Cats 101

Cat Basics

Knowing a cats basic needs makes all the difference

ALWAYS REMEMBER: move at the speed of the cat!

Basic cat needs start with their feeling safe, secure, and stimulated through environmental enrichment. Essential in achieving these include fresh food and clean water, litter boxes that are cleaned regularly, scratching posts and climbing structures, areas where cats can rest and relax, toys with interactive play, frequent grooming, carriers for safe transportation, all in the comforts of home.

For more information, there is an excellent summary of a cat’s basic needs along with tips on how to solve some of the most common problems on the animal sheltering website. GO THERE IT’S WORTH YOUR TIME!

Here are a few excerpts from the guide mentioned above from the Humane Society of the United States.

Note: Karen Shinevar, one of CPAW NJ’s founders, took this class and believes that if we just understood these three ideas we could solve most issues people believe are “behavior problems”. “Cats don’t do anything to “misbehave”; they act to try and satisfy their basic needs.” Bottom line–it’s not about you, it’s about the cat! KS >^..^<

BIG IDEA #1: …they need to feel safe and secure in their home environment.

A cat who feels safe perceives the home environment as a territory where she can move freely and engage in her daily routines (eliminating, eating/drinking, playing, resting, sleeping, scratching) without fear of any threat to her well-being.

A cat who feels secure perceives the home environment as a territory that is familiar and predictable and which lets her choose where (and in some cases with whom) to engage in her daily routines. Familiarity, predictability and choice enable the cat to feel a sense of control over her environment, which coincides with this sense of security.

How do we create a sense of safety and security for cats?

Maintain predictability and familiarity in the home environment.
Provide adequate resources so the cat feels in control of her environment.
Provide adequate territory within the home.
Engaging the cat in daily interactive play sessions to decrease stress and increase confidence.

Cats perceive the world very differently…

Many cat owners do not appreciate the extent to which human and cat perceptions of the world differ. When cat owners understand their cats’ very specific needs and perceive the home environment from their cats’ points of view, they can begin to make sense of their cat’s behavior. This, in turn, increases the cat owner’s motivation to resolve the problem because she realizes the behavior is not the cat’s fault, nor is it the cat’s intention to cause the owner grief.

BIG IDEA #2: …they need to be stimulated in their home environment.

How do we make sure a cat is stimulated?

Interactive play
Environmental enrichment
Scratching posts
Window perches to view the outdoors
Tunnels, paper bags and boxes to explore
Solo toys that the cat bats around or tries to catch
Food foraging options in the home, like treat balls
Cat videos (which some cats enjoy watching)
Catios that allow cats to be outdoors while remaining safe

BIG IDEA #3: …they need to exercise their natural instincts.

The most common natural instincts that can lead to what we perceive as “behavior issues” are:


Climbing and resting on high surfaces.
Need to expend energy.
Eliminating in a clean and safe, secure area.

Follow these steps to resolve many behavior issues:

  1. Recognize that the cat is displaying a natural behavior.
  2. Redirect the cat to an appropriate surface or object.
  3. Deter the cat from the inappropriate surface or object.

NOTE: the above excerpts don’t contain all of the details, but it is these basic principles we believe will help you understand how to satisfy your cat’s basic instincts and make your home a happier place for two and four-footed family members!

Bringing Home a Cat

Make sure you have these basics for your family member:

Fresh food and water. Each cat should have their own food and water bowl in a safe and quiet place. Feed your cat a nutritionally balanced diet and provide fresh water 24/7. Educate yourself on your cat’s nutritional needs or ask your veterinarian for advice on what and how often to feed your cat.

Litter boxes and litter are essential for indoor cats. Not only for elimination but as a way to mark their territory. Since your home is their territory you can avoid elimination problems by providing an attractive litter box.

There are 4 basic things to consider when setting up a litter box.

  1. Litter box hygiene should be kept clean, scooping daily and washing regularly.
  2. Litter box type and size. Litter boxes are available in a variety of sizes and shapes. Cats generally prefer large, uncovered litter boxes, about one and a half times the length of the cat. Most cats prefer fine-grained, unscented litters.
  3. Litter box location and number – cats need quiet and privacy when using their litter box. It must be easily accessible, and in appropriate numbers, one more than the number of cats spread out in your home.

Scratching and climbing structures provide cats with an outlet for the instinct to scratch. Scratching is a natural behavior for cats. Even declawed cats retain the instinct to scratch. Scratching posts provide cats with an outlet for their instinct to scratch, and save your furniture and carpets.

Most cats prefer scratching posts made out of rough material they can shred. Scratching posts should be stabilized to ensure that they don’t move or tip over and scare your cat while she is using them. Scratching posts should be located in “public” parts of the house that the whole family uses. In multi-cat households, there should be several scratching posts both vertical and horizontal located throughout the house.

Rest and relaxation, and safety. Beds can be purchased, but snug blankets and towels are just as appealing to cats and are easy to wash. The refuge should be a place where your cat feels safe and comfortable, for example a bedroom or back room. Your cat can retreat to her refuge when she wants to rest.

Additionally, always use a cat carrier when transporting your cat, make certain that all windows are securely screened, keep washer and dryers closed, and check inside before each use (some cats like to climb in these appliances if left open), and get into the habit of ensuring that drawers, closets, and cupboards are uninhabited before you close them as a kitty may be lurking inside.

Cats are safest and often healthier if kept indoors. While a cat can find it interesting and desirous to be outside, there are many dangers outside including injuries, disease, parasites, predation, fighting, etc. that can harm or kill your cat.

You can make your home as, or more, interesting than outdoors with window seats, interactive toys, feeding puzzles, etc. Catios (outdoor enclosures) and walking your cat on a leash in your yard can extend the inside of your house to the outside.

Play opportunities Cat play is “pretend hunting” for mice, bugs, or birds. Some cats like toys that mimic their favorite prey, such as feather toys, play mice, or pieces of food rolled across the floor. If your cat isn’t impressed with toys, he may prefer to be brushed or petted. Don’t let your cat “go on the kill” on you!

Reading List

Starting from scratch, How to correct behavior problems in your adult cat by Pam Johnson-Bennett ISBN 978-0-14-31-311250-1

From the Cats Point of View by G Bowenkamp. ISBN 09460114 64
Cats for Dummies (2nd ed.) by G Spadafori. ISBN 0764552759

Your Home, Their Territory by C.A. Tony Buffington, DVM, PhD, DAVCM, The Ohio State University Medical Center, The Indoor Pet Initiative.

There are so many more….we will keep adding them!

Books for Kids

Nobody’s Cats, How One Little Black Kitty Came in From the Cold by Valerie Ingram & Alistair Schroff

Fairminded Fran and the three small black Community Cats by Linda Elder, illustrations by Kathy Abney, (Foundation for Critical Thinking, 2012). This book speaks directly to children about feral cats, why they matter and how to help them. Written by Dr. Linda Elder, a noted educational psychologist. “Fairminded Fran is a wonderful book for all cat lovers. It is great for the classroom and at home. Not much has been written for kids about feral cats, making Fairminded Fran a one-of-a-kind book… Children as young as second grade will understand this story when read to them. It will also spark some great conversations. Isn’t that what a good book should do?” (Kid Lit Reviews, March 12, 2013). Available for purchase in paperback.

Reading your Cat’s Body Language

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