Cats, like dogs, are carnivores, which means they also require mostly meat in their diet. In the wild, they’d eat whole carcasses of prey. At home try replicating this as much as possible. No, that doesn’t mean you need to go out with a bow and arrow and kill something—that’s why we have supermarkets and butchers.
In order to be healthy and happy, cats require a substance in meats, particularly red meats, called taurine. If your cats love the outdoors you will know how quickly they take any opportunity to catch lizards, mice or rats, allowing them to supply themselves with fresh meat, not to mention the thrill of the chase. I can’t stress enough the importance of fresh meat— preferably organic or from the butcher—for cats. If the meat is ripe, though, they’ll more than likely reject this offering, which is funny given that dogs will dig something up after days or weeks of festering and still consider it a delicacy!
You should also add livers, kidneys or other offal periodically to a cat’s diet, along with a very small amount of vegetables every couple of days, which they would obtain naturally in the wild from the stomach contents of their prey. And don’t forget to leave out a fresh supply of water every day for all your animals—filtered if possible. Filtered may sound like an extravagance, but many cats have told me they’d rather not drink water that smells of chlorine or other chemicals. Fussy as they are, clean, fresh water is best for them.
Keep in mind too that if your animal has a medical condition, then their diet may need adjusting, so discuss this with your vet. In most cases there are usually natural alternatives to packaged food to cover any concerns you may have.
Cats also need stimulation and exercise. Of course it would be wonderful if they were free to roam with relative safety wherever they wanted to go. But suburban or apartment living makes it difficult for our feline friends to wander the neighbourhood. This is why many cats are confined to a house or yard. There are many dangers out there that aren’t built into a cat’s instinct, such as cars and swimming pools, and even people who dislike animals and set out to cause them harm. In the wild, they’d have open spaces and trees to climb if they needed an urgent escape. It’s different in backyards because, if a cat is confronted by a menacing dog, there mightn’t be any tree to scale and the fence could be too high.
Cat-runs, although not offering complete freedom, enable them to come and go from the house, giving them choice and a sense of freedom. Cats love to view things from great heights, so these runs should be built up high using a fence for support or attached to part of the house. This love is due to their feline nobility—without doubt cats like looking down on us.
Cat mesh encompassing the whole yard is another way of containing them, and keeping unwanted animals out. It also provides important safety for birds or other wildlife from cats. And if you’re in an apartment, then a window ledge with a protective flyscreen is a must. But be careful about allowing cats on balconies as there have been many bones broken, as well as fatalities, when cats fall from an unnatural height. They may have been distracted by a fastflying bird, or drifted off during one of their cat naps, and disaster followed.
Fresh air and sunlight are vital for the wellbeing of cats, just as it is for us. You can take them to a park or simply let them out in your backyard on a harness, for them to roam and explore. Of course this will require your supervision. The first time Peter and I took Mattie and Shea to the park on a harness, the looks from other people were priceless. They probably thought at first that they were dogs—until they got close enough to see they were actually cats. I’m sure they thought we were quite mad.
Within your home you can provide a play area with nooks and crannies for your cat, including a scratchy pole. If you want your cat to leave your furniture alone, you must give them a scratchy pole as they need to scratch to remove the outer casing of their nails. Cats outside scratch up against trees daily for this reason; it is fundamental for them.
Cat tunnels for them to hide in are another form of play and stimulation and this is a joy for humans to watch. There’s nothing they love more than leaping out at you with the element of surprise and grabbing an ankle in the fun of things. I confess Shea brings me down to my knees on occasions when he shoots out of his tunnel like a cannonball. He is always so proud of himself, of course, as I am left trying to get to my feet.
Hanging cat toys around or providing small balls will amuse them but, most importantly, having you play with them is a must. You’ll have a ball, and create a playmate for each other. I feel I have more fun than Mattie and Shea in our playtimes, which rather suggests I’m just a big kid at heart! Swinging a furry mouse from side to side and then watching the amazing heights my cats reach with their acrobatics is a delight for me. There’s a particular game I play with them, where my hand acts like a claw, and as I play it their body language dramatically changes. Their pupils dilate, they make this huffing sound with their nostrils and they adopt a ‘ready to pounce’ stance. It then comes down to speed and accuracy, between them and me. Of course they always win, and I’m left licking my wounds—pride that is, not blood.
If you have several cats and they get on well together, like Mattie and Shea do, then this will provide them with their own enjoyment. Just like dogs, any bored or unstimulated cat will probably develop unwanted behaviours, like ruining furniture or urinating on various things in your home. This is how cats express themselves. Try not to get too angry at them. Your cat is trying to tell you something needs resolving. They are after all, simply being cats.