My friend Mishu, from "Dear Mishu" reached out for help with a question she couldn't answer. Mishu's an Advice Columnist who also happens to be a dog. When one of her followers asked her “Can I treat my cat like a dog?” she realized that this was a little bit outside of her area of expertise, so she reached out to me!
Mishu, I am so glad you asked. The simple answer is “No!” A cat is not a small dog.
Seems obvious. Yet, we really do treat cats like small dogs, and then we are mystified and irritated when they don’t act like dogs. This disconnect can be the source of lots of problems.
Let me break it down for you.
1- Can I feed my cat like a dog? Well, you can, but it’s going to cause problems – like “scarf and barf”, waking you up at night to be fed, obesity and anxiety. Dogs are like people and eat 1-2 meals a day (or less in the wild). Cats hunt 80% of the time that they are awake. They eat a tiny, mouse-sized meal as many as 15x during the day and night. Even indoors, cats are physically and mentally hard-wired to hunt for tiny portions of food around the clock. And then sleep. A lot. When we feed them from a bowl and taking hunting away from cats, we get all kinds of problems.
2- Can I love on my cat like I love on my dog? That’s risky business. You might get bitten. Many dogs love long, attentive patting sessions – particularly on the belly. Try that with most cats, and you are likely to get yourself bitten. A cat’s predatory nervous system is easy to activate. Therefore, most cats prefer short sessions of affection and get overstimulated as the patting and stroking goes on. It’s up to you to stop before it’s too much! And don’t even try the belly. Cats like to be pat on the base of the chin, base of the ears, behind the whiskers and on their back by the base of the tail.
3- Can my cat chill where my dog chills? Maybe. Dogs are very happy on the floor or the furniture for chill sessions. Cats will happily hang around there too. But, cats instinctively need to climb to a high point in the room to feel relaxed. They can survey from up there. So, get a cat tree &/or cat shelves and make use of vertical space for a happy cat.
4– My cat is low maintenance, right? Well, no. They just aren’t showing you what they need. Dogs are pack animals; cats are solitary survivors. In a pack, you help each other out. So, your dog is instinctively programmed to let you know what he needs. Most dogs are great at this! Cats are solitary survivors, and showing you what they need can get them killed (in nature). So, cats are masters at hiding how they feel and what they need. They do have needs, and it’s up to us to know what they are and how to give it to them - before they are so stressed that they start acting out.
For specifics on cat’s innate needs, check out more of my blogs, or https://indoorpet.osu.edu/cats