The most common behavioral problems observed in cats often stem from boredom or stress. Therefore this text will focus on habitat enrichment, which allows the cat owner to offer his pet a stimulating environment, where he can express his normal behavior. In effect, this will limit the appearance of undesirable behavior. The sources of stress and the means by which we treat them will also be addressed, as well as litter box issues and behavioral changes related to aging.
You must take into account that regardless of the source of a behavioral problem, conditioning is always a factor which encourages the evolution or establishment of all behavior (the most frequent reason being reinforcement by the attention given to these animals). It is for this reason that behavioral problems should be addressed as quickly as possible after their apparition and this, even if they are only present in an intermittent fashion.
The need for space, movement, predation, stimulation, interaction and feeding can vary considerably from one cat to another. It is therefore up to the owners to enrich the environment of their animal in order to respond to his individual and specific needs. Environmental enrichment and the wellbeing of the cat are as important as the establishment of a preventive medicine and nutritional plan.
The most important aspects in enrichment include the physical environment, social environment, sensory stimulation (olfactory, visual and tactile), dietary programs and mental stimulation (make choices, research).
Firstly, cats live in a three dimensional world. We must therefore provide them with places to climb, hide, get away from the other family members, etc. Acquiring a cat tree, especially if the cat can’t climb on the furniture and he cannot go outside is an excellent start. It is also simple to place green plants in the cats’ environment that he can hide behind, shelves on the walls accessible only to him, cardboard boxes with a hole to get in where he can take refuge from looks and contact.
On the social level, there exists an important variability in the degree of tolerance of a cat towards the other individuals in his entourage. In general, cats are solitary animals. The goal therefore is to respect the needs of the individual by offering him solitude or interactions when he wishes. In the case of cohabitation with other animals or many humans it is necessary for the cat to have access to a privileged place to retreat. In this place, the possibility to climb and observe without being seen should also be available. Access to a window as well as water, food and litter is also primordial. When he is resting, it is important that the other animals as well as humans respect these moments of solitude.
A cat needs different sensorial stimulations. His sense of smell is extremely developed. Perfumes and chemical detergents are aggressive to his respiratory system, they cause him to lose his olfactory sense. Its use should therefore be limited. Visual stimulations should be present in the environment. Many cats love to perch on a piece of furniture permitting a view of the garden or simply lie down on a window
ledge and observe the movement outdoors. The preferred scratching surface of the animal should also be included in the enrichment.
As for feeding, it is ideal to vary the method of administration and offer different textures. Cats like to be stimulated and make choices. We can conserve a part of the daily ration and distribute it in an unpredictable fashion in the environment. This obliges the animal to explore and search new places that can be rich in information and in stimulation.
The cat has very developed hunting skills. The time allowed to farm cats or house cats to hunt is 3-4 hours a day on average. This essential need may be redirected towards objects in the artificial environment. They like toys that make noise, vibrate, move or bounce. Objects containing catnip also stimulate the great majority of domestic cats. Cats typically like to play in an interactive manner with humans rather than playing alone with an object. Varying the toys and making a rotation can prove useful in keeping the interest of the animal. The Slimcat and the Pipolino (www.pipolino.ca) can satisfy the need for predatory hunting and keep the cat occupied, especially if he does not have access to the outdoors.