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Digital Subscriptions >  Blog > How to be the perfect owner

How to be the perfect owner
Your Cat

How to be the perfect owner

Posted 14 May 2015   |   1785 views   |   Family & Home   |   Comments (0) We all want to provide a good home for our cats, but how do you go about being the perfect cat owner? We speak to top feline behaviourist Dr John Bradshaw and vet Elaine Pendlebury to find out...

So you’ve done everything you can to make your cat’s life with you a happy one — providing food and water on demand, you’ve got enough litter trays (one per cat plus one extra), created a nice hidey-hole for his alone time and have a plethora of toys to keep him entertained — but how do you go from owning a cat to being the perfect cat owner, especially if your resources or time are limited?

One of the tricks, says feline expert and author Dr John Bradshaw, is to understand not only your cat, but cats in general: “If you want to have a good relationship with your cat, you need to understand that you’re not one of your cat’s top priorities, unlike a dog. For example, cats are often thinking of other things, like a bird outside the window or the other cats around, and if you just pick them up while they are doing this and interrupt them they won’t like it.”

PDSA senior vet Elaine Pendlebury agrees: “It’s difficult with cats; they are their own individuals and it’s important to think like a cat.

I find that some of my clients tend to think cats are little dogs but they are far from it.”

To be the perfect cat owner, you not only need to provide the basic facilities, but you need to make sure they are 100 per cent right for your cat. Elaine suggests not only making sure you have enough litter trays for your cats, but that they are in the right positions — and not just in convenient places for you.

“It may not be best to put your cat’s toileting and eating facilities in the corner as cats might feel they are being snuck up on,” she explains. “Put them where they can face the room and keep an eye on proceedings. It’s also best to separate their food and drink bowls.”

Scratch posts are very important, and it’s all well and good to have an all-singing, all-dancing post but remember, it’s important to have a high one so your cat can use it when at full stretch.

Get to know your cat
Most of us know that when a cat is angry or annoyed, you can expect to see a rigid body with the tail curled underneath and ears flat against his head, but what about some other signs that may not be so obvious?
Elaine recommends trying to get to know your cat by observing his body language and watching the way he holds his tail. Sometimes when a cat holds his wavy tail in the air it can show happiness, but if it is up straight and stiff, this is a sign of fear.

If your cat shows signs of anger or fear, it’s best not to handle him as you might end up on the receiving end of his aggression — instead try throwing him a toy to distract him, and make sure he has access to leave the room if he wants to go and hide.

John says: “A lot of owners don’t notice that their cat might be stressed. For example, if you see your cat creeping along the floor, people often think that he is hunting, but they are more than likely worried about being attacked by another cat or dog.

“And if a cat sleeps with his paws out in front of him, he probably isn’t really sleeping — he’s listening out for signs of danger. Whereas if he’s on his side, he’s relaxed as cats can be vulnerable when they lie on their sides.”

Purring is also not necessarily a sign of contentment, normally this is how cats show happiness but sometimes it can also mean that your cat is ill. “You need to look at other symptoms, if he is purring and just lying around then there might be something wrong,” Elaine explains.

If your cat stops using his litter tray, this can also be a sign that something isn’t right. It could be because your cat is ill or it hasn’t been cleaned properly, or he might be stressed. If you are worried that your cat might be stressed, it’s best to contact your vet for tailored advice.

Think like a cat...
If you want to become the master of your cat’s universe, you need to think like a cat! Put yourself in his shoes and really thinking about what he might or might not like.

“If you have an indoor cat, you need to make little changes to your house, especially if you leave the cat alone for long periods of time,” says John. “Cats might hate moving house but they also hate being bored in the same house — they are rather contrary!

“Try and change the furniture in your house around from time to time, but not too much as cats hate a huge amount of change. It could be something as simple as moving your chairs around from one wall to another so the cats have something new to explore.”

Leaving new items out for your cat to investigate, such as a cardboard box or cat-friendly plant, will be good stimulation inside the home. A new item of furniture will also be unchartered territory for him — but make sure there’s a scratch post nearby or he may be tempted to scratch at it to mark it as his own.
“Cats need something new to explore, and if his environment is static, he will easily get bored,” John adds.

Regaining control
You probably love cuddles with your feline friend, but he might not be so keen. For cats, being picked up with all four legs off the floor is a loss of control of the situation, which is why many don’t like it: “Sometimes cats want to be picked up and sometimes not,” says John. “Your best chance is wait for them to come to you and request fuss. Don’t just think ‘it’s time for a cuddle!’ and scoop them up! Waiting for them to come to you has been shown in research to be better for your relationship instead of thrusting yourself on the cat.”

Feline pheromone sprays are often recommended to resolve conflict or to calm a stressed cat, but you can achieve the same effect for free, as John explains. “If your cat isn’t confident enough to distribute his own scent around the house, you can do it for him by stroking your cat with a cloth and rubbing it along skirting boards and on the furniture. All cats are different though, and this may work for some cats but not others.

“For people who have indoor cats, try to give them a good hunting experience,” says John. “Use a fishing rod toy until your cat gets bored — if you break off the play before he gets bored then he may become frustrated. Keep playing until he chooses to fi nish and walks away. Extended playtime will also help build a relationship between you and your cat.”

Introducing new toys from time to time will prevent him from getting bored with play — and try to rotate them often.

Solving problems the right way
Sorting out any problems that arise and stopping bad behaviour both need to be handled carefully, as John explains: “The relationship between a cat and his owner is a delicate one and some well-meaning but harmful treatment from the owner can damage the relationship.

“One simple thing that owners could be doing wrong is the way in which they stroke their cat. Cats have preferred areas for stroking, so bear this in mind when stroking a new cat or someone else’s cat. Start at the head and work around the ears and cheeks — most don’t like being stroked down the back towards the tail, and it’s a very rare cat who likes his tail being stroked.

“Stop if the cat starts to get twitchy and don’t persist as the cat will remember not enjoying the last time he was stroked and will be less likely to want to accept strokes again.”

To deter bad behaviour, reward your cat for good behaviour and ignore him for bad — never shout or punish your cat for what you deem to be naughtiness. Cats do ‘naughty’ things to get attention — for example, if he goes on the kitchen counter tops he probably just wants to be closer to your face and more on your level. Just give him a treat when he’s back on the floor and he’ll soon give up the habit. Don’t shout or push him off.

John adds: “The only form of punishment I advocate is using a water pistol, but it is very important that your cat doesn’t see where it comes from. If you want him to stay off your counter tops, for example, hide somewhere and give it a small squirt so the cat can’t see that it comes from you and then associate it with you, which could damage your relationship — he will instead see this as a random act which occurs when he goes up there.”

Some cats also become obsessed with chewing house plants which obviously needs to be stopped as many are toxic to cats. Using the water pistol here as well should stop the habit.

What about multiple cats? Keeping them all happy might be difficult as John explains: “If you do want to introduce another cat then you need to appreciate that cats are unsociable animals and they may not like each other.”

If you do decide to introduce another cat into your home, John recommends swapping their scents beforehand by giving each cat an i

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