SECTION 3: THE NEED TO BE ABLE TO EXHIBIT NORMAL BEHAVIOUR PATTERNS
3.1. Although cats have lived with us in our homes for centuries, their behaviour is still very close to that of their wild ancestors. Cats look and behave as they do because they are basically hunters and still need to have an outlet for these natural behaviours. Cats have learned to adapt to our domestic routines and how we live our lives, but they also need to be able to display their natural behaviour patterns.
3.2. Some cats are naturally more confident than others. However, the way that each cat behaves is also influenced by experiences during the first few months of life. You should ensure that your kitten meets and interacts positively with people, including children, dogs and other cats as well as coming into contact with normal household sights and sounds. Generally, cats that are well 'socialised' at this early age will be able to cope confidently as adults with most new situations and people.
3.3. Adult cats that have not had these early experiences may find it difficult to cope with day to day family life. They may find it stressful and be very nervous, hiding away a great deal of the time. As kittens may not go to new homes until they are about 8 weeks old or older, it is up to the owner or breeder of the litter to make sure that the kittens are well socialised if they are to develop into confident, happy pet cats.
Signs of stress
Observe your cat closely for signs of stress or changes in behaviour
3.4. Cats respond to stress in different ways and it is important that you can recognise any changes in the behaviour of your cat. In most cases, where cats are afraid, they prefer to run away to a quiet and hidden location. This is normal behaviour, but is reason for concern if it happens more than just occasionally.
3.5. When a cat is frightened or cannot escape, this can lead to aggression. A cat that is not used to people may hiss, spit or lash out when cornered.
3.6. Some cats that are afraid may not carry out their normal routine activities, such as eating, sleeping and grooming. Your cat may soil in the house if afraid to go outside or go to the litter tray. A cat may also spray urine indoors if stressed; this is especially the case if other cats are causing it to feel stressed.
3.7. When cats are very stressed over a longer period of time, they can develop abnormal behaviours. These may include:
- being quiet and subdued or going missing for a few days;
- being very nervous and watchful;
- being unusually aggressive to people or other cats;
- stopping eating, drinking or grooming;
- being restless and not sleeping or sleeping excessively;
- howling or making unusual vocal sounds;
- soiling or spraying urine indoors;
- persistently hiding away;
- being unusually affectionate;
- pacing or 'patrolling' around the house;
- excessive grooming of the coat, or pulling out fur;
- being hypersensitive or over-reactive.
3.8. It is important that you are able to recognise any of these signs of stress in your cat; some may also be signs of illness. If you are concerned, you should contact your vet who may refer you to an animal behaviourist.
Provide a place where your cat feels secure so that it can avoid things that frighten it
3.9. Fear and anxiety are normal responses that enable animals to avoid dangerous situations. However, animals that are put in situations where they are constantly fearful become very stressed and this can affect their health and welfare.
3.10. Part of a cat's natural behaviour is hiding from a real or perceived danger as well as from stressful circumstances. Some cats prefer to hide inside or under things while others prefer to climb up high. You should provide a secure hiding place that your cat can easily reach at all times so that it can hide away from stressful situations, such as contact with other animals or people. You should make sure that such facilities are available for each cat if you have more than one.
What to do if your cat is missing
3.11. If your cat is missing you should not just contact local vets and pet rescue centres; but it is also worth contacting those further afield as cats can travel for some considerable distance when lost. You can also put up notices locally and ask your neighbours to look in their sheds, garages or other outbuildings in case your cat has been accidentally shut in. If your cat is microchipped it will be identified as yours when scanned by a microchip reader and this will speed up its return to you.
Your cat should be identified
3.12 Cats are generally identified by two methods which can be used in combination, to help trace their owner should they become lost. These are:
- microchipping - this is the preferred method, of identification. A microchip is a tiny computer chip, about the size of a grain of rice, that contains a unique identification number. It is injected under the skin of a pet by a vet or trained pet care specialist and the owner's details are kept on a database. This will help you to be re-united if your cat is lost as, when a pet is found and taken to a rescue centre or a vet, it will be scanned with a reader to see if there is a chip under the skin. The number shown on the reader will then enable the owner to be traced;
- wearing a collar that has the cat owner's contact details. A 'quick release' or snap opening collar is best, as it means that the cat is less likely to be trapped should the collar become caught or tangled. A cat's leg or jaw may become caught in an elasticated or ill-fitting collar and this can result in serious injury. The collar should be the correct size and you should be able to place two fingers underneath it when the cat is wearing it. However, identifying a cat with only a collar is far from secure since collars are frequently lost.
Your cat should be able to show typical hunting behaviours
3.13. It is natural for cats to display hunting behaviour. This is not linked to hunger, as cats that have recently eaten will sometimes still try to hunt. If your cat does not or cannot go outdoors, you should play with it to mimic these hunting behaviours, using indoor toys and games. These can include a lightweight rolling toy or one that involves catching behaviour, such as fishing rod type toys. Indoor cats can also find mental stimulation in feeding from 'puzzle feeders' that release dried food gradually and from finding food hidden around the house.
3.14. Avoid using your hands and feet when playing with your cat as this may encourage aggressive behaviour in your pet when, for example, someone tries to stroke it.
You should ensure your cat's coat is properly groomed
3.15. Other natural cat behaviours include grooming and keeping their coats free from tangles. However, some cats need help with their coat care. If you have a longhaired cat, remember that you will have to groom the coat at least once a day to avoid matts and tangles. Your cat may also need special attention when recovering from an illness or injury. When cats stop grooming themselves, owners should seek advice from their vet as this can be a sign of stress or disease.
Your cat should have somewhere suitable to toilet
3.16. Cats need to toilet somewhere where they can behave naturally and feel comfortable. Cats prefer a quiet, easily accessible area away from food and water. This can be an indoor tray with some suitable material, such as cat litter. However, some cats will prefer to go outside.
3.17. Some general points about toileting:
- cats should have a litter tray and/or an area in the garden where they can dig and cover urine or faeces with soil or other material;
- cats generally develop a preference for a particular type of litter when they are young and it is best to stick to the type of litter your cat prefers;
- cats do not like to use heavily soiled areas, so the tray should be cleaned daily and regularly disinfected. The disinfectant should be safe for cats and thoroughly rinsed off;
- a litter tray should be placed in an area where the cat feels secure and is not likely to be interrupted, especially by other cats, dogs or people;
- it is best to place the litter tray away from where the cat eats;
- provide at least one litter tray per cat;
- where there is more than one cat in the household, the litter trays should be in different parts of the house, so each cat can get to them easily;
- a cat that is straining to go to the toilet, or is going more frequently than normal may be ill. Owners should consult their vet if their cat is showing these signs;
- be sure to wash your hands or wear gloves when you handle your cat's litter tray and make sure that the tray is not accessible to small children.
3.18. All animals need to rest and cats need to rest or sleep for long periods. If cats cannot find somewhere they feel safe to rest, their sleep may be disrupted and this can affect their health. ( Also see Section 1)
3.19. Scratching or 'claw conditioning' is part of normal cat behaviour. Cats condition their claws for various reasons, and regular scratching removes the frayed and worn outer claws, exposing the new and sharper claws growing underneath. It also exercises and strengthens the muscles used when the claws move in and out of the paw, which is essential for a cat's normal behaviour of climbing and catching prey. There are also glands between the pads of a cat's feet, so scratching leaves scent marks.
3.20. Cats prefer somewhere to condition their claws that is tall enough for them to exercise at full stretch and stable enough so that the scratching post will not fall over when used. This is why cats often scratch furniture or doors to condition their claws. To avoid or reduce damage to furniture you can provide a scratching post; these are available from most pet shops or can be home made. The post should be stable and high enough for the cat to exercise at full body stretch.
3.21. Reproduction is one aspect of a cat's natural behaviour. You should, however, consider neutering your pet for the reasons outlined in Section 5.