As cat owners, none of us like to entertain the thought that if we weren’t around our cats would be just as happy with someone else – perish the thought! However, I’m afraid to say that for our fickle feline friends this is absolutely true.
But what about if you are still around and yet have to suffer the ignominy of your vaguely embarrassed neighbour telling you that your beloved cat is making himself at home on their sofa - daily.
Sadly, this is not an uncommon occurrence and if it’s a situation that you find yourself in, it’s time to take a long hard look at what type of home you’ve made for your cat.
A cat’s territory, of which the home is part, is more important to him than the people in it. This is the opposite to dogs for whom their owners are more important than anything else in the universe. So, it’s for this reason that cats need lots of resources in the home that allow them to perform their species-specific behaviour.
For example, offering them multiple high places up to which they can climb and feel safe is important. These could be as simple as the tops of cupboards, wardrobes, or windowsills, or as sophisticated as a floating shelf arrangement on your living room wall.
Likewise, providing cats with dedicated places where they can hide if feeling anxious is essential. These can be very simple such as a box in the bottom of an open wardrobe, or an old duvet or sleeping bag under a bed.
Cats scratch objects not only to keep their claws nice and sharp, but as a way of spreading their scent around the home via fatty deposits secreted from in-between their toes as they scratch an item. Having lots of their scent around them makes them feel nice and secure. Giving them things that they can scratch such as dedicated scratching posts will fulfill this need. These should be tall enough to allow your cat to scratch at full stretch and not wobble! The multi-level cat activity centres or barrel scratchers not only give cats scratching opportunities, they offer somewhere safe to rest, and if placed in front of a window or set of patio doors give cats a wonderful vantage point from which to view the activity outside. Some cats prefer a horizontal scratch, and there are now a plethora of scratching mats and scratchers made from compacted cardboard available to buy that will cater for them.
Good quality sleep is essential for all of us, including our cats and for those that seek out warm places, providing a low voltage heated pet pad covered in a fleecy blanket will be their idea of bliss!
Play is a great stress buster for cats. It not only allows them to perform instinctive behaviours, it releases endorphins, can strengthen the bond between cat and owner and is overall, one of the greatest gifts you can give them. Playing with your cat at least daily using chasing toys that simulate the hunting sequence, is ideal. Alongside interactive play, toys should also be made available for solo play. You might need to experiment with different types of toys to find those that your cat loves, and when you do, they should be placed in a ziplock bag and one or two brought out randomly each day, to keep your cat interested in them.
Puzzle feeding cats is now becoming the ‘norm’ and is a great way of providing stimulation and challenge for your cat at feeding times. These can be used for both wet and dry food and either home-made or purchased online.
Making the indoor toilet facilities as good as they can is also a good idea. This means ensuring there are enough trays for the number of cats in the house, and that they are of the right size, in the right location and contain a soft comfortable litter. Hopefully this will only add to the level of comfort your cat feels when he’s at home.
All of these things will help make your home more attractive for your cat so it follows that he will want to spend more time in it. However, sometimes it’s not about the environment, but the family members in it, be it human or feline.
One of the major reasons that owners seek my help, is because one of their cats has left home as a result of bullying from another. These can be some of the most upsetting cases I get involved with. Sometimes it’s just a case of increasing the number of cat-specific resources in the home to remove any sense of competition for them that exists between the cats. However, in many cases once a cat has left home, nothing will bring him back, other than the removal of the bully from the environment. If you suspect that one of your cats is bullying another, I advise getting in touch with a Pet Behaviourist. I’ve also written an article on this subject and this can be found here.
And finally, we have what is probably the most sensitive part of this blog post. One of the reasons why cats choose another person to live with such as a neighbour is because that person is giving your cat more of what he wants from a feline-human relationship. Whilst you might feel compelled to cuddle your furry baby as much as possible or focus on him constantly, it’s likely that he will appreciate a more hands-off and less focussed approach. In these cases, allowing your cat to initiate all physical interactions is hugely important. If he does, then a brief tickle around the head, cheeks, ears and chin for seconds only is acceptable. One client I recently saw told me that one of her cats didn’t like being around her. I told her not only to completely ignore him, but to carry on as if he wasn’t in the house. Two days of ignoring later she delightedly told me that he had started sleeping on her bed. This happened much more quickly than even I could anticipate! So, the golden rule when interacting with your cat is ‘less is more’.
By adjusting the cat resources in the environment as well as the way you interact with your cat, you might just be able to entice your cat back to your home, and make his spot on the neighbour’s sofa a thing of the past!