EXCLUSIVE FEATURESCat Care - Happy welfare for your Cat

Cat Care – Happy welfare for your Cat

Cat Welfare Assistant and Registered Veterinary Nurse, Laura Watson from pioneering cat welfare charity, International Cat Care, gives advice on the five pillars of a healthy environment for your feline friend from kitten to senior cat.

Optimising welfare to ensure we have happy, healthy cats throughout all their life stages, relies on meeting three aspects of the feline health triad (all of which are connected and equally important):1

  • Physical health
  • Cognitive health (how a cat thinks)
  • Emotional health (how a cat feels)

Sick CatEnhancing a cat’s environment to meet their species-specific needs and individual preferences will not only have a positive impact on their cognitive and emotional health, but also their physical health. The negative effects of stress on a cat’s physical health are well reported in feline research and changes in a cat’s normal behaviour are often one of the first signs that alert an owner or caregiver to the presence of pain, stress, or distress.2

A cat’s environment includes their physical surroundings (indoors or outdoors), social interactions and responses to human interactions. Meeting a cat’s environmental needs can help prevent disease, reduce anxiety, and help prevent unwanted behaviours (such as toileting problems or inter-cat conflict) that can be associated with a stressful environment. We can optimise a cat’s wellbeing by ensuring the five pillars of a healthy feline environment are provided.

For cats with outdoor access, safe places can be created by planting shrubs and positioning pots – especially around the cat flap or entry/exit points of the home which can help conceal your cat as they move through their environment. Installing a microchip cat flap will help prevent unfamiliar cats from entering the home. Senior cats with joint pain may struggle to access safe places, so providing shallow steps, ramps, or strategically placed furniture at varying heights can help them access their favourite spots. In multi-cat homes, a safe place should have more than one entry to prevent other cats from blocking access, which could result in inter-cat conflict. Make sure there are enough safe places in the home to ensure every cat has their own in separate areas.

These include feeding, drinking, toileting, scratching, play and resting/sleeping areas. Resources should be available in multiple locations, either to provide separate access in multi-cat households or choice for individual cats. Each key resource should be placed in its own location, separate from other resources so cats can satisfy their species-specific needs to perform these behaviours in different locations.

Eating facilities
Cats are solitary predators, so they should never share a food bowl or be fed next to each other. Placing food bowls away from corners and walls helps cats survey their surroundings. Separating bowls away from water and litter facilities is also important to prevent contamination. Raising bowls off the floor can help senior cats with arthritis access their food more comfortably – just make sure they don’t have to go too far to find it! Making sure food is close by is also important for kittens to help them find it easily whilst they settle into their new home.

Drinking facilities
Provide separate water containers, in quiet locations away from windows and doors. These should be cleaned daily and filled to the surface of the bowl. Plastic containers can taint the water with a taste that is unpleasant to cats and some cats don’t like the reflection or noise created by metal bowls. A large, wide, glass or ceramic water bowl can help cats see the water surface and avoid shadows when they drink (which might put them off). A wide bowl also helps prevent the cat’s whiskers from touching the bowl – something they can be very sensitive about. Water fountains or dripping taps provide the cat with a moving water source if they prefer.

Scratching facilities
Providing appropriate scratching facilities is not only important to allow cats to express natural behaviours, but also to help prevent scratching on undesirable surfaces (eg, furniture and carpets). Cats can scratch both vertically and horizontally and scratching facilities should be:

  • Tall or long enough to allow the cat to fully stretch their forelimbs (60 cm minimum length)
  • Heavy enough to prevent movement when scratching
  • Made of a suitable material to provide resistance (eg, sisal twine, corrugated cardboard, carpet, bark, or wood)
  • Located near a sleeping location and places they prefer to scratch on (eg, the sofa)

Synthetic feline pheromones or catnip sprayed or sprinkled on the scratching surface can encourage their use, as can playing with a wand toy around or over the post. Horizontal options may be easier for senior cats to scratch on as they don’t need to stretch up, placing all their weight on their hind limbs which can be uncomfortable. Ensure a kitten’s small scratching post is replaced with a larger one as they grow.

We can help cats express as many aspects as possible of natural predatory behaviours by using play and food.


  • Hide food in multiple locations around the home
  • Scatter-feed dry food or kibble, or toss kibbles for cats to chase
  • Provide puzzle feeders, handmade or store-bought timed feeders to promote small and frequent meals

Cat playing with toyPlay

  • Move a rod or wand with a fur or feather toy on the end in a way that mimics flying prey (swooping through the air) or ground prey (moving in straight lines swiftly away from the cat)
  • Let the cat catch the toy on the end of the rod or wand to simulate a capture
  • Reward the cat with a treat following play
  • Use toys that cats can manipulate with their paws or mouth and those that can contain food
  • Use feather and fur toys that can be pounced on and tossed into the air to mimic flying or ground prey
  • Use large soft toys that can be raked and bitten for senior cats whilst they gently lay on their side

Cats should never be forced to interact with us. Allowing the cat to initiate, choose and control the type of human contact and learning the cat’s individual interaction preferences will help build a strong bond.

Try lowering down to the cat’s level, avoiding fixed eye contact, and giving the cat time to approach and make physical contact. Give cats time to choose to sniff your hand. If the cat appears relaxed and wants to interact, gentle stroking of the head and around the cheeks is the most appropriate way to make contact. Talking gently to the cat can help to put it at ease. When a cat ends an interaction by moving away, further interactions should not be forced. Kittens should never be encouraged to play with hands or feet as this can become potentially dangerous behaviour as they grow into their adult teeth and claws.

Cats use scent and chemical information to evaluate their surroundings and maximise their sense of security and comfort. Olfactory and pheromonal signals deposited when a cat scent marks by facial and body rubbing, establishes the boundary of their core living area in which they feel secure and safe.

Tips to prevent interfering with the cats’ chemical signals and scent profile include:

  • Avoiding strongly scented products – candles, diffusers, perfumes, disinfectants
  • Wash their bedding on a rotation, so they always have familiar-smelling blankets
  • Not cleaning the areas they allo-rub, or cleaning them on a rotation
  • Using synthetic feline pheromones to reduce anxiety
  • Placing footwear and shopping bags at the entry to the home to prevent bringing unfamiliar smells inside
  • Exposing new items to the cat’s scent profile by rubbing them with a cloth that has been in contact with the cat’s scent glands

International Cat Care is a charity founded in 1958 by a small group of very passionate cat lovers, who were compelled to do something about the dismal lack of information about cat health and welfare.

The International Cat Care website also contains lots of useful information and resources on cat health and behaviour. You can also make a donation and help support International Cat Care’s vital work to help cats all over the world. For more information visit icatcare.org

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