Going on vacation? Cats are creatures of routine, so as much as you can keep your cat’s lifestyle stable. Ideally, keep your cat at home as cats feel safest and most comfortable in their familiar environment.

Do not leave your cat alone for more than 12 hours without someone to check on them. This is to ensure attention to medical emergencies, make sure your cat is eating, and provide your cat with much needed affection and mental stimulation. If you are going away for more than 10 days, it is best to have someone who can spend the night at least a few times a week while you are away.

How to Find a Cat-Sitter

When Hiring a Cat-Sitter

Boarding

Sometimes there is no choice but to board your cat. Boarding can be stressful for any cat. Plan ahead. Make sure room is available.

Your Cat at Someone Else’s House

Confine the cat to a “safe room” preferably away from loud unfamiliar noises and other animals. Some cats will need to stay confined to one room for the duration of the visit, depending on how outgoing (or shy) your cat is and how comfortable she is with strangers, other animals, and new environments. Security is key so make sure there is no chance for your cat to escape through open windows, cat doors or other doors left open. If she does escape she will be lost and far from home.

Traveling with Your Cat

Prepare ahead of time. Is your cat comfortable in a crate for the duration of the trip? Does your cat need any health certificates or vaccines before the trip? It is always a good idea to talk to your veterinarian about any vaccines or other medications. Bring enough food, litter, and medications (if needed).

Finally, have a great trip! You can relax knowing that you have prepared properly and can either travel with your cat or leave her at home in safe hands, where she will be comfortable until you return.

Why Get a Scratching Post?

Cats scratch on things for two reasons: to shed their claws and to mark their territory. To save your furniture from damage, you need to provide your cat with a scratching post or two and teach him how to use it.

Tips for Scratching Post Use:

Once your cat is using the scratching post you have provided, you can teach him that other things are off limits. If you catch your cat scratching the sofa or chair, make those areas undesirable by covering them with aluminum foil or double sided sticky tape or lightly spray the area with a lemon scent. Do not spray or scold your cat as this can make him fearful of you and your cat may learn to scratch the sofa or couch in your absence. It’s important to entice your cat to the scratching post and praise him for using it.

Types of Posts

Horizontal or vertical. The first thing to consider when buying your cat a scratching post or furniture is whether or not he prefers vertical or horizontal surfaces. Some cats like to rear up and pull down, while others like to stretch way out along the floor and pull. Most large cat trees provide both surfaces, while the basic post is more for vertical than horizontal. Cardboard types tend to lie directly on the floor. Some types of vertical scratching posts can be hung from a doorknob or off the back of a door. The best thing you can do is observe your cat. If he tends to rear up to claw, then a vertical post is your best bet. If your cat favors your carpet or rugs, then a floor-based horizontal scratching post is better.

Sisal rope. Sisal rope scratching posts and cat furniture provide long-lasting scratching surfaces for cats. Sisal is very tough and resists shredding very well. Sisal scratching posts are excellent choices for cats that prefer to claw and scratch rough surfaces. The main downside to sisal is that it is not very easy to incorporate catnip into in order to make it more attractive to your cat.

Carpet. Carpeted scratching posts and cat furniture make up the bulk of most manufactured products. It is easily made, easy to work with, and can be attached to many different surfaces and shapes. Carpet is not nearly as durable as sisal, so over time it shreds and loses bits of the nap, making it messy. Carpet also retains dirt and debris, so it will need occasional vacuuming.

Cardboard. Cardboard scratching surfaces are fairly new and by far the cheapest alternative. Most cardboard scratching surfaces are refillable. Cardboard, which has a lot of holes, can easily accommodate catnip to make it more attractive; however, it shreds easily, leading to bits of cardboard around the house. Some cats also like to chew on cardboard, which is not good due to the chemicals present within it.

Wood. Wood is another type of scratching surface. These types are not very common but are probably the closest thing to what a cat in the wild would use to stretch, mark, and shed on. A wood post will be very durable, more so than sisal. It does not lend itself to hosting catnip, but it also will not retain dirt or leave bits of itself lying around.

The most common reported form of aggression towards guardians in young indoor cats involves play aggression with unsolicited attacks, anywhere from light scratches to hard uninhibited skin- breaking bites. This behavior usually occurs in younger animals less than two years of age; however it can last many years into adulthood. There is no gender or breed predilection when it comes to play in cats, they all do it. Normal play behavior includes social, object, locomotor, and predatory play. They all start between 4-8 weeks of age and if not given the opportunity to play appropriately may lead to misunderstanding, behavior problems, and aggression as well as destruction of property. Under-stimulation such as being left alone all day or lack of appropriate play and exploratory behavior options may worsen the condition. Be aware that play time during early morning and evening hours corresponds with natural rhythm of hunting behavior in felines.   It is therefore important to know exactly when and how to properly play with your feline companion.

There are a variety of cat toys on the market and include food and puzzle toys and toys that bounce, flutter, or move in a way that entices the cat to chase. The best toys for active play are string or wand toys that look like feathers or streamers or a toy dandling from a fishing pole. Even a peacock feather makes a great interactive toy due to its length. For timid cats its best to stay away from large or noisy toys and not to choose a toy that could appear intimidating. Some cats are more attracted to things in the air while others prefer staying closer to the ground.  Knowing whether your cat prefers air or ground play hunting will be an advantage, and you may have to try several different toys and rotate them frequently before you find the ones your cat likes best. Your cat’s age and physical condition will have to be taken into account.  An elderly or out-of-shape cat will benefit more from ground hunting.

When you play with your cat try to imitate the movement of prey—this is much more interesting to your cat than continuous movements. Sometimes just a subtle movement and twitching of the toy can catch your cat’s eye, and your cat will plan its attack. Avoid dangling the toy in your cats face; no prey does that.

For your sessions to be most effective, play at least twice daily for about 10 to 15 minutes each time. Include a morning play session before you go to work to prepare your cat for a day home alone; leave her with a variety of food and puzzle toys to engage in solitary play. The play session when you get home is extremely important for an indoor cat because she probably napped much of the day. If you’re consistent in scheduling playtime, your cat will soon look forward to your arrival. Yet another play session can be scheduled before you go to bed, this helps some cats sleep calmly through the night.

When playtime is over, be sure to put all interactive toys away. In addition to the danger of strings being chewed, these toys should be reserved for your play sessions. Between sessions you can leave furry mice and other safe toys out for solo play. Don’t leave out too many toys because they’ll soon lose their appeal. Rotating a few helps prevent boredom, and your cat will think she’s getting a new toy each time it reappears.

Tips

How to Avoid Problems

Benefits of Interactive Play

Contrary to popular belief, play aggression can occur in a cat of any age. The term “play aggression” can be deceiving, as this type of aggression can sometimes be extremely intense, especially if the cat has started to target people in the household. Play aggression in cats involves biting and clawing as well as stalking and attacking people and generally treating people as a cat would treat prey or another cat. This behavior peaks in most cases in the morning and evenings—just like in the hunting would. Play-aggressive cats are usually young and very active; however, even older cats can be playfully aggressive. These cats tend to be very high-energy cats that become easily bored and have a short attention span. They will usually find just about anything to play with and are very rough and intense in their play. Lack of scheduled appropriate playtime is a major factor contributing to play aggression. Play aggression is often exhibited in cats that are ignored or left alone for long periods of time without a human or animal playmate.

When dealing with this form of aggression it is important to understand that play behavior is natural in all cats, and especially in kittens. Play is a natural and incredibly important part of the development. It keeps them healthy and helps them learn about social interactions with other cats or kittens. It’s also an energy releaser—and as everybody knows, kittens have endless energy! Kittens begin playing with their littermates, which helps them to develop their motor and hunting skills. In adult cats, not only can playtime ease stress and help adjust to a new home, it helps improve health, and strengthen the bond between cat and human.

Play aggression in felines is a behavior issue that can be understood, improved, and lived with as long as adopters understand the behavior and are willing to utilize suggested techniques consistently to ensure a happy home for both person and kitty.

Types of Play Matters—Interactive or Solo Play

Remember that playtime is like a hunting game for your cat. Interactive toys are the best way to play with your cat, and they usually feature a fishing pole design, with a toy dangling on the end of a string or wire. With interactive toys you can imitate various types of prey: birds, mice, snakes, bugs. Remember to move the toys like prey, as if they were trying to get away from the hunter, so don’t dangle the prey right in your cat’s face. On the other hand, don’t make it too hard for your cat to catch the toy. You want her to have many successes so that the play is fun and rewarding.

The other type of play for cats is solo play—toys they can play with by themselves. This depends on the cat’s level of activity and ability to self-entertain, but the most common types are ping pong balls, catnip toys, food dispensing toys, and fuzzy mice. They should be light enough for kitty to bat around since she will have to “bring them to life” by herself. Toys should be mentally stimulating and rotated regularly to prevent boredom.

Hands Are Not Toys

Never play roughly with a cat, wrestle with it, or move your hands so that the cat chases them. It is very important whenever you are playing with any cat to use a toy. Even if the rough play, biting, and scratching do not bother the owner, the cat will learn that your body parts are toys to bite and scratch.

Teaching Appropriate Play

Get your cat started on the right paw by training her how to play appropriately with humans. By always using toys for play, you are off to a good start. However, some kittens may still try to bite and scratch people because they may still see everything that moves as a toy. Also, they may accidentally miss the toy and grab your hand or arm. If this happens it is “GAME OVER,” stop the play immediately. The kitten will learn that play stops when she gets too rough. Ignore the cat for a while and do not give the cat any attention, you can then resume play with the cat once she has calmed. If done consistently (by everyone who interacts with the cat) it will decrease the chances of it happening again in the future, and over time you should see an improvement.

You should always try to steer the kitten’s playful behavior towards toys. The first step is to give the cat as much interactive playtime as possible. However, if the cat is still attacking humans, you can try to intercept the behavior. If you can anticipate the attack (you may see dilated pupils, a swishing tail, or other “pre-pounce” behaviors, like hiding or crouching) you can throw a toy just before the cat is about to attack. This redirects the attack towards the toy, and away from humans. However, if the cat has already attacked, owners should not offer her a toy immediately as this would be rewarding the aggressive behavior and may even increase the chance that she will attack in the future.

How to React to a Playfully Aggressive Attack: Dos and Don’ts

Your response to an attack from your cat can determine if the attack escalates or ends, and if the behavior will improve or worsen. Consistency is important.

Don’t:

Do:

Play-aggressive cats generally need a lot of room to romp and play. A large apartment or house is best. However, you can increase territory and create more vertical space in your home with perches and cat trees.

Keep in mind that play can impact the cat-human relationship in a positive manner. It can lead the cat to associate a regular positive experience with the person. This can increase trust and is especially helpful in relationships where a cat is unsure about a particular person.

Has your kitten been waking you up at 5 AM for food and a good play session or even keeping you up all night playing vigorously with toys he ignores during the day? Pouncing on your feet the moment you finally fall asleep? Or has your senior cat who sleeps all day become vocal all night and not able to fall asleep?

There are two different categories of nocturnal behaviors in the cat: 

  1. The young cat being active due to being “crepuscular” (which means they’re most active at dawn and at dusk). This is the best hunting time and although our cats are domesticated and rarely have to hunt for their food, this behavior is still engrained and can lead to higher levels of activity and play behavior during those hours of the day. It’s important to remember that as far as the cat is concerned these behaviors are normal, although guardians often call them “bad habits.”

 

  1. The senior cat being active at night due to shifts in the sleep cycle, which can be signs of onset of cognitive dysfunction, and vocalization due to changes/loss in hearing ability or even anxieties. Any senior cat with the onset of such changes in sleep cycles should be examined by your veterinarian first.

This handout will hopefully provide you and your cat with a better night’s sleep.

Prevention and Modification

These tips can be used to prevent and modify behaviors with kittens, adult, as well as senior cats.

NEVER punish your cat. Physical punishment, throwing things, using electronic collars, squirt bottles, or even yelling can destroy the human-animal bond. Cats that are motivated to play and are being punished for trying to play may become conflicted and aggressive.

Letting your cat go outdoors might seem like a good idea; however, it might put your cat at high risk of disease, injury and even death if the outdoor environment is not safe. See the handout Indoor vs. Outdoor for more information.

Goal

To provide an outlet for excessive energy

Benefit

Satisfies cat’s predatory drive, increases physical fitness, and encourages cats to play appropriately.

What You Need

An imagination for creation, several toilet or paper towel cardboard rolls, an old fabric glove, string, catnip, tissue paper, and straw or raffia.

Tunnel Vision

Love in a Glove

For more creative ideas: 50 Games to Play with Your Cat by Jackie Strachan

The Importance of Confinement

When introducing any cat into a new home, there is one thing all cats need—time to adjust to his new space. You can make the adjustment period shorter by letting your cat get to know his new home slowly. Many adopters hesitate to confine their cats, thinking it is “mean,” but the nicest thing you can do for your cat is give him a “safe space” at first.

Cats and their territory. Cats are territorial by nature, and their first priority in any situation is establishing and knowing their territory. Only once the cat is comfortable in his space can he feel comfortable eating, drinking, resting, and eliminating.

The safe space. Ideally, this area should be a small, quiet room (bathrooms, small offices, or large walk-in closets are all good candidates) without any hiding spaces such as under the tub or bed, behind a bookshelf, etc. You don’t want to have to pull your cat out of hiding in order to interact with him. However, you can provide your cat with an acceptable hiding space by tipping a box on its side and putting a towel inside. You may also find that your cat, like many others, enjoys cat cozies or tee-pee style beds.

The room should be set up with a litter box on one end of the room, and the food, water, and bedding on the other side of the room, as far away from the litter box as possible. The cat should be given some safe toys to play with, and should be given visits while confined to this space. Start off slowly when visiting your kitty—don’t do too much petting or interacting until the cat has had some time to settle in. Sit in the room and see if the cat will approach you. If not, offer him your hand to sniff and try some gentle face pets. Give your cat frequent breaks and work up to more handling. Be patient and remember, the more love, the quicker he will adjust!

The importance of a safe space. Confinement is especially crucial for shy or fearful cats. Many cats are overwhelmed when they first move into a new place; this is normal behavior. However, for a cat that is naturally fearful, it is even more terrifying to be in an unfamiliar space. Given the free run of the house, a scared cat will often bolt around, looking for a safe place to hide. Many cats injure themselves running into furniture or walls in a panic. He may also hide somewhere unsafe (such as under the stove, inside a reclining chair), and stay in hiding for several days. He may forego eating, or even urinate or defecate in his hiding space. The “safe room” gives them a small space where he will feel secure, and will also make him more sociable with you. The less he is worried about his territory, the more interested in YOU he will be! By providing your scared kitty with a cozy or box to hide in, you are making him feel safe in a way that also allows you to pet him while he is hiding.

Kittens and confinement. Kittens also benefit from an initial confinement to a small room (or even to a large cage/crate.) This will give you time to kitten-proof the rest of your house. There are three reasons to confine a smaller kitten: it reinforces good litter box habits, it prevents injury, and it means you don’t have to search for your kitten.  This is especially important when you are unable to supervised during the kitten’s initial adjustment period and if you have a large home.

Moving into a new home. When moving, it is best to confine your cat to a safe room before and after the move. The more you can prevent him from being exposed to the chaos that comes with moving, the better!  If he is startled by the commotion, there is a good chance he could slip outside when doors are left open. Be sure that anyone helping with the move knows that there is a cat in the room by putting a sign on the door so they don’t accidently open it. Eliminate chances for escape when transporting your cat to his new home by putting him in a secure carrier while he is still in the safe room. In the new house, again give him a safe room to adjust to before allowing him full access to the house.

When bringing a new cat into a home with resident kitties, the new cat should be confined to one room for a few days (sometimes weeks). This allows the cats to get to know each other by scent and accept each other’s presence without having to see each other face to face, which can be a very threatening experience for a cat. Please refer to our Introducing Cats handout for more instructions on this subject.

When to let your cat explore. You may be wondering when you can be sure that it’s okay to let your kitty out of his safe space. For some cats, the confinement period will be only a few hours—for others it could be several weeks. The important thing is that you do not rush your cat into being exposed to more space than he can handle. You will want to see all of the following:

  1. The cat is performing his natural functions: eating, resting, grooming, and using the litter box.
  2. The cat is responsive, allowing you to pet and play with him.
  3. The cat is comfortable with you doing normal activities in the room, and is not afraid of you when you stand up or walk around.
  4. The cat is showing some interest in getting out of the room.

Don’t mistake just one signal for readiness. Even a very scared cat may meow or scratch at the door for attention. This does not mean the cat is ready to explore more space—for example, if you notice that the cat meows at the door, but when you open the door he runs and cowers back in his bed or box, he is not ready.

When possible, expand a cat’s territory slowly (especially for fearful cats). You should close all the doors to bedrooms and allow the cat to first explore the hallway and rooms that do not close off (such as the kitchen and living room). If at anytime your cat seems overwhelmed, return him to his safe room for a few hours and try introducing him to the rest of the house later.

Don’t feel bad for confining your kitty at first. It will help him relax and adjust to his new surroundings much quicker. The sooner he adjusts, the sooner he will have full-run of the house in his comfortable new home!

Indoor cats and outdoor cats encounter different challenges and risks. An indoor cat might suffer from boredom and medical issues such as obesity leading to stress, behavior problems, and early death; the outdoor cat is at higher risk for diseases, injuries, and getting lost. Whatever you and your cat’s choice is, it is important to maintain good welfare for both options.

Making the Outdoors Safe

Making the Indoors Attractive

Remember: even indoor cats should be regularly vaccinated, receive flea prevention, and be micro-chipped. We recommend that all cats wear breakaway collars with up-to-date contact information for their guardians. In an earthquake, fire, burglary, or other mishap, a cat can easily become lost outside, and identification is her best bet for getting home.

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