As an excited and informed new cat parent, I know you have worked hard to research all of your kitten’s needs. You plan to feed the best food, and attend to every physical and medical need. I bet you have already picked out the best veterinarian in your neighborhood!
You plan to give your kitten the best of everything. But, there is one more step to give your kitten the best chance for a healthy life and a strong bond with you.
Veterinary behavioral science now knows that cats need more than shelter, food and a litterbox to have a happy life. They call these newly understood needs “Environmental Enrichment.” When you provide for your kitten's instinctive needs, your kitten stands the best chance of a happy, healthy life. And, as a result, the bond between you and your kitten will be stronger.
Stay tuned for this 5-part series describing the instinctive needs of your cat. We will explore these and give practical suggestions for how to implement them in your home.
Part 1 – Home sweet home! - Enriching the physical space
Just like you, your new kitten needs to feel safe in his/her home. But what makes a kitten feel safe? To best understand what will make your new fur-baby feel safe, you need to see the world from your kitten's point of view. When a cat feels nervous or insecure he/she will hide and will come out when they feel safe. This ability to hide will actually increase your cat's confidence and sense of security. So, don't force your cat out to play. Give your kitten lots of cozy places to hide! He/she will emerge when they are ready and will be more self-assured in their interactions with their new human parent - you!
Having a safe place to hide is essential to a cat’s wellbeing. In fact, scientists have studied shelter cats to better understand how hiding places effect their stress levels. You can imagine that one of the most stressful events in a cat’s life is being admitted to a shelter. When cats in shelters were given a simple open-sided box to hide in, they showed lower stress levels (Hawkins KR. Stress, enrichment and welfare of domestic cats in rescue shelters. PhD Thesis; University of Bristol, UK, 2005.)
Now that you understand how important hiding is for your cat's emotional well being, you can put your efforts into providing for those needs. Cats like to be in secure, enclosed spaces where they have the ability to see out. You may have experienced a cat’s love for a simple cardboard box. This is a great example of an enclosed space where a cat feels protected and can still see out to observe the environment for potential danger. In addition to cardboard boxes, there are many cat beds on the market that are covered and provide a lookout.
Your cat carrier is a great hiding spot for lots of reasons. It is a terrific idea to incorporate your cat carrier into daily life. You can enhance the good feelings by adding a cozy bed and feeding daily treats inside the carrier. The cat carrier will become a positive place to rest and be rewarded. Here's the bonus....when the day comes to travel to the veterinarian, your cat will associate the carrier with these positive feelings, instead of dread. Your cat will arrive with no anxiety and will be better prepared to deal with their visit.
So add some great hiding spots to your kitten's new home with boxes, beds and your cat carrier. These simple additions will help make you the best cat parent that you can be and will give your new kitten the best chance at a happy and healthy life!
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