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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