Needs of Domestic cats

Abraham Maslow first introduced his concept of a hierarchy of needs in his 1943 paper “A Theory of Human Motivation”. In this paper, he postulated that people are motivated by five types of needs.
He assigned a hierarchy to these needs, which are often shown in a  pyramid diagram, with physical needs at the bottom. Applying this to our cats can give us insight into the cat-human bond.

Needs and motivation


The five categories that Maslow came up with are:

  1. Physical needs (food, water)
  2. Safety
  3. Love/belonging
  4. esteem
  5. self-fulfillment (be all that you can be)

Maslow's hierarchy of needs

As an individual satisfies needs in one of these categories, he is motivated to tackle the next level.

  1. What motivates behavior at the most basic level is the need to survive. We need to eat and drink to stay alive.
  2. Having satisfied these needs, the next step is to ensure that we will continue to have food and water. We need shelter and a job.
  3. Once fed and secure, we can address the need to be part of society – to belong to a group.
  4. The next level of needs is esteem: we need to value ourselves and feel that other people value us.
  5. We are now at the top of the pyramid. We can work on reaching self-imposed goals: maybe become a writer or artist, nurture extended family, or climb mountains.

Of course, there is flexibility in this hierarchy- some needs are met at the same time; for some individuals, reaching your full potential may be more important than the esteem of others.

what do cats need? wild cats


  • A wild cat’s needs begin with having prey to eat.
  • Once fed, he will find a safe place where he can sleep, eat and retreat from danger – like a den.
  • He must establish his territory where he can hunt regularly and have access to food.
  • A well-fed wildcat who hunts successfully has good prospects for mating. 
  • As far as Nature is concerned, the wildcat has reached his or her full potential once he or she has ensured that there will be another generation to hunt and mate, continuing the species.What does a wildcat need?

 

what do cats need? Domestic cats


Things are a bit different for the cat who lives with humans. Hunting and establishing a territory have become separate from getting enough food; our house cats are spayed and neutered, so do not have a drive to mate and reproduce. We can construct a hierarchy showing what do cats need for the cats that live with us.

the 5 pillars of a healthy feline environment


The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) list five things that make a healthy environment for a cat. We can assemble these into a hierarchy of needs.

  1. Resources : food, water, litter box, shelter
  2. Safe access to resources
  3. Belonging: territory
  4. Human interaction: predictable
  5. Full potential: predatory behavior

Needs of Domestic cats

  • At the bottom of the pyramid are the needs for survival: food, water, and litter boxes.
  • The next level ensures that these essential resources are available to each cat to use safely, without fear. The cat owner should provide multiple, separate feeding and watering stations and litter boxes.
  • One of the AAFP requirements is an environment that respects the cat’s sense of smell.  Such an environment is the cat’s territory. Cats will mark walls and furniture in the home with facial pheromones and scratching posts with pheromones released when scratching. Your cat belongs to his territory.

The old way of thinking about cats as aloof and independent, would most likely consider the cat’s needs are met at this point.

What do cats need and the cat-human bond


Our cats share basic physiological needs with their wild relatives. But the domestic cat has chosen a different path and has some different needs because of his bond with his human caregiver. The two final levels of the pyramid are 4) positive and predictable human interaction and 5) the opportunity for predatory play.

  • Human Interaction: To truly feel safe and secure in her territory, a housecat needs to know how the humans in the house will behave: when will she be fed? Will they approach quietly and greet her? Will they swoop down on her and pick her up when she least expects it and hold her dangling in the air?
  • Predatory Play: The need to hunt defines who your cat is – this is what he was born to do.  We need to provide our cats with an opportunity to hunt – if it is fishing kibble out of a food puzzle or chasing a stuffed mouse at the end of a wand toy.

These last two needs bring us to the heart of the cat-human bond.

Positive and predictable interactions  allow us to communicate with our cats; predatory play helps us recognize the cat’s nature as a born hunter and allows us to share this essential part of his life.

In return for helping our cats satisfy their needs, we humans enjoy the pleasure of our cats’ company, better heart health and reduced stress and anxiety. 

“Time spent with cats is never wasted.” – Sigmund Freud

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It’s 1:50 am – you know by the red numbers on your alarm clock. That darn cat meows at night and has woken you up once again.Cat and alarm clock

What is happening?
If this is a new pattern, it is time for a vet visit to make sure that there is not a medical cause underlying the nocturnal activity. High blood pressure and hyperthyroidism are two conditions that can contribute to meowing at night. Treating these conditions may solve the tendency toward night-time activity and meowing.

If your cat has had a physical exam recently and has no untreated health issues, there may different things underlying the “feline nocturnes”. In the wild, cats hunt at dusk, nighttime and dawn when their prey, small rodents, are foraging.

Our indoor cats usually adapt well to being active during daylight hours and snoozing at night.
If this is not the case, what can you do to reset your cat’s internal clock?

Perhaps your cat meows at night because he is bored and awake. He may be seeking your attention.

  • Make sure your cat is active during the day. Give him some play sessions during the day;  engage him in foraging behavior with food puzzles.
  • Establish a night time routine. Cats thrive on routine – it lets them know what is going to happen. Pets can be as good as a clock when reminding you for dinner. Let’s come up with a sequence of activities that signal that the household is slowing down and ready for sleep.

Bedtime Routines when your cat meows at night


Play/Treat time: My cats look forward to treats before bed every evening. After dinner and TV, the litter boxes are scooped and then – IT’S TIME.
All 4 cats proceed to the hallway where they take up their stations and wait to have treats tossed to them. After that, it is time to settle down and they each go to their sleeping place and tuck in.

Your cat might enjoy a play session before treats. This session does not have to be long – 10-15 minutes should do the trick. After that – IT’S TIME FOR BED!

Foraging toys: Try leaving some foraging toys (food puzzles) out and turn in. Again, this is a bedtime routine – you put the toys out and you turn in.

You can try closing the bedroom door. Of course, for many cats, if you close a door, this is the place they have to get into and will shake and rattle the door for access.

My Cat meows at night – Does he need a room of his own?


 

You have tried more play during the day and you are putting out food toys at night – still your cat meows at night.

This may be time for some “tough love” – after all, you need your sleep. If you have the space, give your cat a “bedroom” at night. This could be a spare bedroom or walk-in closet, someplace where you can close the door. Put all his resources (litter box, toys, water) in this room. Put a “calming” pheromone diffuser in this room.

When you are ready for bed…

  • Take kitty to his bedroom
  • Give him a snack.
  • Close the door – do not respond to crying at night once the cat is in the room.
  • He will be safe in there until you get him out in the morning.

While this may seem “cruel”, remember that cats are “socially flexible”. They are able to live socially with humans and other animals but do very well on their own. They don’t get “lonely” the same way we do.

to have a quiet night…


 Be sure to give your cat regular, daily playtime and activities. This may be a good time to review how you are feeding your cat – leaving out a food bowl filled all the time is like having a bowl of potato chips out all the time. Feeding can be self-soothing behavior for a bored cat.

3-4 smaller meals gives kitty something to look forward to – you can put one of these meals in his room for the night.

The Takeaway: if your cat meows at night, try giving him something to keep him busy – some extra play during the day and a bedtime routine just might silence the “kitty nocturnes”.

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Cats and Catnip


cat and catnip plant
Gus enjoys some local catnip.

Cats and catnip- some cats love it; some cats are indifferent to the herb. What’s the story on catnip?

Catnip is a member of the mint family. Its scientific name is nepeta cataria. Catnip contains a compound called nepetalactone, which induces the “catnip response”:

  1. sniffing
  2. licking and chewing with head shaking
  3. chin and cheek rubbing
  4. rolling over and body rubbing

The catnip response is specific to the Felidae family – other mammals do not respond to nepetalactone. Lions, jaguars, leopards and domestic cats enjoy catnip; most tigers are indifferent to catnip.

About 2/3 of domestic cats show the “catnip response”. Since catnip does not elicit a response from all cats, a genetic element may be involved. Most cats in Australia do not respond to catnip and they come from a relatively closed genetic group.

Kittens show a catnip response  between 3-6 months of age (if they are sensitive). Before then, forget it!

Nepetalactone stimulates the cells lining the nasal cavity and not those of the vomeronasal organ. Smelling the nepetalactone induces the “catnip response”.  Although many cats nibble on catnip, nepetalactone is not effective orally. Cats can be fairly sensitive to catnip and even weak doses of nepetalactone may induce the “catnip response”.

Cats and catnip – why does catnip affect cats?


Catnip produces allomones, chemicals that transmit messages between species. Catnip plants release these allomones (nepetalactone is one of these) into the air to repel insects that may eat the catnip. Nepetalactones can repel insects as well as the synthetic repellent N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide (DEET).  Maybe catnip attracts insect-eating cats… 🙂

Cats and catnip and facial pheromones…


A recent study  that combined nepetalactone extract with feline facial pheromone had an interesting outcome. Cats exposed to the combination did not exhibit the typical catnip response but were more tolerant of human handling and having their blood pressure measured than cats exposed to the pheromone spray alone.

Why does catnip work?  We don’t really know.

  • Does nepetalactone stimulate natural pheromone production?
  • Does it change how pheromones are processed?
  • Does it reinforce the semiochemical message of the pheromones?

For cats not sensitive to nepetalactone


  • Three other plants induce the “catnip response”
  • Silver Vine – a plant from east Asia, has 6 compounds that are similar chemically to nepetalactone.  80% of cats respond to silvervine.
  • Valerian Root – Contains 1 compound with similar chemical structure to nepetalactone.  50% of cats will respond to valerian root.
  • Tartarian Honeysuckle can also elicit a response in cats and is considered safe.   Honeysuckle appeals to about 50% of cats.

Catmint


Catmints are also members of the mint family and belong to the genus nepeta.  They may contain a lower concentration of nepetalactone. While catnip is a leggy weedy plant with whitish flowers, catmints are bushy plants with showy purple or sometimes pink flowers.catmint plant

 

The catmint bush in my backyard does not induce the “kitty crazies” but it is a popular place – the resident and neighboring cats come to rub their heads against the shoots of the plant and sometimes nap in the center.

Cats sensitive to catnip really seem to enjoy it.  The “catnip response” lasts about 10-15 minutes and does not cause any long lasting effects.  If your cat  does not care for catnip, try some silvervine for a “kitty cocktail”!

 

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Cats are considered mature at 7-10 years, senior at 11-14 years (human age 60-72 years) and Super Senior at 15+ years (human age 76+ years) (Your cat’s age in human years). Here are some tips for caring for your older cat.

Once past 2 years, cats age at a rate of 4 years per every human year. Regular veterinary visits are beneficial for your Mature, Senior and Super Senior cats. Good veterinary care can make your older cat’s senior years golden years.

Mature, Senior and Super Senior cats have the same needs as younger animals.


Caring for Your Older Cat: The “Senior” Cat Friendly Home


Safe Places


 

Steps to bed for older cat
A step ladder gives Athena easy access to the bed.

 

 

An older cat needs private and secure places to retreat to, to rest and take a break from household activity. Steps or ramps provide easy access to higher places. A heated bed with extra padding can be a real hit for an older cat stiff from arthritis.

Resources – Food, Water, Litter Boxes


Ice cube tray as a food puzzle
This older cat is getting lunch from an ice cube tray.

 

Still a hunter at heart, your older cat is designed to eat small meals, frequently during the day.  Feeding stations throughout the house will encourage her to prowl and “hunt” her food, stimulating her physically and mentally.

 

Your old cat will most likely drink more than he did when he was young. Locate water sources throughout the house. If your cat seems stiff, try raising his food and water up so that he does not have to crouch down as much to eat and drink.

Litter Box from storage tote
A storage tote has been repurposed as a litter box. The front opening is low and was cut with heavy duty shears and a hacksaw. A trash can for scooping is nearby.

THE LITTER BOX

  • Large enough for your cat to turn around.
  • Entrance has a low sill for easy access.
  • On each floor of the house
  • In areas that are secluded and private
  • Finer textured litter may be more comfortable for older kitty paws.

Play is still important


Older cats can still can benefit from swatting at a wand toy or chasing treats. Daily play time close to early morning or early evening mimics the cat’s natural rhythms – prey is most active at these times.

Human Interaction


A familiar predictable routine reduces anxiety for all cats. Caring for your older cat should include grooming as well as play time. Grooming becomes more challenging for older cats as their flexibility decreases.

  • Make grooming sessions frequent and short.
  • Cats often groom after eating. This is a good time to gently comb or brush the older cat.
  • Regular nail trims are important for older kitties – the nails of older cats can sometimes grow into their paw pads, which is painful.
  • Older cats still need access to scratching areas – horizontal and angled scratchers may be easier for them to use

Your Cat’s Sense of Smell


Cats have a sense of smell that is 14x more sensitive than ours.

  • Diffusers containing facial pheromones placed near some of your older cat’s resting places will convey the messages of familiarity and safety
  • Scratching releases pheromones from glands in your cat’s paws that help mark his territory- have scratchers available to your older cat
  • Avoid using scented litters and strong smelling cleaners

Outdoor Access


 

A Cat enjoys a walk in a stroller

SAFE outdoor access is stimulating for older cats as well as young cats. Your cat may like some supervised outdoor time with you – the daily “walk” can provide quality time for both cat and owner.

IF you are lucky enough to live in a quiet neighborhood or have access to a quiet park, a cat stroller can get you and your old friend out. 

  • Get her used to the stroller first – offer some food in it, let her nap in it
  • Start with SHORT walks in QUIET places at QUIET times.
  • Increase the walking time IF she is enjoying it.

A Cat and his Territory

Cats are territorial. What does this mean for cat guardians?


An outdoor cat’s home range is the maximum area he roams and hunts in. Within the home range is a smaller area that the cat will actively defend – his territory. Inside this defended area is a smaller area called the “core territory”, where the cat can rest, has shelter, and feels safe from predators and other cats.

Free-roaming cats establish their territories around food supplies. They remain solitary hunters and don’t share prey with other cats.  Access to food, water and places to rest and shelter are some reasons why cats will fight with each other. Having a secure, established territory is essential to the free-roaming cat’s survival.

When cats move inside, their territories shrink and the house becomes the territory. Home ranges still apply for cats with outdoor access. Within the house, cats will choose their core territories – their safe places where they go to nap and feel secure. 

In my 4 cat household, Athena and Marley choose the master bedroom as their safe place, with comfortable resting places, water and access to a litter box; Gus’s safe place is the back office; Zelda floats between the office and the master bedroom.

What are the threats to the territory of the indoor cat?


  1. Outdoor cats: Neighborhood cats that come in the yard or come to the windows of the home may be seen as a threat by the indoor resident cat(s).  The threatened cat may strike out at humans or other pets nearby because he can’t get at the cat outside but is prepared to defend his territory.
  2. Other resident cats: Cats are territorial and remain territorial when they are kept indoors. There are often multiple social groups in a multi-cat home. Cats of one social group may guard resources such as litter boxes, food and water from cats of another group.
  3. People, other animals, inanimate objects:  Although territorial  behavior usually involves other cats, cats may see other species or things as threats to their resources and well-being, as threats to a secure territory. 

You will see your cat rubbing her face against walls and furniture. She is depositing pheromones from glands in her face to mark the area as safe. Cats also routinely mark areas by scratching, releasing another pheromone from glands in their paws, an olfactory signal to other cats that they passed by. This is normal behavior that the cat guardian needs to accommodate by providing scratching post and cleaning the “whisker walls” sparingly. Maintain the colony scent..

If your indoor cat perceives a threat, he may feel the need to mark the house with urine (sometimes feces) to establish the house as his territory. He also may respond to the “threat” with aggression.

It is up to the cat guardian to understand that cats are territorial and ideally modify the environment before marking or aggression starts.

What you can do:


Diagram social groups cats
There are 3 social groups in this 4 cat household.
  1. Outdoor animals: Restrict access to your yard if you can. “Critter spikes” can deter some cats and raccoons from scaling fences. A motion activated yard sprinkler can also be effective. You may wish to cover windows with static cling window film so that cats can’t see out.
  2. Multi-cat conflict: Identify the social groups in the household. Make sure resources are spread out and all the cats in the household have easy access to resources of their choice. Pay particular attention to the dynamics of feeding, using litter boxes, and resting. Make sure that all cats have an opportunity to exercise their hunting skills through play. Set up time-sharing for social groups if necessary.
  3. People, other animals, inanimate objects: Isolate your cat from the stressor or desensitize her if possible. For example, if she feels threatened by visitors, train her to go a safe place out of reach when visitors arrive.  Request that visitors refrain from interacting with your cat unless she chooses to interact. Make sure to reward her with something she likes in her safe place. She may elect to leave the room or observe from her safe place.

Cat in Carrier

A Better Vet Visit for Your Cat


From Your Cat’s Purrspective…

 

You know something’s up – your carrier is out. You hide under the bed but your human pulls you out and proceeds to squeeze you into the dreaded box.

You swing along in the air and then are loaded into a larger box that moves and smells funny.

You finally stop moving and swing through the air some more and arrive at another house where you smell lots of other animals. Oh no, not this place again! You can smell other cats – most of these cats too are afraid. As you move through the fog of smells, you arrive in a small room with a metal table.

A strange human opens your carrier door and tries to coax you to come out – you’re not sure what is out there but now your carrier seems like a good place to stay. Suddenly, your world tilts and you slide out of the carrier onto the cold, hard table.

You hiss your displeasure. Another strange human proceeds to look into your eyes, put a hard plastic thing in your ears, and presses a cold metal disc against your chest. Then, the strange human pokes you with a needle and you are finally allowed to escape back into the dreaded carrier – at least, it has taken you back home before.

A Better Vet Visit for Your Cat – What We Can Do


Cat Carrier Comes Apart

CHOOSING A CARRIER.


  • The plain-vanilla plastic carrier sometimes is the best option – safe and secure, easy to clean, and sturdy.
  • For your veterinary team, the removable top is a bonus. It allows your vet team to work with your cat in a place he knows – the bottom of his carrier.

 

cats with carrier and treats

MAKE YOUR CAT’S CARRIER A SAFE PLACE.


  • It should  have a comfortable blanket or towel in it that smells like her.
  • Leave the carrier out a home – your cat may nap or play in the carrier.
  • Offer some food close by or in the carrier for her to enjoy. 
  • Play games in and around the carrier.

 

Cat and Car
Athena is ready to get in her carrier for a ride!

TAKE KITTY FOR SOME RIDES THAT DON’T END UP AT THE VET.


  • Start with short rides, maybe just around the block.
  • Work up to longer rides to pleasant places – if you have a cat stroller, you could work up to going for walks in the park.
  • ALWAYS move at your cat’s pace – if he is hunched up and hiding, slow down and shorten the ride.

 

HANDLE  AT HOME FOR A BETTER VET VISIT FOR YOUR CAT


  • Take time at home to handle her feet and head
  •  Work up to gently lifting her upper lip to look at her teeth.
  • Get her used to being picked up.
  • Make sure to reward her with tasty treats!

 

Spray Carrier Facial Pheromones
Spraying the carrier with feline facial pheromones signals that this a familiar place.

SPRAY THE CARRIER WITH SYNTHETIC PHEROMONES 20 MINUTES BEFORE THE RIDE


 

Treats to reward cats

BRING SOME TREATS ALONG TO MAKE THE VISIT MORE PLEASANT.


  • Limit kitty’s food prior to the appointment
  • he will be more willing to eat some treats

The Cat Friendly Home: Maintain the Colony Scent

Odors not only tell cats about their world ; they also carry messages from other cats.

Free-roaming cats live in colonies if there is enough food in the neighborhood. Each colony has its own signature scent. Members of the colony identify each other by this scent. This colony scent also marks the core territory of the colony, where the members feel safe, can eat, rest and play.

Our homes are our cat’s territory; we are members of our cat’s colony. Our homes have the colony scent that makes our cats feel safe and secure.

How do we maintain the colony scent in our homes?


Marley marks the corner wall at the top of the stairs.

 

Scratching post near the litter box.

Cats deposit pheromones  and signature scents using glands on their faces. You may see your cat rubbing the corner of a wall or furniture; you may also see him rub the same place again later the next day – he is marking the area as safe and familiar.

Pheromones and communication

Placing scratching posts around your home at windows, doors, and near where your kitty sleeps also provides boundary marking. Glands in kitty’s feet release pheromones and odors when she scratches which are deposited on the scratching posts.

Scratching Basics

Litter boxes are also part of the kitty network – urine and feces can carry messages and identify individual cats within the house.

Litter Box Basics

Disturbances in the Scent…


Marley marks the corner wall at the top of the stairs.
A well marked wall.

Cleaners


  • Avoid using strong smelling disinfectant or scented cleaners.
  • Some of the disinfectant cleaners linger on surfaces for a long time after you have used them for cleaning. Cats can be notorious counter surfers and they lick their paws.
  • Also avoid cleaners with essential oils – most essential oils are toxic to cats.
  • Visit the Environmental Working Group site to learn more about the cleaners you’re using.

Environmental Working Group

“Whisker Walls”


It is best to leave those “whisker walls” where the kitties rub their cheeks untouched for as long as you can. If they are just too unsightly, try unscented castile soap (made out of plant sources) followed with a rinse. After cleaning, spray with Feliway Classic (Comfort Zone Calming)

 

Litter Boxes


Cleaning the litter tray can be done with mild cleaners, for example, dishwashing soap. If you do use bleach, make sure to dilute it and rinse the tray thoroughly. The CDC recommends diluting 1/3 cup unscented household bleach with 1 gallon of water for cleaning surfaces.

Avoid cleaning all the litter boxes at once – stagger the cleanings. Scooping daily if you use clumping litter, will allow you to empty and clean the litter box ever 2-4 weeks.

Hydrogen peroxide (3%) has good disinfecting properties and breaks down into just oxygen and water.

  1. Start with a box that has had all solid waste and old litter removed.
  2. Spray a fine coating of hydrogen peroxide on the inside of the box. Allow it to sit for 15 minutes.
  3. Scrub the inside thoroughly. Completely rinse the hydrogen peroxide out and dry the litter box before replacing the litter.

The Bark Space

Veterinary visits and hospitalization


When your cat goes to the vet, make sure that some of her familiar bedding goes with her for reassurance. If you have other cats, take along some other bedding the other cats sleep on in a plastic bag for the trip home. Ask that it be put in your cat’s carrier before picking her up. This helps maintain the colony scent when your cat is on her way home.

My youngest cat formerly was a street cat. He will be aggressive with the older cats returning from a day at the vet if we do not include some of his bedding for his roommate to come home with. I also make sure that the Feliway multi-cat diffusers are working in the common areas.

Managing new smells at the front door…


  • Place footwear and shopping bags at the door when you return home – allow the cats to examine these items before moving them further into the house
  • Wash your hands before greeting your cat or cats
  • Change your clothing if you have been in contact with strange cats and dogs

Pheromones help maintain the colony scent…


  • Feliway Classic (ComfortZone Calming) diffusers help the cats feel safe in their sleeping and litter areas
  • Multicat diffusers keep harmony in the common areas.
  • Wipe down new items with a cloth sprayed with the Classic or Calming  pheromone.

The Cat Friendly Home: Scratching Basics


Our soft, cuddly (sometimes) kitties have some sharp ends to them – their claws! When your cat is relaxed, his claws are covered by a sheath of skin. He extends them to grab on to his favorite catnip mouse.

Your cat’s paws are sensitive to touch and pressure – she can feel the vibrations of your footsteps through her feet; she knows by feel just how hard to hold that wiggling mouse.My cat’s sense of touch

Marley holds a toy mouse tightly – his claws are extended.

 

Why does your cat scratch?


What’s inside your cat’s toes – claw is sheathed when cat is relaxed. He must extend his claws to use them.
  • She uses her claws to hold on to prey so it is best that they be sharp – scratching sheds old nails to allow new, sharper ones to grow in.
  • She will scratch defending herself when she feels threatened by another cat, a person,  or animal.
  • Scratching is also a way of communicating with other cats.
  • Scratching is great way to stretch!

YOU MIGHT GET SCRATCHED… when playing with your cat. Remember quick motions trigger his hunting instinct and those claws come out to hold on to the prey – which could be your hand!

  • Use toys to play with your kitty, preferably ones that keep your hands and feet out of the “line of fire”. Fishing pole toys such as Da Bird keep you safe while kitty practices his hunting skills
  • Play “dead” if you get caught in “clawed embrace”. Once he stops trying to scratch you, you can gently move the paws

YOU MIGHT GET SCRATCHED…if your cat does not want to be handled (self-defense)

  • Watch your cat’s body language –What does my cat feel?
  • Allow her to decline interactions if she is not in the mood
  • Use a towel or blanket if she is upset and you HAVE to get her

Scratching Basics: The Feline Message Board


Pheromones

Pheromones are chemicals that convey “messages” between members of the same species. Your cat has glands in his feet that release pheromones.

 

Messaging

Your cat scratches a post and deposits pheromones and his own “signature scent” on it. Another cat comes by later and smells the claw marks. The pheromone smell has faded a bit, so the newcomer knows that “Mr. Fuzzy” was here earlier, say around noon.

 

Pheromones and communication

The Feline Message Board

The free-roaming cat is a solitary hunter. If he is injured, it will be harder to hunt and feed himself. Scratching gives cats a way of signaling each other so that they can avoid meeting and possibly fighting.

 

 

The Message Board is active for indoor cats as well as outdoor cats. Having a number of scratching posts around your home can make your cat feel secure – after all, he can check for intruders! In multi-cat homes, it may help cats “time-share” resources.

The Ideal Scratching Post…


 

  • Narrow upright scratching posts that are 3 feet or taller are popular
  • Cats will scratch flat surfaces as well as vertical or angled ones.
  • Sisal rope, carpet and cardboard are popular materials for scratchers 
  • Logs with the bark still on may  appeal to your cat.
  • Preferences can change – some studies showed that older cats choose carpet over sisal rope while younger cats like the sisal rope better.
  • OFFER A VARIETY OF SCRATCHERS!

Where to Put Those Scratching Posts!


 

  • near doors and windows (territory marking)
  • near the sleeping areas (stretching)
  • near the litter box (stretching, marking)
  • near the living area where the humans hangout (stretching, marking)
Scratching post by a patio window.

 

Athena checks for other scent marks as she adds her own. This post is part of a larger cat tree.

 

Scratching post near the litter box.

Declawed cats need scratching posts too. They still have glands in their paws that produce pheromones.  They appreciate a good stretch and the opportunity  to leave scent messages.

  •  

Pheromones and Feline Communication


To us humans, smell is only important for deciding what food to eat or what perfume to wear. But for cats, smells are like a second language. With just their noses, they can learn almost everything they need to know about their surroundings and the other cats they meet.

 

 

Each of us has his or her own “signature odor”. These signature odors help cats recognize other cats, familiar humans and other animals by the way they smell. 

 

“Semiochemicals” are special molecules that carry “messages” from one organism to another. The organism receiving the “message” will respond with a change in physiology or behavior. Most semiochemicals are transmitted by odors.

Pheromones


Pheromones are a type of semiochemical that helps animals of the same species message with each other. They are the same for every member of the species, and send the same “message” to each member of that species that detects them. For cats, these messages include marking boundaries, indicating sexual receptivity, and sending greetings. Lactating mother cats also produce a blend of “appeasing” pheromones that make kittens feel safe and reassured when their mothers are nearby.  

Cats take in pheromones either by sniffing or using the Flehmen response. They release pheromones using glands located in: 

  • the lips
  • the cheeks
  • the pads of the feet
  • under the chin
  • at the base of the tail 
  • the area surrounding the teats in females. 

 

 

When cats rub their faces on things, sharpen their claws on an object, spray urine, or leave their feces uncovered, they are depositing pheromones. These pheromones linger in the area and help cats “leave a message” for any other cats that pass by.

 

It’s easy to get frustrated with your cat when these messages damage your furniture or stain your carpet, but remember: your cat is trying to communicate, not destroy your home. Just giving them objects they’re allowed to “mark,” like scratching posts and other cat furniture, is often all they need to convince them to deposit their pheromones in more appropriate places.

Science and Pheromones: Synthetic Pheromones


Some feline pheromones have been synthesized in the laboratory and are available commercially.  Feliway and Comfort Zone are two brands of synthetic cat pheromones. 

Feliway Classic (Comfort Zone “Calming”) is a synthetic version of the pheromones cats deposit when rubbing their whiskers/lips on things. This particular pheromone marks the cat’s territory as safe and secure. 

Feliway Multicat (Comfort Zone Multicat Control) is a synthetic version of the “appeasing” pheromone mother cats use to soothe their kittens, and can help reduce tension in multi-cat households. 

Feliscratch replicates the pheromones released when a cat scratches something, marking territory and signaling that he was there. We can use Feliscratch to encourage cats to use a scratching post.

 

These products can be used alone or combined to help you tell your cat how you want him or her to behave. For example, you could use Feliscratch to make your cat’s scratching post more appealing, and also use Feliway Classic on other areas of your home to show your cat that they are already safely marked and there is no need to scratch there.

 

Feline pheromones are undetectable by human noses or other animals. So, you can’t smell the world the same way your cat does. But knowing the importance of pheromones in your cat’s world will help you better understand “why my cat does that”.

What does my cat smell?


Cats live in a landscape of odors. Odors tell them about their world and carry messages from other cats. 

Cats have two ways of detecting odors in their environment: the cells lining the nose and nasal cavity and the vomeronasal  organ  (VNO or  Jacobson’s  organ).  The VNO  consists of  two  fluid-filled  sacs  located  in  the  roof  of  the  cat’s  mouth that  connect  to  the  nasal  cavity  as  well  as  the  mouth. Molecules dissolved  in  the  nasal  mucus or saliva can be sucked into the VNO.

Sometimes,  you  will  see  a  cat  with  its  mouth  open,  lips  parted  and  upper  lip raised,  giving  the  appearance  of  a  grimace  or grin.  This  is  known  as  a  Flehmen  response and  allows  the  cat  to  draw  chemicals  into  the VNO.

Street addresses and Road Signs


The cat learns to associate certain odors/scents with a particular experience. To a cat, another animal or person has a signature odor. This collection of odors allows the cat to recognize an individual cat or other creature. For example, signature  odors can tell the cat the gender and health of another cat. 

The cat’s sense of smell also registers feline pheromones, chemicals that convey messages among cats.  These chemical messages can be understood only by other cats and are the same for all cats.

 

The signature odor is like a street address, telling the cat about an individual animal or object; pheromones are like traffic signs, alerting the cat to the presence of other cats and whether these cats are friendly or not.

Smells cats like (besides food!)


  • Catnip – a member of the mint family, contains nepetalactone, which can cause the “kitty crazies” in some of our feline friends!
  • Silver Vine – a plant from east Asia, has 6 compounds that are similar chemically to the active ingredient in catnip, nepetalactone.  More cats respond to silver vine than catnip.
  • Valerian Root – Contains 1 compound with similar chemical structure to nepetalactone
  • Tartarian Honeysuckle can also elicit a response in cats and is considered safe. 

Smells Cat’s don’t like


Smells cats don’t like include: citrus scents, vinegar, household cleaners

My four cats  also give lavender and rosemary a pass – there is no rubbing or nibbling on these although the humans sure enjoyed the indoor greenery during the winter!

 

DID YOU KNOW: Some cats do not respond to catnip; kittens will not respond to the herb until they are 4 months old or more.