Around ten thousand years ago, a wildcat somewhere in the Middle East made an unusual discovery: the human settlements that she usually kept a safe distance from, had suddenly become overrun with mice. Unbeknown to her, the rodents were attracted to the grain stores that had sprung up, thanks to the flourishing agriculture of the time, and despite her natural instinct to steer clear of the humans of the day, she couldn’t resist the temptation to visit this new hunting ground. And so it came about, that the ancestor of the moggy curled up on your lap today, took the first tentative steps towards domestication, overcoming her wariness of humans in order to take advantage of this new food supply (a mutually beneficial relationship that provided our own ancestors with much-needed pest control into the bargain!).
Fast-forward to the 21st century, and our modern-day moggies, aside from being a little fonder of some of us, are really not so different from their wildcat ancestors. So, ensuring they have ample opportunity to behave in ways that are natural and instinctive to them is crucial for their wellbeing. Thankfully, you don’t need to build a grain store to keep your cat happy; there are some simple changes you can make around your house that will make your feline friend feel right at home!
Cats certainly don’t need reminding to catch up on their beauty sleep, snoozing for a good two thirds of each day! Most of our feline friends will opt to sleep up high if they can, it lets them keep an eye on their surroundings, and gives them a sense of security. You can buy “cat trees” that have elevated platforms to snooze on, but your ever-resourceful purrer is likely to seek out their own favourite sleeping spot: a deep windowsill, secure shelves or the top of a cupboard can make perfect napping places! As for their bed, sides they can snuggle against, and even a ‘roof’ can help them feel extra secure. Igloo beds are a great option, but a simple cardboard box on its side can be just as good! Add in a soft cosy blanket, and you’re all set!
If your cats play together, rub up against each other and even sleep curled up in the same spot, chances are they see each other as being part of the same social group. But cats are solitary by nature, and if your cats appear to ignore each other, even occupying different areas of your house, it’s likely you have more than one social group within your home. Talk about complicated!
This can cause problems if a cat has to enter another group’s “territory” in order to access something they need (food or water, for example). The underlying tension this creates can cause cats to feel stressed, which can lead to unwanted behaviours and even stress-related illnesses. You can go a long way to easing this, by making sure that every cat can access what they need, whether that’s beds, food, water, litter trays or toys, without needing to encroach onto another cat’s space.
Cats are more likely to eat if their food bowls are in a calm, quiet spot in your home, and some cats are happier facing out into a room while they tuck in (the deep-seated feeling they might be snuck up on is hard to shake off!). While it seems logical to put food and water bowls next to each other, many cats prefer to drink away from where they eat, and litter trays should be in a different location too, for understandable reasons!
In the wild, cats get much of their hydration from the food they eat, so drinking water doesn’t always come naturally to them. Many cats prefer to drink from bowls that are shallow and kept well-filled since they don’t like to peer down into their bowl. Water fountains with trickling water can tempt some cats to drink, too, it may be that this feels safer to them than water that’s been standing for a while (even if “a while” is simply the twenty minutes ago you filled it up!)
The rule of thumb for litter trays, is to provide one tray for each cat, and then one extra tray for good measure. Cats are often fastidious when it comes to cleanliness, and may refuse to use the tray more than once, so regularly cleaning and changing the litter avoids them holding on for too long! If your cat has access to the great outdoors, the tray may not get a lot of use, but it’s still worthwhile having one just in case!
Scratching posts weren’t just invented to stop your furniture getting shredded, though that is an added bonus! The need to scratch is hard-wired into cats, it keeps their claws sharp and exercises the muscles in their paws and front legs. They also scratch vertically to mark their territory, so putting scratching posts near entrance or exit points in your home will help encourage your feline friend to engage in this natural behaviour more often.
Games that stimulate their natural instinct to hunt will stretch their minds as well as their paws! Try pulling a toy mouse along a string and jerking it away as your cat chases it; be sure to let her catch it sometimes so she doesn’t get frustrated! A recent study found that just 5 to 10 minutes a day of “hunting” games, led to a 25% reduction in the numbers of real-life animals caught by cats1, a definite bonus for the local wildlife!
Our modern-day cats may have it easier than their distant relatives in many ways, but one threat that hasn’t gone away, is parasites. Fleas are irritating, itchy pests that bite your cat to feed on her blood, and worms live hidden inside your cat, stealing the food from her gut and potentially causing health problems.
If your feline friend picks up fleas, you can quickly find yourself with an infestation in your home. Washing your pet’s bedding on a hot wash will help destroy any flea eggs, larvae and pupae (and any other nasties like worm eggs!) that may be lurking where they sleep. Vacuuming the house and using a household flea spray around your home will also help boot out these pests, alongside a flea treatment for your cat.
Luckily cats today don’t have to put up with parasites like their ancestors did: regular flea and worm treatment year-round will help keep your four-legged feline protected against these pests!
As cats get older, they can find navigating their surroundings more tricky: arthritis can lead to painful joints, and their senses may not be as razor sharp as they once were. Re-adjusting their environment can make a real difference in their golden years; maybe their bed needs to be lowered to a safe cosy spot that’s more easily accessed without jumping, and ensuring food, water and litter trays are within easy reach can really help too.
It will come as no surprise to most cat owners that cats essentially domesticated themselves; yes, ultimately, they chose us, and to this day we are honoured if they decide to grace us with their company! By making a few changes to their home environment, we can ensure our feline friends can stay true to their wildcat roots, whilst benefiting from a few extra home comforts into the bargain!