How To Make A Cat Happy

HAPPINESS’ IS SOMETHING most of us would say we want for our cats, but we have no idea how to measure it. We could say that we know when they are content – they seem to be relaxed, are eating well, are physically at the right weight. They seem healthy and not in any pain, are confident in our home and interact confidently with those around them. However, what makes one cat happy may be torture for another. Not all cats are confident animals. Depending on their genes and their start in life, they may be very nervous animals and meeting someone new may be a terrifying rather than an enjoyable experience for them. As owners, there are things we can gauge – whether the cat looks happy and does not seem fearful or whether it chooses to do certain things with us. However, sometimes we take our own needs and expectations as those of the cat – what we want for it may not be what it wants for itself.

We humans are group-living animals – we enjoy social interaction and, depending on what motivates us individually, want to work with others, help each other, live within a family, socialise and generally be with people for a greater or lesser part of the day. Although we may want peace and solitude occasionally, too much can be isolating. It takes a certain special person to be a hermit, and solitary confinement is regarded socially as a serious punishment. We know how lonely we can feel if we are at home alone all day – at such times even a conversation with the window cleaner can become a very important way of making contact with others!

It is understandable, therefore, that, when we leave our cats at home while we work all day, we feel that they may be lonely. We don’t want them to feel isolated or low and in need of company. This feeling can be reinforced by our cats on our return – they sit and wait for us to turn up, making us believe they have been expecting us for hours and have maintained a vigil in the window watching every car as it passes by. They then rub around our legs and miaow forlornly, running back and forward as we come in. Of course, we love them to miss us and lap up the welcome.

In reality, the cat has probably found a nice warm spot on a radiator or on a sunny windowsill and snoozed happily throughout the day, moving occasionally to follow the sun, have a snack from the ever-full food bowl or relieve itself in the tray or outside. It may even have made a patrol of the garden or a little hunting expedition before it feels the need for another rest. Around the time you are due home from work, the cat will stir itself and sit in the window to watch your return. Owners who don’t leave dry food on tap for the cat will find their return exceptionally well cheered and will be accompanied into the kitchen with much noise and rubbing until dinner is served.

Remember, the cat’s ancestor – the African wildcat – is a solitary living species, seldom meeting its own kind except for mating or raising kittens. Our own domestic cat can be solitary or sociable; however, it isn’t an obligate pack animal like the dog, or even humans. And, while some females may raise kittens together, there are no other aspects of feline behaviour in which labour is shared or there is co-operation – it is every cat for itself.

Most cats will alter their periods of activity to fit in with their owners. This is especially true of cats that are not let outdoors – they can’t do the equivalent of nipping next door for a cup of coffee or go out for a spot of amusement such as winding up the ginger tom around the corner. They are very reliant on their owners for activity and stimulation – very little happens unless owners are around.

For these cats, company may be a very good idea – however, it is harder to introduce a new cat to a resident cat where its territory is confined to a small indoor area and there is little room for escape from one another. The way introductions are made in this situation can be very important. Thus, if you intend to keep cats indoors, it would be wise to think ahead and get two kittens together – siblings usually get on better because they have spent that sensitive socialisation period together, a time when bonds can be formed easily.

There are some cats, usually of the more emotional, more reactive and interactive breeds such as the Siamese or Burmese, who do become very attached to their owners and can suffer when left alone. These may benefit from company – even from a dog, or perhaps from some behaviour therapy to help them ‘get a life’ away from their owners. While some owners may enjoy this level of dependence and encourage it initially, it can become very wearing and going out becomes an extremely guilt-ridden procedure. Most owners will want their cat to retain its independent nature and some sense of feline dignity.

Perhaps the message here is to ‘know your cat’ – don’t assume it wants another feline around just because you do, or because you want to assuage your guilt at having to leave it alone for long periods of the day. Some cats are perfectly happy like this and would be very upset at the introduction of ‘a friend’. Others will need someone or something to interact with, depending on their nature and what they may have been used to. However, again, don’t assume that, just because two cats got on previously, the same will happen again if you replace one that has been lost – it is never that easy! I would not dream of suggesting that a lonely person needs just anyone to come and live with them to keep them company. Close-quarter living needs characters that like or at least can tolerate each other. The same is true of our cats. We are already aware that each cat has a very individual personality. It would be arrogant to think that we can force several together and expect them to become bosom buddies.

Sometimes, we use the excuse of the cat needing company because we want to get another cat. There is nothing wrong with wanting more felines in the house – cats are eminently desirable. However, acknowledging this motivation can make our approach a little more measured and make us less expectant that the resident cat should be grateful! The onus is back on us to try to make it work.

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