We humans get so upset when cats don’t do what we want them to do, where we want them to do it. We do a remarkable job setting them up to fail while forcing them to comply in our human world. For example, the only one in the home that thinks that all the food and water has to be fed in the kitchen is you. Most scratching posts are placed in out of the way places where no one ever goes, which is the place where cats are least likely to “scratch mark” and use them. The only one that insists on litter boxes being placed in laundry rooms, closets, and basements, is also the humans! The key to compliance is understanding. If we better understand our cats, what they need, and why they need it in a certain place, then we can simply focus on providing aesthetically pleasing versions of that need so that they can be set up to succeed.
Competition for their most basic resources (food, water, litter, height, etc.) is one of the most common reasons multiple cat households develop intercat aggression problems. If you have cats that do not get along, why would you make them share the same food dish? If the victim cat has to spend most of his day trying to avoid getting attacked by its aggressor, someone is bound to miss a few meals. Many families also do a “treat” each day and force all of the cats in the home to congregate in one area and have their portion of the treat dispensed on tiny plates. In most of these scenarios, only the confident cats get to eat the treat and the others are pushed aside before they are finished or never get to have any at all.
Rather than creating all of this competition, create feeding “stations”; locations where your cats can take comfort that there will always be a reliable food source. This will also allow your cats to pick and choose where they feel most comfortable eating. They can eat with other cats that do not make them feel threatened and avoid a bully cat. One great location idea for where to create a feeding station is on their cat condos! Cats take great comfort in being up high. If you have a cat tree/condo that has a large enough flat surface then that is a great place for a food bowl, especially for a shy or bullied cat. This is also a great solution if you have dogs or toddlers that attempt to access the food bowl. On the desk in the home office, a windowsill perch, a bathroom (on the floor or countertop) are all great ideas for feeding stations (and water bowls). Get creative, but just be sure to pick a location where you know your cat(s) is already comfortable spending time.
When cats scratch they do so for 3 reasons: to groom their nails, to stretch and relieve stress, and to scent mark. Cats want to scratch mark in high traffic, frequented areas of the home and humans tend to hide the scratching posts in a guest bedroom where the family rarely spends time. This is why they would rather scratch a favorite armchair or some door trim molding. The best solution is to have a tall, sturdy scratching post that is aesthetically pleasing in these high traffic places. The family room, the breakfast nook, the home office, and master bedroom are all great locations for scratching posts. Cats want to place their scent in areas where their favorite humans’ scent is strong. If they are scratching the side of the sofa, then they are telling you that is where they want to mark and leave their scent, put a scratching post right next to the arm of the sofa! Once your cat is using it successfully for a few weeks then you can gradually inch it over to a place in the room where it is not in the way. Or just leave it where it is if it does not impede the ability to navigate the room.
Alternatively, cats usually want to mark with urine and feces around the perimeters of spaces. Most importantly they must feel safe and secure when eliminating. This is oftentimes why hooded litter boxes, boxes placed next to scary washers and dryers, and boxes placed in dark, cramped, off the beaten path areas are rejected by the cat. They will simply choose a nice open area, which is clean, inviting, and again safe to eliminate rather than use a place where they feel threatened for whatever reason. Once again we revisit the term of competition for resources. If you were attacked and smacked in the head every time you eliminated you would find a different place to go to the bathroom, wouldn’t you? The same holds true for cats. If you have multiple cats that do not get along why would you make them all use the same box? Having 3 boxes all lined up together isn’t any better! You could have 10 litter boxes, but if they are all in the same room, that is simply one giant box to your cats and they still have to figure out how to get in and out of the doorway to that room safely!
The solution is to have multiple litter box locations and this is for multiple reasons. Cats prefer to urinate in one place and defecate somewhere else entirely, this means ideally two litter box locations even if you only have one cat. Multiple litter box locations means that all the boxes cannot be guarded by one bully cat all of the time. The boxes stay cleaner as there is not as much deposited in just one box. Additionally, odor is controlled as the boxes are now spread throughout the house with less elimination in each box, so odor is not concentrated in one “litter box room”. Cats typically do not want a “cat room”; they prefer their needs to be dispersed throughout the home and if done so tastefully, this will keep your home looking and smelling beautiful and your cats happier and compliant!
When providing for your cats, one should always keep in mind the phrase “environment of plenty”. You can never have too many places to eat, sleep, scratch, and eliminate! Cats are the most three dimensional pet we as humans have chosen to domesticate. They like to climb and perch and freely move about the home without feeling threatened. Cats are also one of the least domesticated of our domestic species. They are still very in tune with their natural instincts and we force a very human world on them. Grasping a better understanding of why cats do what they do and where they prefer to do it, helps us be better pet parents.