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Do we really know what it takes to keep a cat happy?

May 18, 2012 by     No Comments    Posted under: Tips & Advice

For the last few weeks, I’ve been preparing to be a participant on a panel that will explore the need for environmental enrichment for our pet cats. What the heck is environmental enrichment, you might say? Sounds too complicated for what is thought to be a low maintenance pet. What it means is that you make allowances for an animal’s needs that you know are important to the way they would live if they could make their own choices. And I’m finding that lots of the things that I intuitively feel about a cat’s needs have actually been documented by some swell researchers that prove the need to add another level of consideration to care we give our cats.

Here’s a little food for thought. If you were kept in the lap of luxury with fully nutritious cookies and crackers available 24/7, you’d like that, yes? But wait, there’s no books, no TV, no computer, no exercise room. But there’s plenty of cookies over in that one corner of the kitchen. You’re only allowed to be in this 15 room mansion and never given even a deck of cards to play solitaire. Maybe you’d have to live with 2 or 3 other people and one of them was a bully, not looking so good now, eh? Makes you really think about what it means to be truly happy as opposed to just taken care of. Zoos have known this for years. Think about the outrage you would have if a zoo didn’t take an animal’s behavioral needs into account when planning how to keep it.

Cats have a job. It’s to be a hunter. They’ve developed amazing skills to be really good at this over thousands of years. We’ve only asked them to come inside and live with us maybe for the last 50 or 60 years. Through years of breeding we altered dog behavior and as well as form, but we never asked the cat to change their habits. We wanted good hunters and they obliged us. But when we decided to have them live inside exclusively, we didn’t like the stalking and pouncing on our leg behaviors, or we didn’t like that they needed really clean places to go to the bathroom, or we didn’t like them doing things that made them feel more secure like scratching the furniture. So, at first, we said that all those behaviors were “wrong”. Now we know that all those behaviors are “right” and that cats that don’t do them have done a remarkable job of adapting to a highly restrictive set of circumstances. Good thing too because most cats that are seen as doing “wrong” behavior end up in a shelter.

Recognizing the need to improve a cat’s environment is the first step to helping your cat be happier living with you. Luckily, there are some really neat cheap and easy ways to do this. The most important thing is that you change your perspective and start seeing yourself as a good zookeeper as well as a loving owner.

We feed them, protect them from injury and disease, and we shower our love on them with cuddles and coos. Most of us think that we are doing the best for our cats by making a physically safe environment. But now we know that we need to rethink the needs of this wonderful creature. It’s not enough to just keep them from the physical perils of their natural life style without working on their behavioral and emotional needs.

There’s a ton of reliable information available to learn about creating a happy cat home. Here are some great resources to check out to start the journey. In a few months we’ll be able to add information from the American Association of Feline Practitioners guidelines too! I’m really looking forward to continuing my journey as well.


Dr Eliza Sundahl

Dr. Eliza Sundahl completed her veterinary studies at Kansas State University in 1978 after graduating from Boston University. She has spent a great deal of her professional life promoting feline medicine and continues to do so. She has held many positions in The American Association of Feline Practitioners, including 2 years as president. She was involved in establishing board certification in feline medicine through the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners and worked with that organization for many years to help veterinarians through the certification process.

Dr. Sundahl started at the KC Cat Clinic in 1978 and became owner in 1979. She has been happily working with the wonderful clients and patients at the clinic ever since. She feels like she has the best job in the world. She shares the clinic with Boo and Simon and her home with Babycat, Ferrous, Boo (another one), and Angelo.

Kansas City Cat Clinic
7107 Main St.
Kansas City, MO 64114

Phone: 816-361-4888
Email: kccatclinic@gmail.com

Website: http://www.kccatclinic.com/
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