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Why your cat needs to be mentally engaged

Like dogs, cats need your attention too. Confined at home, you have to cater to its predatory behavioural needs

Mentally engaging your cats helps them release stress and keeps them healthy.
Mentally engaging your cats helps them release stress and keeps them healthy. (Unsplash)

“Cats make such good pets, because they are so low maintenance”. If I had a dollar for every time I heard that sentence… It’s, however, a myth that desperately needs to busted.

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Well, cats do pretty much lead independent lives. But that’s simply because they are not as domesticated as we would like to believe. With their instincts still intact, we are actually adopting a cuddly predator.

As a result, we adopt cats without catering to their predatory behaviour. Our homes and apartments often are not exactly the right habitat for this intelligent species as we fail to keep them mentally and physically occupied. 

This leads to stress and so, many more illnesses such as feline lower urinary tract disease, lack of appetite, ear infections, etc. from not being able to do what they are naturally meant to. In fact, a cat that’s not mentally stimulated enough can start pulling it’s own fur out, out of boredom, also called stress related alopecia. 

So how can you make your home worthy of this beautiful species? The secret lies in thinking like a predator. Cats spend most of the day sleeping to catch up on energy required for a hunt. 

In the wild, they usually look for a secure area to rest. Although the home environment is as safe it gets, provide places where they can hide, where they feel assured that they will not be seen. For instance, you may have found your kitty already having taken a liking to a cardboard box or some hidden corner under the bed. Without a safe spot like this, a cat is likely to feel exposed, eventually causing it stress.

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Next comes planning play time and mental stimulation; being challenged everyday is what cats look forward to. A 15 minute play time ritual with your cat is an absolute must. Cats love to stalk a prey before going in for the attack. Besides, getting toys that move, you can also make or repurpose some items at home. 

For example, you can cut a small hole in a cardboard box and leave a toy inside and watch your pet spend hours trying to figure it out. Create a new hole every day or change the position of the box to keep them curious and happy. You will find that a lot of behavioural problems like defecating outside of the litter box, unexplained aggression, spraying urine around the house get corrected by simply providing an enriching environment.

Before it embarks on its hunt, a cat likes to have its sharp claws in order. This is why you will find cats often scratch furniture. A lot of clients ask me how they can stop their cat from scratching and destroying their furniture. 

This is a natural instinct that cannot and shouldn’t be corrected. Instead place enough scratch pads and scratching surfaces at home, which divert them from the furniture. Scratching and sharpening their claws is a relaxing activity for a cat, and it’s also a means to mark its territory. It would also be ideal to install cat trees and vertical space as cats love to climb.

Being finicky and hygienic about their food habits, ensure that your cat’s food tray is away from its water and litter tray. Some cat parents complain that despite this, their cat does not drink water at all from the bowl. That’s because some cats prefer flowing water, like their relatives such as the leopard or the tiger, who have access to a river. In such a case, water fountains help such cats and improve their water intake.

Lastly, when cats take a dump, they like to cover it up with mud. This is done to prevent other animals from tracking their presence, so they can lead their lives in secrecy while their prey is unaware of their whereabouts. Some of us get a cat home without getting a litter tray. 

Most of the cats that I encounter with a urinary tract infection come from homes where there is no litter tray provided, forcing the cat to pee or pass stools in the bathroom. Not only is this unhygienic, it is going to make the cat fall ill as it is not getting a chance to exercise its predatory instincts. 

Provide a litter tray with ample litter material and ensure it is in a private place. Also, ensure that it is cleaned regularly and is easily accessible to your feline

Cats do make wonderful pets, but any cat parent would agree that they have a mind of their own. These intelligent creatures need proper care and it begins from creating the perfect environment which will allow them to thrive. While they may be independent, they are by no means low maintenance, as they demand a whole new habitat for themselves within your home.

Dr Nameeta Nadkarni is a practising veterinary soft tissue surgeon and pet blogger from Mumbai, who loves to play the piano in her free time and is ruled by her whimsical cat, Catbury, at home.

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