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Feline good: 6 top tips for cat care

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We love our cats so much, we want to do the best for them to make sure they live the longest, happiest life possible. Our cats can’t tell us what they are thinking, however, so sometimes we may not understand what they truly want – or need. Are there things you can do better for your cat? This handy checklist will let you know if there’s room for improvement…or you’re already doing a purrfect job taking care of your kitty.
Happy kitten caressed by female hand

1. Encourage your cat to be a cat

Scratching, climbing, exploring, hiding, stalking and pouncing. In the wild, those are all essential skills a cat needs to hunt and survive. In our homes, however, cats don’t put those instincts to use, which can lead to frustration and boredom. To show your cat you understand their needs, provide outlets for those urges. Invest in scratch posts and trees. The higher the better! Cats feel safer when they’re up high where they can survey their territory. At the same time, climbing posts wear down their claws and relieve their stress.

Feral cats hunt by lurking, then bursting out to grab prey. To satisfy those urges, see if your cat likes playing in tunnels where they can hide, then pounce out at a toy. You can even create your own kitty fort with cardboard boxes. Leave openings at either end that are just big enough for your kitty to creep into. Then cut paw-sized holes all over the boxes so your cat can reach out to grab feathery toys you dangle above. Cats also love toys that mimic real prey like battery-controlled mice that move erratically or remote-control “bird” drones that fly. Laser pointers get your kitty going too, but never shine them directly into their eyes.

2. Keep your cat indoors

It’s not always easy to do. Some cats beg to be let out and will pace, cry and paw at the patio door. The hard truth, however, is that it’s not safe for your cat to be loose. There are too many dangers, including other cats who can injure your cat or spread potentially deadly diseases. There are also lots of predators out there, including dogs, coyotes, foxes, birds of prey, bobcats and even humans who could steal your cat to keep for themselves – or worse. Outdoor cats run the risk of getting injured or killed by a car, poisoned and lost. They can freeze to death in Canadian winters or suffer from heat stroke during hot, humid summers. The Ontario SPCA and Humane Society estimates that outdoor cats have an average life expectancy of 2-5 years, whereas indoor cats can live 12 or more years. Some indoor cats have lived to 20 and even older! 

Cats are also deadly hunters that are not native to Canada. Considered an invasive species, roaming cats do devastating damage to our ecosystem. Each year in Canada, between 100 and 350 million birds are estimated to be killed by domestic cats. Small mammals also fall prey to our lethal felines, robbing native species of the food they need to survive. Cats who roam neighbourhoods can also pose a risk to humans. Defecating in gardens or children’s sand boxes could transmit nasty parasites to people, like roundworm. It is important to speak to your veterinarian about deworming your cat.

Keeping your cat indoors is the responsible and healthy thing to do, for your cat and your environment. 

3. Schedule regular visits to the veterinarian

It’s essential to take your cat regularly to the veterinarian, but some people hesitate to do so because of the following misconceptions:

My cat doesn’t look sick. Cats are experts at masking symptoms. That’s why, by the time you spot a problem, the underlying condition may be quite advanced and, therefore, less treatable. 

I vaccinated my cat when they were a kitten. Vaccines wear off over time and required to be booster. Without additional boosters, your cat’s immune system may not be strong enough to ward off some infectious diseases. Speak with your veterinarian about how often your cat needs to get vaccines.

My cat is indoors. It is a common misconception that indoor cats are safe from disease and parasites. If you have other pets, like a dog, they can bring in parasites that could easily transfer onto your cat. You can also bring in parasites yourself that hitch a ride on your clothes. To avoid fleas, ticks, worms or other nasty parasites, your veterinarian can recommend regular preventative parasite treatments. Cats are also masters at sneaking out, which is why half of cats reported as lost were indoor cats.

Yearly visits are too expensive. Regular visits to your veterinarian are the best way to catch any potential health issues at an early stage, when they are easier – and less costly – to treat. In the long run, a yearly visit to the veterinarian is the cost-effective way to go. 

My cat is old. There’s nothing that can be done. In fact, there are several chronic illnesses specific to older cats that could be making your cat slow down. Age may not have anything to do with it!  

My cat hates going to the veterinarian. Your cat isn’t the first to feel that way! That’s why the staff at veterinary clinics are trained to deal with stressed kitties. Short bursts of stress are far less harmful on your pet than the discomfort of an ailment that is going undiagnosed. 

4. Get your cat spayed or neutered

Unless you are a registered breeder, there’s no reason not to sterilize your cat. Canadian shelters are overcrowded with homeless cats and kittens desperately waiting for a home. Many won’t be lucky enough to find one and will be euthanized. By spaying your female cat or neutering your male cat, you will be helping our country’s overpopulation problem. You’ll also be taking care of your kitty’s health.  

Spaying and neutering prevent and decrease many serious and even fatal diseases in cats. It can, therefore, extend the life of your pet for a number of years! You will also be avoiding unpleasant behavior problems, including urine spraying in both male and female cats, aggression, restlessness, anxiety and frustration. Sterilized cats are calmer and happier animals who are easier to live with. And, no, spaying or neutering doesn’t affect them emotionally in the least. They will be your same kitty as before – just less hormonal. 

For more information, read Cat spaying and neutering: the facts and the myths.

5. Learn how to “speak” cat

Our cats don’t think or communicate like us, but their behavior speaks volumes – if you know what to look for. You have to read your cat’s whole body and also the context. Is their back arched because they want to be petted…or they’re terrified? Here are some body cues that, when considered together, will give you a better understanding of your cat.

High and relaxed: happy and confident 
High and rigid: excited or dominant
Puffed: making themselves bigger to scare off predators or intimidate rivals
Arched with a friendly face: an invitation to be petted
Arched but bristly: frightened or aggressive
Tucked down: nervous, uneasy, trying to make themselves smaller 
Flicking back and forth: annoyed
Twitching: playful, about to pounce
Curved: ready to explore, curious
Embracing (curled around you or another cat): happy, friendly, welcoming 
Quivering: a sign of happy excitement, stimulated, similar to the action an intact cat would do when spraying 
Flicking or thumping: agitated and has had enough 

Straight up: alert and at attention
Forward and relaxed: calm, confident
Back/ sideways / flattened: angry, annoyed, fearful, aggressive

Dilated: stimulated – could be surprised, scared or excited – trying to maximize visual information
Bug-eyed saucer look: terrified, wants to retreat
Slow, fluttering blink: relaxed, trusting
Slit pupils: annoyed, tense, possibly aggressive, on guard. Pupils narrow to get more detail. Could, however, also be caused by lighting.  
Stare: challenging, dominant 
Half-closed: relaxed and content

Growl: warning to back off
Hiss: feels threatened
Yowl: mating call / feels trapped
Caterwauling: aggressive, often made by intact toms when fighting. Can also be common in deaf cats. 
Shriek: out of options - will make a stand or hastily retreat 
Trill:  friendly greeting to someone who’s familiar, loved– mother cats trill with their kittens 
Purr: usually pleasure, but can be used to self-sooth when in pain
Meow: Largely used to communicate with humans, often requesting or demanding
High-pitched gurgling or chatting: friendly, talkative
Chirping and chattering: excitement, often made when watching prey
Soundless meow: possibly weakness, exhaustion, hunger, dehydration 

Rubbing against you: friendly, marking territory, releasing scent glands in their cheeks which is comforting to them
Kneading: happy, content and trusting 
Butt wiggle: preparing to pounce, playful
Loosely curled up: common way to sleep, reduces heat loss
Licking: sign of affection, grooming you like a littermate
Curled in tight ball: fear, discomfort, pain, trying to make themselves smaller

Big, arched, standing sideways, hair standing on end (Hallowe’en shape): fearful, angry
Head and body soft and pointing towards you: relaxed
Crouched down, small: fearful, anxious
Stretched out: relaxed, trusting
Freezing: frightened, overwhelmed, stressed

6. Keep it positive!

Cats are sensitive animals that are finely tuned to their environment, being both predator and prey. Any changes in their environment or routine, therefore, stresses them easily, and one of the things they watch the most is you. When you are angry, stressed, anxious or worried, even the most independent cat feels it. Their survival depends on you, so they are always tuned to how you feel – even if they don’t show it. 

Remember that cats don’t use words, they communicate with their body. That’s why they are likely more tuned to your body language than you are!  Cats sense when you are uptight – and when you’re relaxed. That’s why, no matter how tough a day you had, try to leave your worries at your front door. Schedule quiet times with your kitty, with regular grooming, soft music and even a kitty massage. Treat your home like a peaceful sanctuary, and both you and your cat will thrive in it.

Our cats make wonderful companions so of course we want the best for them. Optimally, we should care for both their psychological and physical requirements. Our intelligent felines thrive with stimulating toys and activities that release their inner panther. To keep them safe you should keep them indoors, get them sterilized and schedule regular veterinarian visits so they can avoid contracting illnesses and parasites. Most of all, at the end of the day, it’s important to keep our homes a peaceful oasis for our cats – and for ourselves.


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