Being the best companion for your cat

Cats and people have been companions for nearly12,000 years. And no wonder – cats not only enchant us with their beauty, they also entertain us with their playful antics and graceful movements and bring smiles to our faces when they sit in our laps, purring with contentment.

Cats are often considered easier companions than dogs because they don't need daily exercise or regular potty breaks outside. However, they have a few basic needs that if met will make them much happier in your home. What can you do to be a good companion to your cat?

The all-important litter box. Keep it clean, keep it accessible, keep it uncovered and keep it away from your cat's food and water. If you live in a multi-level house, put a litter box on each level. Cats may avoid covered boxes because they don't appreciate being unable to see around them when they are in their most vulnerable position.

In a multi-cat household, you should have the same number of litter boxes as you do cats, plus one additional.

Play time. Your little hunter needs to play (i.e. stalk). Play with your cat at least 10 to 15 minutes twice a day. When using interactive toys such as a wand or fishing pole toys, make the toy behave like prey, including making it hide. Let your cat capture the toy and "kill it."

Don't stop playing abruptly or your cat will still be wound up and excited. Always use a cat toy – don't let your cat play with your hand.

Scratch, scratch, scratch. Let them scratch! Cats scratch to burn off energy, flex their feet and toes and mark their territory. Give your cat appropriate scratching objects such as rope-wrapped posts, corrugated cardboard or carpet remnants. Some cats prefer to scratch on vertical surfaces and others prefer horizontal so if you try one type of scratcher and your cat is unimpressed, try another.

Vertical space. Climbing cats are happy cats. Cats are natural-born climbers and your cat's ancestors used to spend a lot of time in trees. Cats liked being up high to give them a place to stalk their prey and to keep themselves from becoming prey. Give your cat vertical space with a window perch, cat tree, or wall-mounted cat shelves.

Outdoor time: Fun in the sun. Cats should not be allowed to roam free for many reasons, most importantly their own safety. But your cat can still enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of the outdoors in a safe enclosure. Catios (a cat patio) are the latest rage in cat care-taking. A catio is simply a screened enclosure for your cat that can be as simple or as fancy as you like. You can include some of the vertical spaces mentioned above, plus non-toxic plants to enrich the environment. There are many sources online to help you build your own.

Enriching your cat's indoor environment not only makes for a happier cat, but can prevent or solve problem behaviors. Bored cats can become destructive, aggressive with their cat companions, and experience depression and anxiety.

If you want to delve deeper into how to enrich your cat's indoor environment, check out the Indoor Pet Initiative at The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine:

Laura Atwood is the Anchorage Animal Care and Control Public Relations Coordinator.

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