All cats deserve to be happy. Loving your cat and learning to understand their needs will help you identify the things you must do to give them positive experiences and prevent them from feeling worried, upset, frightened and stressed.
This law is called the Animal Welfare Act. The Animal Welfare Act outlines how people must take care of and act towards animals in New Zealand. The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), the Police and SPCA work together to make sure people in New Zealand follow these laws.
Under the Animal Welfare Act, all animal guardians (owners) are responsible for making sure the welfare needs of animals in their care are met. Learning about the Five Domains helps us to understand these welfare needs and how we can make sure we provide these. One of the Five Domains is Mental Wellbeing. In this section you will learn about this domain and how you can make sure your cat or kitten has positive experiences and is receiving the love, understanding and companionship they need for their mental wellbeing.
When we add a cat to our family, we are bringing them into a very new environment and culture with very different rules. On top of that, we are expecting them to understand a whole new language - our language! But we often make no effort to learn their language.
We need to kindly teach our cat to live in our world and teach ourselves to understand our cat’s world if we are to keep them free from fear and distress.
Like people, cats have very different personalities. Some are affectionate and cuddly, while others are more independent and do not like to be petted very often.
Some cats are very active and playful, and others love to nap. Some cats are very social, and others like to be left alone. Whichever kind of cat you have, they depend on you for attention and love.
Spending time with your cat is important. Brushing, patting, allowing them to sit beside you or on your lap and playing with them with an assortment of cat toys (feather wands, balls, paper bags, fake fur mice) will help you to understand your cat’s personality. You will learn what your cat likes and doesn’t like, therefore you will better understand what they need to be free from fear and distress.
Before adopting a cat, your family might have a type of personality in mind. Now you can't always tell what type of personality an eight-week-old kitten is going to have but talking to a member of the SPCA’s feline team about your home environment and life-style may help you make your decision on which best would suit your family. Another option is to adopt an adult cat, which has many advantages – such as knowing what their personality is rather than having to guess.
You and your family are your cat’s guardians and you must take responsibility for managing their experiences with the environment and other living things in a safe, understanding and loving way.
Good, safe and positive early socialisation leads to friendly, well-adjusted cats. Without positive early experiences, cats can become nervous and this often leads to behavioural problems as they get older.
Socialisation is one of the most important things you can do for a kitten. Let them gradually meet people and other pets, and experience everyday sights and normal household sounds, especially in their first few months of life. With kind and gentle handling and friendly contact every day, your family’s new kitten should soon be comfortable with you and their new home. Be sure to teach very young children in your home that a kitten is not a toy but a living creature with feelings that must be treated with gentleness and respect.
Make sure an adult in your household gets professional advice straight away for any behaviour problems that your cat may begin to show.
We all get stressed out sometimes – even cats! If your cat is lounging in a sunny window right now, it’s probably hard to imagine that anything in his or her life could cause stress. Surprisingly, there are many things that can be very stressful for your cat. Stress not only causes fear and distress, but it can also cause many other illnesses in cats.
Like people, there are some cats that are more easily stressed than others. You may have a cat that is super chilled and doesn’t appear to be bothered by much at all, or your cat may be the total opposite. Things that could be stressful to many cats are: loud music being played, dirty litter boxes, change in food brand, travel, blocked access to their favourite hiding places, a new cat moving into their neighbourhood, your friends over to play, even a new baby in your household.
Some signs of stress may include:
If your cat shows any of these signs or their behaviour has changed, it could be a sign of stress or illness. Make an appointment with your veterinarian before the problem gets out of hand.
If your family knows of something up and coming that may be stressful to your cat, ask your cat’s veterinarian for advice on ways you can gradually prepare your cat for known upcoming changes so they won’t get such a shock. The bigger the change, the more preparation time is needed to avoid stress.
Cats are territorial animals and can find moving house a very stressful experience, a bit like you might feel if you had to move to a new school. However, there are a few things your family can do to reduce your cat’s stress and ensure a smooth move between homes.
Make sure your cat is moved between homes in a suitable cat carrier with familiar smelling bedding (their favourite blanket). Cats usually stress less if their carry cage is covered with a lightweight towel. Most cats do not enjoy travelling so be aware that your cat may be quite distressed when you reach your new home.
When you arrive at your new address, do not release your cat until the household is as quiet as possible. Make sure that all doors and windows are shut and that any other escape routes, such as fireplaces, are blocked.
Help your parents or caregivers prepare a room for your cat - it is a good idea to keep them to one room in the house for a few days to slowly introduce them to their new environment. Provide them with a comfortable bed (with a familiar blanket and toys), a litter tray, food and water bowls and a safe hiding spot.
Your parent or caregiver can release your cat from the carrier once you have prepared your cat’s new room. Sit quietly with your cat whilst they explore their new environment. You could encourage them to explore their new environment by hiding small amounts of dry food.
Over the next few days, make a few more rooms available to them, allowing the cat to explore them at will. Make sure that they are not able to escape the house for at least two-three weeks for cats (six weeks for kittens) after your move so that they relax and develop an attachment to their new home.
If your cat is used to being allowed outside and your family want them to continue to have access to your garden, your family will need to think carefully about how to do so without risking your cat becoming lost or running away. Your parents or caregivers could start by introducing your cat to an enclosed area of your yard, if possible, where they are not at risk from cars and other animals. Leave the door to the house open as an escape route so that if they are frightened by a sudden noise or movement they can flee to the safety of their new home.
When you and an adult first take your cat outside, it's best to do so just before meal time so that they will want to come back in for food. Stay with them and quietly reassure them as they explore. Initially, only let them outside for a few minutes at a time, gradually increasing the time outside until they are comfortable with the new surroundings. Continue to supervise them outside until you are confident that your cat has relaxed into their new territory and is not clashing with any neighbourhood cats that may have already claimed your yard for themselves.
Make sure that when you move house, your family updates your cat’s microchip details. That way, if your cat does escape and go missing, they will be easily identified and your family easily contacted by your local SPCA, veterinary clinic or council.
SPCA encourages owners to keep their cats indoors from dusk until dawn.
Keeping your cats indoors during this time reduces disease and injury incurred by fighting or car accidents. It also reduces your cat’s impact on local wildlife and gives you the opportunity to spend quality time with your companion (pet).
Some owners prefer to keep their cats inside at all times; providing an enriched indoor environment that gives their cat plenty of fun and exercise while protecting them from the risks that accompany outdoor adventures.
Some adult cats will only be friendly to cats who they have grown up with, particularly their litter mates (their brothers and sisters) and may not accept new cats into their home. However other cats can be very cat social and love to play, groom and rub against each other and may even choose to share their toys and even the same bed.
For cats that are left on their own for long periods each day, while your parents or caregivers are at work and you are at school, it may be a good idea to consider providing another cat for company. The younger they are when introduced, the greater the chances of their getting on happily most of the time.
After about two years of age, acceptance of another cat can be a bit random, but they will very rarely totally reject another cat in the long-term. After a time, even those cats that do not become great friends can still learn to tolerate and live with each other by keeping to their own territory.
Cats can be very territorial and sometimes they don't like change very much. Your cat is probably used to being the only cat around and has probably had complete run of the house. Suddenly there is this strange other cat or kitten who, from the existing cat's point of view, is just getting in the way!
Whenever a new cat is introduced into a house with other cats, it takes time for them to get used to each other. Your first cat might be a little jealous of the newcomer, so you need to take things slowly and carefully at first. Ask a member of the feline team at your local SPCA or your veternarian for advice on the best way to introduce them.
Not all cats will get on with each other. If you already have cats who are not friends, make sure that they are able to avoid each other at all times and that they can access everything they need without having to interact at all. Never force your cat to interact with people or animals that they don’t like.
In rare situations where cats seriously injure each other or begin to show signs of severe stress as a result of being housed together, they may need to be separated. Your local vet can provide more information about available options in these situations.
You must always make sure your cat gets the care and attention they need when you are on holiday.
Never, ever leave your cat home alone when you go away. If your cat is not able to go with you, make sure your cat is properly looked after.
Arrange for someone responsible to care for your cat. Cats can be booked into a cattery, or cared for by a responsible family member, trusted friend or professional cat-sitter.
While you’re away, make sure whoever is caring for your cat knows about your pet’s requirements. Leave a list of information:
Not only is proper handling essential for your cat's health, but it is important for their mental wellbeing as well.
To help reduce stress, allow your cat to come to you in their own time and never force them to be held. To make it a positive experience, it's a good idea to use treats as a reward for being handled.
It's also key to remember that all cats have different likes and dislikes. This is true when it comes to being handled or pet as well. Get to know your cat including how and where they like to be pet and respect this!