How to Make Your Cat Happy

CC BY 2.0. Esin Üstün/Flickr

Famed for their dogged indifference, cats just want to be understood and not terrified by your seemingly innocent human behavior. These tips can help ensure a happier, and thus healthier, kitty.

At TreeHugger we have a soft spot for natural remedies to help pets, but sometimes the best medicine is simple prevention. And as it turns out – according to the experts – an environment that a cat finds stressful can lead to a number of chronic cat diseases.

Despite thinking that we really know our cats, Tony Buffington from Ohio State University says that few of us understand how to listen to our cats, notes Wired magazine. This leads to frustrated humans who can’t fathom, for the life of them, why kitty keeps scratching the sofa or attacking the hand that strokes. And it leads to a stressed cat, which can lead to poor health and disease.

Make your cat happy

Andrey/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

The best cure, he says, is “learning to listen to your cat, giving him choices, and reducing the environmental factors that trigger his stress response.”

“No matter how much we love them, cats are our captives, domesticated aliens with no way of explaining their customs, or of interpreting ours,” writes Nick Stockton.

Unlike dogs and (most) humans, cats are not innately social. They evolved as solitary hunters and are not adept at reading our social cues. You may yell, snap, clap, make gestures and noises at a cat who is not minding you. A dog gets it, a cat thinks: "BIG AGGRESSIVE PRIMATE ACTING CRAZY, BE WARY!"

Without the cognitive ability to make the connection between your anger and their behavior, cats just see aggression. This is frightening for the cat, frustrating for both cat and human, and ultimately leads to stress for the cat because of the constant disruption to natural feline behaviors.

“Cats get sick when they want to express their natural behaviors and they can’t,” Buffington says. And they will continue to sneak in their feline activities while you’re not around. It's just their nature.

Buffington offers these tricks for working with your cat; rather than an unintended fear campaign, these smart approaches take your cat’s view into consideration.

Train your cat through their environment

Make your cat happy

Jeremy Bronson/Flickr/CC BY 2.0 Create mechanical obstacles, rather than emotional ones. Put two-sided tape on furniture-scratching areas, line the kitchen counter with tinfoil – and put a more-attractive alternative nearby, like a scratching post or cat-tree for perching. When kitty chooses the alternative, reward him or her.

Pay attention to what’s where

Food bowl by the fridge? Litter box in the laundry room? While these seem perfectly fine for us giant animals, Boffington says that household appliances sound like monsters to the cat who’s trying to eat and poop in silence. Make sure the food bowl and litter box are in calm areas where there is an exit route if kitty feels threatened.

Afford your cat a good view

Cats are interested in other animals, but don’t want to feel exposed. They don’t understand glass and don’t understand that a window offers protection, says Boffington. Provide hidden observation places, and importantly, make sure there is someplace high – like a shelf or cat tree – where your kitty can observe in peace.

Watch the hands, buddy!

Must. Pet. Soft. Fluffy. Cat. It’s almost impossible to resist, as if we are hard-wired to reach out feel the warm silky fur on our fingers. But cats are not naturally as affectionate as we are, says Boffington, and we should let them initiate and lead the cuddling. If your cat rubs against you, she is saying it’s ok for you to pet that part of her.

Resist the belly

Make your cat happy

Barry Keleher/Flickr/CC BY 2.0 Likewise, most cat owners know this one. Kitty flips on their back and displays the splayed belly, you go in for the stroke and WHAP, four sets of claws and a mouthful of teeth come in for the kill. Boffington says that this is because a cat’s tummy is the most vulnerable part; exposing it to you means they are displaying trust, not requesting some lovey-dovey wrassling.

Beware the rump

A cat’s raised tush is not an invitation to give the base of the tail area a good hard rubbing. The rump of a cat is chock full of nerves and is very sensitive. Some petting there will probably be tolerated, but overstimulating the area is like being uncomfortably tickled.

Don’t force a BFF on them

Dogs love to have dog buddies, cats, not so much, says Boffington. Or course some cats will have their best friends, but cats do not need to be around more cats, he says; in nature, wild cats are solo hunters and other cats indicate competition, not friendship. If you need to introduce new cats to each other, it's good to do so gently. You can rub each cat with a dry towel and then rub the same towel on the other cat so that they can become accustomed to the other’s scent. Make sure each cat has eaten and had plenty of affection so that they are comfortable, and introduce them while making sure both are receiving human attention. Allow them to mingle without forcing it, and make sure there is an escape route in case one of them gets freaked out and needs to hit the road.

And remember, they really do want to bond

As aloof as they may be, Boffington says that cats really do want to connect with their human – and great bonds are often made. If Kitty seems upset when you leave for the day, try to create a ritual for when you leave and return. When you’re ready to depart, call your cat, talk to him or her and give some affection; let him know you are saying good-bye. And create a similar re-entry ritual.

While some of this may seem like common sense and many of you may have cats who defy these descriptions and behaviors altogether, it’s really a wonderful exercise to step out of our human skin and get a cat’s eye view of things. You’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain, especially if you can help your cats be the happy and healthy creatures that they deserve to be.