On Sunday, April 19th most Portlanders were probably outside enjoying the uncharacteristically warm weather, perhaps cheerfully discussing the drought over locally distilled spirits. I, on the other hand, spent the day indoors along with several of my co-workers, and many local veterinary professionals attending the PVMA’s 2015 symposium on… *drum-roll please*… Cats!
Several well known veterinarians from the around the Country presented topics pertinent to the internet sensations and their well being both at home and in the clinic. What I heard there helped me to better understand my own quirky kitties, and reinforced what I’ve been slowly learning over the past year.
During Spring break of 2014 my boyfriend and I brought home a second rescue cat; an awesome little dude we call Wesley. It’s a familiar story; we just wanted to look at the cats up for adoption…. but he was a charmer. We convinced ourselves that our cat Molly (a sheltered Siamese) would eventually appreciate the company and everything would be peachy keen in like 2 months. Our assumptions were incorrect; Molly did not share our assessment of him and integration has been a project, the first 8 months of which was chaos. But, after a lot of trial and error, we’ve found some solutions that work well for both us and the cats.
The most valuable idea I took away from the symposium coincides well with my own recent experiences, and can be summed up into two words: Environmental enrichment.
It helps to think of your home as a zoo (perhaps not too difficult to imagine), and of your cats as the wild critters they truly are. In captivity, our cats are restricted to an area that is a mere fraction of their natural home range – add another kitty to the picture and you’ve got some serious competition on your hands. As both a predator and prey species whose primary enemies include primates and canids (yup, that’s you and Fido), your kitty’s position in the food chain can vary drastically from one second to the next. Cats are wired to be acutely aware of their surroundings at all times – a change that seems minimal to us, such as a new food dish, may be initially perceived as a threat by your cat (often with video-worthy results). On the other hand, the addition of a high perch can also make the difference between a fearful feline and a confident cat. For these reasons, it is important to pay special consideration to your kitties habitat.
With the addition of Wesley the last year has been a long balancing act of minimizing territorial disputes while optimizing space in our apartment. Our furniture collection has expanded to include three tall cat trees (boosts kitty confidence and makes use of vertical space), a fancy water fountain, an additional litter box, and we started using puzzle feeders so they have to “hunt” at mealtime. My cats’ interactions have improved greatly just in the last few months since our efforts to enrich their house (honestly, it really belongs to them) really took off – they play together and sometimes even show signs of affection in the general direction of each other. Our next big project is to make interactive play time a part of our daily routine.
This might all sound like a lot of work, but it’s been quite fun and incredibly rewarding to see some of their more destructive behaviors transformed into appropriate kitty play; all we had to do was provide the right tools for them. And you don’t need to spend a fortune either, pretty much everything your cat wants in life is a cheap DIY project; in the case of the empty grocery bag no assembly is required.
Our team embraces a kind and understanding approach to feline care, and this symposium confirmed that we were on the right track. The symposium was also great personal resource for me, and there’s boundless information on the web to help you better understand your cat as well. For starters, check out the Indoor Pet Initiative (https://indoorpet.osu.edu/pet-owners), an ongoing project of Ohio State University’s Veterinary College. Also, have you checked out our previous posting on Catios??