibbles and spread them among four bowls. And each of my kitties seems to like eating out of one bowl/location the best. 🙂

    Thanks for the great information!

    Reply

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