A cat is commonly touted as an ideal emotional support animal due to their low maintenance lifestyle. All you need is a bowl of food, water, and a litter box in your household, some have said. Then you just sit back and reap the benefits of the therapeutic effects of owning a pet, apparently.
Truth be told, my heart aches hearing such claims. Not only will the cat be bored from the lack of stimulation and physical activity, but the pent up energy might, in a bad case, manifest as aggression or litter box issues. A more likely scenario is that your lovely “low maintenance” cat ends up destroying the furniture and curtains. And owning that type of cat is definitely not therapeutic.
Here are a few things to be sure to provide for your emotional support cat (or any cat), so they can be at their best when helping you.
That cute little kitten you may have just picked up is not just a kitten. They come from a long and storied ancestry. Theirs is a family tree that contains animals humans write books on, make movies about, and travel long distances to watch: felidae.
This family tree contains such heavy hitters as tigers, jaguars, lions, and cheetahs, just to name a few. All are meat-eating carnivores who roam and track prey, and your domestic cat is no exception.
So while you can feed them wet and dry cat food, cats still need to engage in the behaviors hardwired into their brains: hunting and stalking prey. You need a wide variety of cat toys. There are many, many types but a few of the main ones are squiggly tail-like things on the end of a flexible rod, balls trapped in a circuit, or red lasers.
Whatever toys you choose, be sure to devote some time daily for a play session and actively participate. Drag something on the floor, make S-shapes, go around corners, and make it interesting! Without these mentally stimulating games, your cat is likely to be bad company or maybe even develop problems.
And after the session is over, reward them with some treats. This lets them know that “hunting” time is over, since they caught the prey and are now feasting on it.
Have you ever noticed your cat playing with their food? Be it wet food they scoop out with their paws, or dry food they scatter on the floor, cats enjoy interacting with their food. Some of you may be thinking “my cat does that with rats or small bugs too,” and that’s exactly right.
Puzzle feeders scratch a cat’s deep mental itch of hunting for their food. The logic is similar to rewarding your cat with a treat after playtime, but in one product. Puzzle feeders are contraptions that make it more interesting and interactive to eat, and involve use of their paws in a dextrous way and brain for retrieving the food from obstacles.
They stimulate a cat mentally while slowing down their eating, which is a good thing. Cats who eat excessively too quickly may vomit or suffer from digestive issues. By slowing down the rate of eating, it makes feeding more time consuming and interesting for your cat. Puzzle feeders are healthy intellectually and physically and are a common thing for overweight cats.
If you do use a puzzle feeder, ensure the activity is not too difficult to complete, or your cat might just give up and not eat. A good way to start this is put in some dry kibble and see if your cat reacts. If he or she is curious and starts fiddling with it, that is a good sign.
Cat Tree With Scratching Post
A quality cat tree with scratching posts is the wonderful swiss army knife of meeting essential feline needs, and every cat owner 100% needs one. No excuses, as there are good choices on the market at any price point and that will fit in limited spaces.
Fluffy will scratch and will not stop. Your cat, the hunter, needs to sharpen his claws and stretch their muscles. One last important note on scratching: it marks their territory by leaving their scent on the object.
So by adding a cat tree in your home, you are getting something that totally belongs to them. This is crucial for their well-being. Because now they have their own space to sleep, hide, and be alone. If you have multiple cats, a cat tree reduces aggression and territory battles as each cat can claim a separate platform or area of the tree.
The next thing that cat trees provide is vertical space. Cats require it. Hands down. Humans live in a horizontal world most of the time, but cats take the vertical world very seriously. Cats like the high ground because of their nature. As predators and watchers, they are vigilant and always on the lookout for prey.
Gary H. runs Mainecoonhawaii.com, a site dedicated to the Maine Coon cat. Living with, feeding, adopting, healthcare, psychology, and much more.