8 Steps to Keep Your Cat Happy
Updated: Mar 20
This article was written by Pet Community Center co-founder, former Board Chair, and current Marketing Committee volunteer, Jourdan Parenteau. You can learn more about the author at the end of the post.
Cats play such an important role in our lives, providing us comfort, joy, affection and maybe even a few laughs. Most importantly, they play the role of family. Oftentimes, our busy lifestyles, ever-changing routines, and methods for our own convenience, can disrupt their methodical approach to consistency. If you feel that you could improve the love language that you’re giving to your feline family member, below are some tips to keep your cat happy.
(1) Keep a Consistent Routine
Your cat loves consistency. Even small tweaks that you might think couldn’t possibly affect your cat, such as what time you get home in the evening or new sounds or scents in your home can really disrupt a cat’s everyday routine.
There are bigger changes like bringing a new pet into the home or even moving into a new home. These are monumental changes for a cat and can be triggers for stress. Cats prefer a consistent routine, so if you’re expecting change, try to alleviate the stress by introducing the new change in small doses at a time.
This could look like starting to push back the time that you’re coming home gradually so that this new shift feels more natural. When bringing a new pet into the family, keep it separated initially and start by slowly introducing items like a blanket or bedding on your cat’s own timing and terms. Cats would prefer to accept change on their own rather than being forced into it.
(2) Food for Thought
Cats' dietary needs change throughout their lives. Adult cats need a completely different diet than they did as kittens. Senior cats might need some adjustments to their diets as they age. Cats have a variety of dietary needs as they age or have any medical concerns, and ensuring that your cat is getting the proper diet for their needs is very important.
Ask your veterinarian about what foods are best for your cat at the current phase in her life to be sure she’s getting all of the proper nutrition that she needs. Cats who are overweight might need to be put on a diet or change foods to get down to an ideal body weight to keep their organs functioning properly.
Cats are sensitive to changes in diet, so anytime you must change their food, do it gradually, over the span of a week or two. Never immediately change their food at once. Cats also prefer to have space for their whiskers, so observe the size of the bowl and how your cat eats out of that bowl. Is the location of the food in a convenient place for your cat? Does he feel safe while eating in this space? Offering an elevated food station can also be less stressful on your cat’s back or neck while eating. Ask yourself if your cat’s food setup is ideal for him.
(3) Provide a Cat Approved Litter Box
Cat owners often try to make the litter box as hidden and convenient to them as humanly possible. Out of sight, out of mind is typically what we prefer when it comes to a cat doing its business. This way of thinking rarely considers what the cat's needs are.
Is your fully grown cat still using the tiny box you provided when she was a kitten? Do you have multiple cats all using one litter box? Is the litter box in an inconvenient location that a cat has to access by entering a garage or basement? In a multi-cat household, does one of your cats feel cornered or trapped in the box while other cats might show territorial behavior? Is your cat physically able to get in and out of the box?
As cats age, a taller litter box can be challenging to access. Strongly scented litter can be deterring to cats with an acute sense of smell. Lastly, how often do you scoop and change your cat’s litter box? They are similar to us in that they do not want a dirty restroom. Thinking about how your cat feels about his litter box setup is a huge step in providing them with a sense of security and happiness.
(4) Cats Just Want to Have Fun!
Cats thrive on playtime and activity as part of their physical and emotional needs. Offering playtime with your cat with an interactive toy encourages your cat to be the hunter and you to keep your distance from his teeth and claws. Allow your cat to “catch the prey” as well, so he feels successful in his playtime. This not only gives your cat a chance to expend some of his energy but strengthens the bond you have with him as well.
Believe it or not, playtime can reduce stress-related behavior problems and boredom, plus it’s fun for you as well. Make a commitment to play with your cat with an interactive toy at least twice a day. Having other toys sitting around is always a good idea, but does not substitute for the playtime that you’ll spend with your cat one on one. Puzzle feeders and strategically placed toys and treats can be a fun enhancement for your cat in between your play sessions as well. Cats also enjoy cat towers, tunnels, and perches to jump on and hide in as well. Even cardboard boxes and paper bags tend to provide a lot of entertainment for your cat.
(5) A Place to Call Their Own
Cats love to have hiding places. They offer fun and enrichment for your cat, as well as a sense of security and relaxation. You can offer enclosed beds, tunnels, or even something as simple as a cardboard box for your cat to escape when she wants to be left alone or take a nap. If your cat tends to get stressed, providing a space for her to get away can be really important.
Cats also love to go vertical. Provide your cat with a cat tower or tree that she can climb up high and observe her space from an elevated view. For bonus points, place this perch or tree in front of a window for bird-watching fun. Keep your cat’s safety in mind when offering these elevated spaces. Having more than one escape route is important, especially if you have a multicat household.
(6) Cats Need to Scratch
Did you know that cats don’t scratch to sharpen their claws as you might assume? A cat’s natural instinct to scratch serves many purposes including marking its territory or claiming something as its own. Scratching also keeps their claws healthy and offers a way to deeply stretch. Scratching can even be as simple as a means for relaxation or stress relief.
By discouraging your cat from scratching, you’re telling him that he cannot meet a basic need. Cats need to scratch, so offering him a preferred place to scratch is a healthier solution than telling him no, or worse, declawing him. Cats prefer very sturdy scratching posts that are taller than they are with their arms stretched upright (remember they use this for stretching). Take note of where your cats like to scratch, and place your scratching post there.
Also, notice if your cat is a vertical scratcher or a horizontal scratcher. If your cat prefers to scratch up the back of the sofa, he might be a vertical scratcher, and therefore needs a vertical post. If your cat scratches the carpet or couch cushion, she might be a horizontal scratcher and might prefer a corrugated cardboard option that lays flat. Offer a variety of scratching posts throughout your home to provide options.
(7) Learn to Speak Cat
Cats are excellent communicators and will tell you when they need space or want to be left alone. People who complain about getting bitten or scratched by a cat will sometimes say that “it came out of nowhere,” when in reality, the cat probably gave them plenty of warning signs.
Some cats will flatten their ears, wag or twitch their tails, or dilate their eyes when they are annoyed or overstimulated. Start to notice your cat’s body language for signs that he wants to relax, when he wants to play, and when he’s asking to have some alone time. Respecting your cat’s desire to be pet or left alone will greatly impact your relationship with him.
(8) Regular Veterinary Appointments are Important
Routine veterinary appointments to check on your cat’s health are very important. Cats are really good at hiding any symptoms of feeling unwell. Cats should have a regular annual vet exam, while seniors need to visit the vet twice a year. Any changes in your cat’s behavior should be noted and discussed with your vet right away.
For cats who might be fearful or stressed going to the vet, you can help to calm them by leaving the carrier out all the time, placing treats in and near the carrier, and covering it with a towel when taking him to the vet.
About the Author: Jourdan Parenteau
(Photo Credit: Mandy Whitley Photography)
Jourdan Parenteau is a co-founder and former Board Chair of Pet Community Center and currently serves on their Marketing Committee. Jourdan has volunteered with many animal welfare organizations trapping cats for TNR, fostering and adoption, providing advice as a cat behavior counselor, volunteering with several rescues and shelters, teaching kitten yoga, sea turtle nesting conservation, and animal welfare marketing, planning and fundraising.