How to Keep Your Cat Happy – and Healthy – for Happy Cat Month

September is Happy Cat Month

by Susan Willett

September is Happy Cat Month

You love your cat. You feed her the best food. Scratch him in all the right spots. Take her to the veterinarian for wellness exams.

But is your cat happy? It’s a good question to ask. Jane Brunt, DVM, Executive Director of the CATalyst Council, explains that one of the best ways to keep your cat healthy is to keep your cat happy. “Studies show that happy cats are healthier cats, and healthy cats are happier cats,” she says.

For the seventh consecutive year, the CATalyst Council declared September as Happy Cat Month: a time “to promote feline wellness by highlighting the link between feline happiness and health, and to encourage actions and activities that support happy — and healthy — cats.”

Most cats spend their days confined to a house or apartment, and have little choice about their food, their environment, or even where they go to the bathroom. As predators, they have few chances to hunt, and as prey (since cats are both predators and prey), they may not have access to safe hiding places. “They’re often not given the opportunity to be cats,” says Brunt.

Living in a threatening or unenriched environment is stressful for cats, according to veterinarian Dr. Tony Buffington, Clinical Professor Department of Medicine and Epidemiology UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. “When cats perceive threat — or don’t get appropriate stimulation — their stress response system is triggered,” says Buffington. If the situation goes on for too long, it can affect your cat’s health. “For example,” says Buffington, “lower urinary tract signs or symptoms such as not using the litter box or straining are some of the most common responses to constant activation of the stress response system. It is not caused by spite, as some frustrated owners think.”

By taking steps to increase your cat’s happiness — reducing stress, and creating a more enriching environment for our feline family members — you can help your kitty thrive.

What can you do to make your cats not only less stressed, but more happy?

Here are a few suggestions:

Give cats places to get high — and low

cat on top of linen cabinet

“Cats climb trees for two reasons: to survey their territory as hunters, and to escape as prey,” says Buffington. Give your cat access to high places in your home. This can range from expensive store-bought cat trees to simply clearing the top of a bookshelf for easy feline access. Some cats prefer to hide lower to the ground — under the bed, behind the sofa, or in a closet. Make sure your home has some high and low places, so your cat can find the safe refuge he or she requires.

Let them eat safe and secure

“Like other prey animals, cats are vulnerable when they’re eating,” says Brunt. “Instead of putting a food bowl against a wall, move it away about the length of the cat, so your pet can eat facing the room.” If there are other cats in the house, Brunt suggests leaving space in between feeding stations and, “if dogs share the home, consider feeding on a counter or designated table, so your cats feel safer.”

Encourage the hunter within

cat with food puzzle

“For cats, hunting tends to take place in a particular order: Find. Stalk. Attack. Eat,” says Buffington. Try to encourage that order when playing with your cat. “Think how an injured bird or mouse might act,” he says, “and mimic that behavior with a cat toy.” Buffington is a huge fan of food puzzles, toys that encourage cats to figure out how to get food before eating it. “Studies show that animals — even humans — are happier when they can work for their meals,” he says. “If there’s one piece of ‘happiness advice’ I’d give cat owners, it’s to feed their cats with food puzzles.”

Keep it clean — litter-ally

cat in litter box

“Cats are fastidious creatures,” says Brunt. “Inside our homes, we want them to use litter boxes, but we need to do our part by emptying them at least once or twice a day.” It’s also important to ensure that access to litter boxes cannot be blocked by other cats, or at least to provide alternative locations. Experts recommend at least one litter box on each level of a home, or one more than the number of cats in the house.

Give them their space

cat hiding under box

Whenever possible in multi-pet households, make sure each cat has access to a complete set of resources. “That includes food, water, litter box, and places to rest, scratch and climb — all out of sight of another cat,” says Buffington. Make sure their access can’t be blocked by another cat, even if you think your cats get along. “Conflict among cats is sometimes difficult for owners to see,” he says. “Even an action as subtle as a glance accompanied by a slightly different body posture can be a way for one cat to intimidate another.”

“We all can learn to think like a cat,” says Brunt. “And the best teacher is… your cat! Watch where he hides when startled. Pay attention to how she plays. Enrich his life with areas that make him feel safe and activities that play into her innate capabilities. This will help make your feline friend happier — and healthier.”

For more information and tips about ways to enrich your cat’s life, follow CATalyst Council on Facebook or Twitter, or the hashtag #HappyCatMonth throughout September.

National Take Your Cat to the Vet Day on August 22 Encourages Cat Owners to Make Sure Their Cats Get Veterinary Care Too

by Susan Willett

It’s easy to argue that cats rule the internet and social media. The prevalence of cat memes and feline Instagram stars attest to that. But when it comes to veterinary visits, dogs win, paws down. According to a study by Bayer Animal Health(1), half of all American pet cats do not see a veterinarian regularly. And Banfield(2) reports that in their more than 900 veterinary hospitals, only one cat is seen by a veterinarian for every five dogs. This, despite many studies reporting that there are nearly eight million more pet cats than dogs in the U.S.

National Take Your Cat to the Vet Day

Cats are Good at Masking Their Illnesses

Even though they may love their pets, many cat owners don’t take their cats to the veterinarian for routine wellness visits. Cost can be one of the obstacles, and even more than cost is the belief that cats don’t need veterinary care as much as dogs.

“It’s not that cats are inherently healthier than dogs,” says Jane Brunt, DVM, Executive Director of the CATalyst Council, a coalition whose mission is to connect people and organizations to transform the health, welfare, and value of companion cats, and owner of Cat Hospital At Towson in Maryland. “It’s that they are stoic about their symptoms, making it nearly impossible for even the most observant pet owner to recognize signs of potential problems.”

Routine wellness exams can uncover illnesses before they become life threatening — and expensive.

Getting A Cat to the Vet Can Be a Challenge

The other reason that tops the list is getting the cat to the veterinary clinic in the first place. “Cats are fast learners,” says Brunt, “and if the only time a carrier is around is right before an unfamiliar experience, cats will learn to hide when they see or even just hear it.” And that’s just the beginning. “Once the owner drags their cat out from under the sofa,” she says, “there’s still the challenge of getting the cat into the carrier, followed by an uncomfortable ride in a car with a beloved pet who is scared and yowls the entire trip. It’s no wonder so many people avoid taking their cat to the veterinarian.”

The gap in preventative veterinary care that exists between cats and dogs needs to be addressed. But how?

The CATalyst Council Supports #Cat2VetDay

The CATalyst Council is calling attention to this issue by supporting National Take Your Cat to the Vet Day on August 22. The Council is working alongside Royal Canin and partnering with the American Association of Feline Practitioners, The International Cat Association and the Cat Fanciers’ Association in support of cat health and wellness. The goal is to increase awareness of the importance of routine veterinary cat care, sharing tips on how to make a trip to the clinic less stressful and encouraging cat owners to make appointments for their feline family members to be seen by a veterinarian.

Turn Your Cat Carrier into a Home Away From Home

Tips for Making a Trip to the Vet with Your Cat More Pleasant

Brunt has several tips to help make your cat’s trip to the veterinarian a more pleasant experience.

  • Bring the carrier out at least a week before the appointment. Better yet, leave it out so the cat can get used to it, explore it, and maybe even curl up and take a nap in it.
  • Make the carrier more attractive, Brunt says, by placing treats, catnip or favorite toys in the carrier.
  • Place a recently worn article of your clothing — like a t-shirt or sweatshirt — in the carrier. “This can help make the carrier a safe place for your kitty — with something to snuggle in or hide under,” says Brunt. “Plus, in an unfamiliar place like a veterinary clinic, your scent can provide additional comfort to your cat.”

Your Veterinarian Can Help Your Cat Be Less Anxious

Brunt also suggests working with your veterinarian ahead of time to come up with a plan to reduce your cat’s stress. This may include feline facial pheromone spray or wipes, or prescription medications that will help most cats be less anxious. “Remember, cats are both predators and prey,” says Brunt. “They are the hunters and the hunted. It helps for both cat owners and veterinarians to see the world from a feline perspective, understanding what makes them anxious or afraid, and then taking steps to prevent, minimize and manage those fears.”

Take Your Cat to a Feline-Friendly Veterinarian

It may also help to bring your cat to a feline-only practice, says Brunt, or consider taking your cat to an AAFP-designated Cat Friendly Practice®, or a clinic that has been certified as Fear Free. Facilities and practitioners with these designations are focused on making visits to the vet as stress-free as possible.

To help cat lovers everywhere get involved in National Take Your Cat to the Vet Day, Royal Canin is asking cat owners to share a photo of their kitty or offer tips for a less stressful visit to the vet. For every post tagged with #Cat2VetDay in August, Royal Canin will donate $5 (up to a maximum total donation of $20,000) to Frankie’s Friends, a non-profit that helps with the cost of veterinary care for pets whose families can’t afford the full cost of treatment.

Take Your Cat to the Vet Day infographic

“Cats are part of our families. Their innate curiosity and playful antics make them wonderful companions,” says Brunt. But she adds, “Cats require more than love. They need our attention and care to keep them healthy and happy. And taking them in for routine wellness visits is one of the best ways to keep them purring for a long time.”

CWA members can help spread the word about #Cat2VetDay by writing, blogging, speaking and sharing information on social media. In addition to those mentioned in the article, the following are great places to find more information and resources to help get the word out, and to help remind people to take their cats to the vet.

AAFP Take Your Cat to the Vet Day web page
Royal Canin’s Take Your Cat to the Vet Day web page
Royal Canin #Cat2VetDay press release

1. Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study III: Feline Findings http://www.bayerdvm.com/show.aspx/resources/feline-practitioners-resource-center/bayer-veterinary-care-usage-study
2. Banfield State of Pet Health Report, 2016: http://www.banfield.com/Banfield/media/PDF/Downloads/soph/Banfield-State-of-Pet-Health-Report-2016.pdf