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Shall we get a cat?

Zoe Blake looks at some of the things to consider before getting a cat

In recent years the cat has overtaken the dog in being the most popular pet in the UK. There are an estimated 11 million cats living in households, so why the sudden surge in cat ownership?

It is well documented that dogs need that little bit more when it comes to care and attention. They need their daily walks, they need daily companionship and they need to feel part of a social group. The public are taught about what to look out for when purchasing/rescuing a dog and this is emphasised with many of the TV programmes that are shown on television.

So is that why the cat is becoming more popular? Cats are very independent, don’t need to be walked and are quite fickle when it comes to attention. However is something being missed when we decide to give a cat a home?

The domestic cat has evolved from felis lybica (the African wildcat) and as a species, they still hold many of the traits that come with this title. Unlike our canine companions, who have been bred to change and modify certain behaviours, the majority of the cat’s repertoire is still there. It is therefore essential when you are considering giving a cat a home that you are respectful of this and provide the environment that they need.

So what do they need? All cats live within a territory and within this they need to feel safe and secure. They need to be able to eat/drink/toilet and rest without the fear of an enemy attack. Therefore it is very important that their future home will meet these needs, especially if you will be having two or more cats living together. You need to remember that most cats would choose who they live with, so when you put cats together it may not necessarily work out.

Sadly if their needs are not met, it can lead to stress and behaviour related problems like house-soiling, urine-marking and aggression. This is the most common reason that cats are handed into re-homing shelters. Cats need to be able to express their natural behaviours to ensure they balance their emotional and mental wellbeing. Most cats should be allowed to have outside time but if this is not possible, then even more work needs to be in place to enrich their indoor environment.

The basic needs of a cat are:

Space – within this they need to have the opportunity to climb and explore, rest and hide. Allow them up on the shelves (they can see so much more up high and will favour these), leave some cupboards open so they have a ‘bolt hole’ if they are feeling anxious about something.

Resources – they need plenty of places to eat/drink/toilet and sleep. In a multi-cat household these should all be separate. The general rule is one per cat plus one extra. In the wild a cat would not chose to eat next to another cat as competition over resources is stressful. They will continually move their sleeping places and they will sleep where they feel comfortable. As much as we would like to see them tucked into a cosy bed, unlike the dog, cats will not appreciate this luxury.

Opportunities to perform natural behaviour – cats will still want to hunt even if they have a stomach full of food. It it is the behaviour repertoire that comes with the hunting of the prey that is so important. If this is not provided with outdoor time, then it is time to be vigilant within the house. So consider puzzle/activity feeders – these can be shop-bought but you can be creative and make homemade versions. They need to be provided with something/somewhere they can claw. Clawing is used to stretch muscles/mark boundaries and sharpen claws. It is all about finding the best material and best location to allow this without them ruining your best leather sofa!

Playtime – it is a common misconception that once cats reach adulthood they don’t play. All cats with the right stimulation and toys will play. Early morning and evening are good times as their natural body clock is aroused at these times. Again many types are available to purchase however many options can be obtained from the home/garden. Do not expect too much, 3-5 mins is adequate as they do get bored easily, unlike dogs who you take to the park and will chase that ball for hours.

So the most important message if you are considering providing a home for a cat is to have a look around you and evaluate the life that you can give them. Is it really what the cat would want and choose?

Zoe Blake is a registered Veterinary nurse.

The Friendly Pet Nurse. Call 07917 094715 or visit the website at www.thefriendlypetnurse.co.uk.

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