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Nowadays with so many cars and other vehicles traveling around, not to mention predators, it is recommended to keep cats indoors in suburban and urban areas. However, this move to indoors does not remove their desire to do the normal things they were born to do, like explore the environment, hunt, chew and scratch. Since these behaviors are natural for the cat, we must find acceptable outlets for them so that behaviors that we do not like do not develop. Let's just say that cats were not created to sit and watch television.

First, there is the physical aspect. Cats need areas where they can rest without feeling threatened. Threats can come from other animals in the household, such as a dog or another cat, children in the house (especially small children who do not understand that the cat wants to be alone), loud noises, or outside stimuli ( such as cats in the yard). Many cats like to have perches available so that they can observe what is going on in the house from a safe height. If there are multiple cats in the household each cat should have about 3-9 feet of space to call his own in all areas of the house. Many people do not take the time to crate train the cat-like they would the dog. Free access to crate training has its advantages. Leaving a crate out in a safe place, such as a bedroom, with a bed, food, and water, and toys inside it give the cat a safe haven to call his own. The cat can retreat to this area to rest or avoid conflict. Also, if the cat considers this his territory, he may not feel the need to control territory in the rest of the house. An added bonus is if you have to take the cat to a veterinary office, on a trip, or even to an emergency shelter, he will not see the crate as a threat. Bear in mind, this will be easier for kittens than for adult cats who already associate the crate with bad things (like the veterinarian), so be patient and ask your veterinarian for some tricks to make this work.

Next, there is nutrition. Many of us call cats finicky eaters, but not eating may be a response to an environmental threat. Food and water bowls should be placed in safe areas of the house where the cat will not be disturbed by other cats or the dog while eating. Bear in mind that household appliances that might make loud noises can scare the cat while eating ( for instance the dishwasher or the dryer). Most cats prefer to eat several smaller meals throughout the day. However, if the food is readily available and the cat does not have to hunt for it, he will not be stimulated mentally and physically and is more likely to become overweight. There are many toys on the market that are interactive. The food is placed inside the toy and the cat has to play with the toy by moving it around to get the food to come out. Remember, if you are using toys to feed your cat, decrease the amount of food in the bowl so that you are not overfeeding. Monitor how much the cat is playing with the toy so you make sure he is getting enough food also.

Next, there are the toilet activities. Cats have a series of behaviors involved in eliminating-- most cats dig before and after eliminating and then also cover what they have done. The litter pans should be big enough to accommodate these activities. Large storage containers with relatively low sides work very well as litter pans. Be aware that covered litter pans are nice for us, but trap odors that may be offensive to the cat. The litter pan should be in a quiet area, but not near the food and water. Litter boxes should be kept clean by scooping at least once a day. Remember, most of us will not use a dirty toilet in a public restroom, so why should we ask our cat to do that? The litter pan should be completely emptied weekly and cleaned with a mild, unscented soap at least once a month. If there are multiple cats in the house, one litter pan per cat plus one is recommended ( for example a four cat household should have five litter pans). The multiple pans should be spread out throughout the house and not placed next to each other. This allows for access by several cats at a time and also allows cats who do not get along to avoid each other.

Social contact is important for the cat, but they usually prefer to be in control of the interaction. Some cats like to come to the owner for petting and grooming, while others may prefer a time of play. Remember they are individuals like we are and each has their own tastes. If there are several cats in the house, try to give equal time to each cat. Watch for signs of conflict between the cats, this may be obvious ( such as the cat's hiss at each other), but it can also be subtle, such as one cat not letting the other eat or eliminate freely. This type of subtle conflict can lead to one cat be more reclusive and in some cases can create disease in the stressed cat. If you feel something may be going in between your cats, seek advice from your veterinarian.

Cats also like to scratch and chew on things in the environment. This is usually done on objects that are prominent in the environment in areas where the cat spends a lot of time. So place scratching posts appropriately so that your couch is not the preferred spot. If your cat likes to chew on your plants, first remove any toxic plants from the environment. There are special plants available that you can grow for the cat; they usually contain a combination of grasses and maybe some catnip, too. Cats also like to play with objects in the environment. The normal play behavior is closely related to the hunting behaviors ( stalking, chasing, pouncing). So provide your cat with toys he can throw around and chase. Try not to encourage your cat to use your hands or feet as things they can chase and bite as this can lead to problems when people come to visit, or the behaviors can become too aggressive. If your cat really likes a certain toy, you can reserve this toy for times when he interacts with you to make that play time more special. Many people recommend rotating the toys that are available to keep the cat more interested.
As owners, it is our job to provide the best possible environment for our cats to keep them happy, healthy and stress-free.