The cat has an opinion of a completely undemanding animal, which is why it is more and more often chosen by people who, for various reasons, cannot afford a dog. The dog has to be walked a few times a day and properly trained. The cat seems to be free from such "disadvantages", it physiologically sleeps a lot, you do not have to walk it, according to frequently repeated opinions being a territory-oriented animal it only needs the owner to serve food. Such an approach often results in a cat entering the home that is completely unprepared for its reception. It is true that the environment is of enormous importance for a cat, yet it is not true that cats are indifferent to humans. A cat gets attached to the people it lives with no less than a dog, and this attachment varies, it is not the same for all the family members. A cat will recognise the footsteps of a loved one while waiting at the door, giving up its favourite nap, and very often it is not at all the person filling the bowls. At the same time, the cat's surroundings, the organization of our home space are of key importance to it, a properly arranged cat-friendly environment determines whether our cat will feel good and confident or will sneak up against the walls and hide under the furniture. That is why, while considering adopting a cat everybody should take a good look around their homes to try to look at them from a different perspective.
Let me start with the scratching post. Actually, I should have written "scratching posts" but I want you to read my article to the end :) Scratching posts are very important elements for a cat: they allow the cat to mark the area as its own.
It is best if the scratching post becomes a part of an over-ground path; if it is placed, for example, next to a wardrobe or a bookcase, it will become an easy access to this place. If we add a shelf on the other side, something leading to the next piece of furniture, our cat will be most happy to have an over-the-floor path to make its everyday site inspections. Generally, every place a cat can climb or access in any way should have an "escape route". If we manage to arrange our home so that the cat can go around at least half of the room without touching the floor, it will be a very friendly space for him. The arrangement of the shelves is a real challenge, they cannot be hung accidentally; if in the eyes of the cat they are "lonely islands" with no escape route, they will not be considered safe places and the cat will not use them. The cat treats our home as a territory where a stranger may come at any moment, and our cat, must have a strategy to be applied in such an event. It must have a "road map" of our interiors, a map compatible with cats’, not our needs and ideas.
An additional scratching post should appear in our house with each new cat. It does not have to be a large structure. In every scratching post, no matter how branchy, there is usually only one most attractive bed or shelf. That is why I usually do not advise buying very extensive posts, it is better to buy two simpler ones so that they can be freely placed together or separated depending on our, or rather our cats’ needs. However, be careful - if the scratching post is a part of the path, you have to place it carefully so that it will not become a "blockage" for another cat. You need to provide some passage next to it and very often the scratching post itself allows it, if the other cat is able to walk around the occupied bed using a shelf above or under it, then there is no problem.
In the photo below, there is a small scratching post with a cave and a half-moon shell, liked by most of my cats. To allow the cats to access the shelf on the right when the scratching post is occupied, I made a rather terribly-looking climb, wrapping it with a sisal rope for safety, and it turned out to fulfil its task as a footbridge perfectly.
Another example of a collision-free passage is given below, a cat sleeping on a scratching post does not prevent other cats from gowing from the shelf down onto the wardrobe.
Space planning becomes very important when we have more than one cat in the household, although we cannot forget about it even if we have only one cat. Some cats are very fearful and having no well-planned elements above the floor they close in on themselves even more. These are cats that hide under the sofa or in the wardrobe whenever the door bell rings. Very often, after changing the environment to a more friendly one, the same cat will simply jump onto the highest shelf and start looking at the "intruders" from such a safe distance. If we have more than one cat, the lack of proper environmental enrichment will lead to behavioural problems and fights between the cats. Cats are territorial animals, they do not create a hierarchical communities, they do not have assigned roles and positions in the group, but they will compete with all their energy for resources that, in their opinion, are insufficient. I emphasize, in their opinion, unfortunately it is not us who decide whether what we already have provided is enough.
In other words, if the scratching post has one attractive platform at the very top, we do not have a problem with one cat, but it will surely start when another cat appears in the household. Sometimes a place that one of the cats claims his own possession is the litter box, resulting in hunting for another cat at the entrance or making it impossible to use the toilet calmly. This rivalry can involve very different things, even our lap, and the relationship between cats can be different with respect to different things. A cat that is able to win priority over a particular bed may give way to other cats at the bowl, since everything depends on the "subject of dispute" and its importance for the particular cat.
The fact that cats lack something to be happy will not always be manifested by inappropriate behaviour or even aggression. Often the only thing that happens is that cats leave a place they constantly seek, but which for some reason is a source of frustration, which is misinterpreted with the short "my cats don't need it, they don't like it". The truth is that what cats do not like is open confrontation, and often, not wanting to expose themselves to possible injuries, they will start to avoid the particular resource, but it does not make it less necessary or desirable. A cat that gives up the competition for the desired place or another good will be excessively calm, often resigned, will move less (obesity), no aggression and no physical damage, but metabolic problems and depression following very soon.
Modern houses are usually very elegant, spacious interiors. Smooth floors (slippery floors promote problems in cats' joints, especially knee and hip joints), empty walls, an elegant sofa and coffee-table in the living room, sometimes a scratching post next to the window, everything is aesthetic and really nice. Such interiors, from the cats’ point of view, are very poor and make them feel uncomfortable, the cats are constantly tense, they cannot relax. They become "bathroom" cats; whenever I get letters in which the owners describe that their cat does not want to spend time with them and that their favourite bed is the sink, I usually guess what the rest of the house or apartment looks like. Of course, the cat has the right to want to have a moment of rest from us, even in the bathroom, but if it becomes his asylum, it is a signal for us that the cat lacks a lot in its environment.
I know that it is a little easier for me because I have a high apartment. Well, in every apartment there is some space above the doors, above the windows, on the walls. In fact, it is our minds where a breakthrough must take place if we want our cats to feel good with us. I'm talking about a situation where they feel really good, they are happy and playful, not just sleeping all day. Cats are curious creatures and if they are really happy they will not choose a place to sleep in the wardrobe, at least there aren't many cats like that. Most often they will want to lie in a place from which they will have an overview of the surroundings the moment they open their eyes after a nap. Cats choose strategic places according to their sense of security, which is why it is so important that our home has many offers for them.
Dorota Szadurska, Cat Behaviour Counsellor and Therapist
Graduate of post-diploma studies on Animal Psychology
Member of The International Society of Animal Professionals