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8 Ways (And a Whole Bunch of Tips) To Make Your Cat Happy, and Keep Your Cat Healthy #HappyCatMonth

Happy Cat Month

September is Happy Cat Month.

I spend every month — well, every hour of every day of every week of every month — trying to make my cats happy.

They might argue that I still don’t try hard enough. I’m guessing many cat parents would agree.

But the thing is, I don’t do it just because making a cat (or cats) happy is a good thing on it’s own. It is, of course.  It’s a great way to strengthen relationships with our feline family members.

It also helps keep your cat healthy.

“Studies show that happy cats are healthier cats, and healthy cats are happier cats,”says Jane Brunt, DVM, Executive Director of the CATalyst Council. It’s why the CATalyst Council declares September as Happy Cat Month every year; it’s “a time to promote feline wellness by highlighting the link between feline happiness and health, and to encourage actions and activities that support happy — and healthy — cats.”

Cats that are stressed sometimes wind up with lower urinary tract signs or symptoms, such as not using the litter box or straining, according to Dr. Tony Buffington, Clinical Professor Department of Medicine and Epidemiology UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. And that stress response can be triggered not just by fear, but also by boredom.

What’s the best way to lower feline stress and increase feline happiness? Help cats be cats. Ok, but what does that actually mean? Cats are both predators and prey, so what you want to do is get them in touch with their inner hunter, and help them feel safe. Taking steps to increase your cat’s happiness— reducing stress, and creating a more enriching environment for your kitties— helps them thrive.

How can you celebrate Happy Cat Month? What can you do specifically to make your cats not only less stressed, but more happy?

8 Ways to Happy Cats

1) Give cats places to get high

Cat trees are great places for cats who are vertically inclined.

Calvin is one of those cats that loves to climb. #HappyCatMonth

Calvin is one of those cats that loves to climb.

But you don’t have to buy expensive trees. Leave the tops of cabinets free, and offer ways for your climbing kitty to access them.

The tops of cabinets and shelves are reserved for cats.

A blanket and a cat bed gives Calvin a choice of where to sleep on top of the cabinet. He nearly always chooses the blanket. Because what cat would knowingly sleep in a cat bed?

Even the top of a bookcase gives cats the lift they need.

Top of booshelf allows Elsa Clair to look down in our bedroom, but also from the second story into our backyard , where we feed the birds.

A cotton fleece on the top of bookshelf allows Elsa Clair to look down in our bedroom, and gives her an indoor tree-height view from the second story into our backyard where birdfeeders attract flying, fluttering and chirping entertainment.

Look around your home for cat climbing opportunities like shelves, which make great cat ramps.

There is a shelf on the drying rack in the laundry room, as well as the paper towel holder, so cats can use them as steps. This is a favorite hangout — literally — for all my height-loving cats.

There is a shelf on the drying rack in the laundry room, as well as the paper towel holder, so our cats can use them as steps. This is a favorite hangout — literally — for all my height-loving cats.

2) Offer cats ways to hide and feel safe

Some cats crave the cave, which can be under a bed or a couch.

One of Calvin's favorite spots is under our bed. There's lots of room, and he feels safe.

One of Calvin’s favorite spots is under our bed. There’s lots of room and he feels safe.

Hidey spots are easy to create. Sometimes all you have to do is flip a box over.

Boxes aren't just good for being in; they're also good for hiding under.

Boxes aren’t just good for being in; they’re also good for hiding under.

A combination high and low spot is offered by chairs under a table. Sometimes I’ll find three or four cats under the table — each on his or her own seat.

One of Dawn's favorite spots is on a chair under the table. Hidden, yet with a little height.  We always make sure we push the chairs in so she has some privacy.

One of Dawn’s favorite spots is on a chair under the table. Hidden, yet with a little height. We always make sure we push the chairs in so she has some privacy.

3) Make mealtime safe and enjoyable

Imagine you’re feeling threatened and you have to eat with your back to the room. Cats don’t like it either, but they can’t tell you. Feed your kitties a cat-length from a wall so they can see threats when they’re eating — a vulnerable position.

If there are other pets in the house, feed cats on a table or bench, away from large and boisterous dogs, who don’t speak cat.

While some cats are stressed when eating in close proximity to each other, mine feel comfortable as long as each has his or her own placemat — a way to own territory.

While some cats are stressed when eating in close proximity to each other, mine feel comfortable as long as each has his or her own placemat — a way to own territory.

Think about what you feed you cat, and how you feed him. Some cats seem to be bothered when their whiskers touch the sides of bowls. While there are special bowls you can buy to help relieve that, a little clever shopping can find less expensive options, like the plates I use.

Yes, I serve my cats on plates that I used to use for Thanksgiving. They're easy to clean in the dishwasher, have a lip so food doesn't get pushed over the edge, yet enough room so one's whiskers don't get squished.

Yes, I serve my cats on plates that I used to use for Thanksgiving. They’re easy to clean in the dishwasher, have a lip so food doesn’t get pushed over the edge, yet enough room so one’s whiskers don’t get squished. And believe it or not, they were less expensive than some specialized whisker-sensitive cat bowls.

Buffington is a huge fan of food puzzles, toys that encourage cats to figure out how to get food before eating it. “Studies show that animals — even humans — are happier when they can work for their meals,” he says. “If there’s one piece of ‘happiness advice’ I’d give cat owners, it’s to feed their cats with food puzzles.” Cats hunt in a particular order, says Buffington: “Find. Stalk. Attack. Eat,” says Buffington. Give your cat some stalking fun before a meal.

Elsa Clair has to work for her food, but she doesn't mind. And food puzzles are great ways to stimulate a cat's inner hunter.

Elsa Clair has to work for her food, but she doesn’t mind. Food puzzles are great ways to stimulate a cat’s inner hunter.

4) Play with your cat

Ok, this one sounds simple, but each cat might have a different way to play, enjoy different toys, or is interested in different types of movement.

Set birdfeeders outside a window so your cats can watch birds; it’s like high-def TV for kitties.

Best entertainment for cats: set up some birdfeeders outside a window.

Best entertainment for cats: set up some birdfeeders outside a window.

Some cats are just happy if you toss around a mouse. Like Calvin.

Calvin likes to chase catnip mice.

Calvin likes to play with catnip mice. It’s even better if he’s upside down. Don’t ask me why; he’s not sharing.

There is nothing expensive about a string, but everything tantalizing for some cats. It’s an oldie but a goodie. Be careful not to leave strings and ribbons around the house, though, as some overzealous cats (like my Athena) may eat them, causing intestinal issues.

Athena loves to play with string. She loves it so much that we never leave out anything that even resembles string or she'll eat it. A great reminder to supervise your cat when playing with toys.

Athena loves to play with string. She loves it so much that we never leave out anything that even resembles string or she’ll eat it. A great reminder to supervise your cat when playing with toys.

Others are more interested in the finding. Let your cat watch you hide a favorite toy, so she can figure out how to find it and pull it out.

Penny, my mom's cat, likes to play a game where we hide the mouse under the scratcher, and she has to hunt it, find it, and pull it out.

Penny, my mom’s cat, likes to play a game where we hide the mouse under the scratcher, and she has to hunt it, find it, and pull it out.

Something moves under a blanket, and your cat’s eyes grow wide with excitement, right before a pointy pounce. Trust me on this one: use a stick or ruler, but not your hand under the blanket. This game is also best done outside the bedroom, lest your feet become nightime pouncables.

A yardstick under a blanket simulates prey. Best to practice off the bed (like on the couch as shown here) so as not to encourage nightly games of Hunt the Feet.

A yardstick under a blanket simulates prey. Best to practice off the bed (like on the couch as shown here) so as not to encourage nightly games of Hunt the Feet.

Elsa Clair is all about the pounce. She loves to chase and pounce toys thrown up the stairs.

Elsa Clair's favorite game is to wait at the top of the stairs for me to throw a toy mouse. She runs up and down the stairs, pouncing and kicking, then runs back up: Do it again!

Elsa Clair’s favorite game is to wait at the top of the stairs for me to throw a toy mouse. She runs up and down the stairs, pouncing and kicking, then runs back to the top: Do it again!

5) Take your cat to the vet for checkups

Happy cats are healthy cats, and healthy cats are happy cats. Taking a cat to the veterinarian is often easier said than done, but it’s one of the best things you can do for your cat.

In another post, I’ve written tips on how to make a visit to the vet more pleasant for you and your cat but here are some things I’ve done recently.

Use feline facial pheromones like Feliway to reduce anxiety. (Note: I have received free samples of Feliway in the past, but I’d recommend using it even if I didn’t.)

Our vet provides blankets with a calming pheromone (Feliway) to drape over the carriers. You can also spray the carrier a half hour before you need it, or wipe it with pheromone-soaked wipes.

Our vet provides blankets with a calming pheromone (Feliway) to drape over the carriers. You can also spray the carrier a half hour before you need it, or wipe it with pheromone-soaked wipes.

I invested in new pet beds / carriers by Sleepypod. I do mean “invested” here; the carriers are not inexpensive. But the difference in how my cats Elsa Clair and Calvin dealt with a visit to the vet was quite remarkable. I bought these myself, and was not given samples or even contacted by the Sleepypod people. I was so impressed, I will be buying two more for my other cats, and will be writing a later post about my experience.

I also took lots of time to get my cats feeling safe and comfortable before I used them as carriers. This is a Very Good Idea.

I spend 6 weeks getting Elsa Clair and Calvin used to the SleepyPod so they'd feel safe when we went to the vet. I put the carrier bottom on my desk, and Elsa Clair obviously feels comfortable.

I spent six weeks getting Elsa Clair and Calvin used to the SleepyPod so they’d feel safe when we went to the vet. I put the carrier bottom on my desk as a bed, and Elsa Clair obviously feels comfortable.

A carrier that enables the vet to examine the cat without removing him, or worse, dumping him out, makes a visit easier for everyone.

A new carrier (SleepyPod — and no, I didn't get paid to write this, or even receive a free sample) — enable our vet, Dr. Arbach, to perform almost the entire exam without taking Calvin out of the bottom part.

A new carrier (SleepyPod — and no, I didn’t get paid to write this, or even receive a free sample) — enables our vet, Dr. Arbach, to perform almost the entire exam without taking Calvin out of the bottom part.

6) Keep it clean — litter-ally

Yes. Clean the litterbox often. Indoor cats don’t have a choice on where to go to the bathroom. Actually, they do, and you’d much rather they go in designated areas. A clean box is infinitely more attractive than a dirty one.

Every cat loves a clean litterbox. Though not every cat draws a heart to show it.

Every cat loves a clean litterbox. Though not every cat draws a heart to show it.

There should be a litter box on every floor of your home, or at least one more box than you have cats — whichever number is larger.

Like eating, eliminating is one of those times when a cat feels most vulnerable. It’s important to ensure that access to litter boxes cannot be blocked by other cats, or at least to provide alternative locations.

Not all cats use toilet paper either.

Not all cats use toilet paper either.

7) Give cats their space

Whenever possible in multi-pet households, make sure each cat has access to a complete set of resources. “That includes food, water, litter box, and places to rest, scratch and climb — all out of sight of another cat,” says Buffington. Make sure their access can’t be blocked by another cat, even if you think your cats get along. As much as you love your kitties, you might not be as fluent in Cat as you think; a flick of an ear or a change in posture can be a threat between cats.

Calvin spends most of his time in our bedroom, so I give him choices in the room. Sometimes he likes to be under the bed, sometimes on the bed itself, and other times, a box is the best place of all.

Sharing a house with dogs means giving cats places they feel comfortable and safe.

Sharing a house with dogs means giving cats places they feel comfortable and safe.

Elsa Clair’s spot is my office. She sleeps on a window shelf and keeps an eye on me. While other cats may come in and spend time in this room, it’s obvious that the space belongs to our wee beastie.

Elsa Clair's favorite spot is a hanging window shelf just above my desk in my office. She comes looking for me if I'm gone too long.

Elsa Clair’s favorite spot is a hanging window shelf just above my desk in my office. She comes looking for me if I’m gone too long.

When she’s not in my son Aaron’s room, Dawn’s spot is in the kitchen. She spends much of her time looking out on the deck and hoping a chipmunk scurries by. When it snows, we put bird seed out to attract ground feeding birds. Free entertainment for Dawn!

One of Dawn's favorite spots is on the large scratcher in the kitchen that overlooks the deck. Sometimes a chipmunk runs by. That's an awesome day.

One of Dawn’s favorite spots is on the large scratcher in the kitchen that overlooks the deck. Sometimes a chipmunk runs by. That’s an awesome day.

Athena wanders the entire first floor, finding spots in the family room, dining room, kitchen and laundry room. At meal times, it can get a bit testy, with a lot of cats in one place, but we provide different areas and levels — like the stool pictured below — for the cats to find their space.

A stepstool in the kitchen gives cats a place to own when the concentration of felines increases during mealtime.

A stepstool in the kitchen gives cats a place to own when the concentration of felines increases during mealtime.

Repurposed shelves from Pottery Barn (I bought these and added carpet to each one) provide space for each cat to hang. (Pun intended).

Repurposed shelves from Pottery Barn (I bought these and added carpet to each one) provide space for each cat to hang.

Athena and Dawn share shelf space with a stuffed turtle, who Calvin has befriended.

Window seats are important, particularly to cats, who find the creatures of the outside world fascinating. If you have multiple cats, offer different ways for them to watch Cat TV.

One window, two views. Elsa Clair and Calvin can watch birds building a nest in the magnolia, without getting too much in each others' space.

One window, two views. Calvin and Elsa Clair can watch birds building a nest in the magnolia, without getting too much in each others’ space.

Give your cats escape routes, so another cat, or a dog or an unexpected humans don’t corner a cat in a space.

What's going on here? In our house, it's only one cat at a time on a cat tree, so Calvin is on top of our cabinet while Elsa Clair claims the tree. No worries; Calvin wasn't trapped. His sister got bored within seconds and went back to her window seat.

What’s going on here? In our house, it’s only one cat at a time on a cat tree, so Calvin is on top of our cabinet while Elsa Clair claims the tree. No worries; Calvin wasn’t trapped. His sister got bored within seconds and went back to her window seat.

8) Let your cats tell you what makes them happy

“We all can learn to think like a cat,” says Brunt. “And the best teacher is… your cat! Watch where he hides when startled. Pay attention to how she plays. Enrich his life with areas that make him feel safe and activities that play into her innate capabilities. This will help make your feline friend happier — and healthier.”

You cat will tell you what she or he enjoys:

A box with a hole in it:

I would not have thought that a flat box was a fun toy, but after Tucker flattened a box, Calvin thought it was so much fun to dig at the holes. So of course, I put a ruler underneath, and he had a blast chasing it.

I would not have thought that a flat box was a fun toy, but after Tucker flattened a box, Calvin thought it was so much fun to dig at the holes. So of course, I put a ruler underneath, and he had a blast chasing it.

A soft spot next to a heater:

In the winter, the cats like to warm up by our heating vents. So, I put a few beds and scratchers in those places.

In the winter, the cats like to warm up by our heating vents, so I put a few beds and scratchers in those places.

A catnip toy:

Dawn loves catnip, so I make sure she gets to play with a large, kickable catnip toy now and again.

Dawn loves catnip, so I make sure she gets to play with her favorite toy: a large, kickable catnip fish.

A place to be sneaky:

Elsa Clair likes to go under things. She's so sure she's hidden.

Elsa Clair likes to go under things, so I often leave out blankets and towels (or in this case a table runner) for her to slip under. She’s so sure she’s hidden.

A window on the world:

The cats like to watch me when I take the dogs out at night, ready to hunt in case moths fly in the house. I have a small cat drum for them to sit on on a counter by a window so they can watch.

The cats like to watch me when I take the dogs out at night, ready to hunt in case moths fly in the house. I have a small cat drum for them to sit on on a counter by a window so they have a purr-fect view.

A place in the sun:

The sun shines in our dining room in the afternoons, so I make sure there are plenty of beds (and boxes) for each cat to find his or her own piece of sun.

The sun shines in our dining room in the afternoons, so I make sure there are plenty of beds (and boxes) for each cat to find his or her own piece of sun.

An unexpected toy:

A simple ribbon on my notebook becomes a toy for Calvin — temporarily.

A simple ribbon on my notebook becomes a toy for Calvin — temporarily.

For more information and tips about ways to enrich your cat’s life, follow @CATalystCouncil or the hashtag #HappyCatMonth on Twitter and Facebook throughout September.

How do you make your pets happy?

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5 Comments on "8 Ways (And a Whole Bunch of Tips) To Make Your Cat Happy, and Keep Your Cat Healthy #HappyCatMonth"

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  1. Johnny says:

    Really great list, I definitely checked off our list of things as I read your post. Beau is one happy kitty!

  2. excellent info! we love our cat ladder by the windows along with comfy places to snooze. and give Daiquiri a ball to chase or a cardboard scratcher to kill and she is pretty happy

  3. Those are all great tips ! Purrs

  4. We think you covered it nicely! Great tips!

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