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How Do I Know if My Cat is Happy? Research Redefines Feline Stereotypes

07 October 2014

ANALYSIS - Everyone is familiar with the stereotypical 'cat lady'. A woman, living alone, surrounded by dozens of cats. However, new research suggests that this idea may be outdated, with cats actually preferring the quiet, solo life instead, writes Gemma Hyland.

Every day there are headlines about the UK's cat population reaching all-time highs, with increasing numbers of cats living together, but is this good for their well-being?

Lindsey Quinlan, Battersea Dogs & Cats Home’s Head of Cattery said: "Every cat has its own unique personality, and therefore it entirely depends on the individual pet as to whether it is happier living alone or with another feline.

"Some moggies will find living with other cats very unsettling and stressful, and some will merely tolerate the presence of another cat in the house.

"Usually cats that enjoy the company of another feline are cats that have lived with a litter mate or family member since their socialisation period, before 9 weeks of age.

"Space is a key factor in kitty companionship, if a cat is kept entirely indoors; it's probably safest to only have one cat in the household to avoid disputes over resources, such as food, space and owner’s attention."

Cat friendship is a feline mystery

According to the Humane Society of the United States, many factors determine how well cats will get along with one another, but even animal behavior experts don't fully understand them.

We do know that cats who are well-socialised (those who had pleasant experiences with other cats during kittenhood) will likely be more sociable than those who haven't been around many other cats.

On the other hand, "street cats," who are in the habit of fighting with other cats to defend their territory and food, might not do well in a multi-cat household.

How can I help my cat be happy and show its natural behaviour?

The best way to make sure your cat feels happy at home is by providing it with an enriched environment to meet its individual needs.

Here are some essential items every cat should have at home:

• Places to perch at different levels
• Places to hide.
• Opportunities to express its predatory behaviour, which can be done through play - stalking, pouncing and 'killing' a toy.
• Scratching posts.
• Three very distinct and separate areas for food, water and litter (if the cat has a tray inside), and each cat in the household should have its own feeding station, drinking station and toiling station.
• There should be plenty of space for each cat to rest, and in a multi-cat household each cat should have its own, distinct areas away from the areas of other cats
• Feeding toys, which can provide cats with a challenging (i.e. problem solving) way to eat their food. Domestic cats have evolved from solitary hunters, who had to work for their food (and not just have it delivered twice a day).
• Novelty - new items to explore and play with on a regular basis.
• Choice! Allowing the cat to set the pace, and decide on the amount of interaction it wants from people/other cats.

Cat Watch 2014: The New Horizon Experiment

Cat Watch 2014: The New Horizon Experiment is a new three-part series presented by Liz Bonnin, Professor Alan Wilson and his team from the Royal Veterinary College, and cat experts Doctor John Bradshaw and Doctor Sarah Ellis.

They combine GPS tracking technology and cat-cams with a unique set of scientific experiments.

This time they’re tracking, testing, filming and following 100 cats living three very different lifestyles; living cheek-by-jowl in the terraced streets of Brighton city centre, village cats from Rottingdean with far more room to roam, and working farm cats who rely on their hunting skills to survive.

Throughout this BBC Two series we meet owners and cats including Ozzy - the king of his terraced street; Sandwich - one of the top hunters in the village; and Tigger - a city cat caught on camera chasing down his neighbour.

This revealing practical study into a cat’s ability to live alongside us yet retain that independent wild side underlines why cats have become modern humans’ greatest animal friend (just don’t tell the dogs).

Cat Watch 2014 starts tonight on BBC Two at 8pm.

Gemma Hyland, Editor

Gemma Hyland, Editor



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