A Cat is Not a Houseplant

A cat is not a houseplant. For a houseplant to grow, all it needs is water, food, sunlight, and shelter. Pretty convenient, right? People today are all about convenience. That’s why we have remotes to turn on our television, microwaves to heat up our food, and cell phones to instantly connect with anyone. And often that’s a major reason why we choose cats for our pets. What could be more convenient than an animal that only needs the necessities? The problem is that convenience is okay when we’re talking about a houseplant. If a plant’s minimal requirements prove to be too much of a hassle, we can ignore it until it dies and then throw it away. But cats are living creatures. We owe them more consideration than we owe a plant, because despite what many seem to think they have more complex needs than a plant.

To thrive, cats need physical activity. We all know that staying active is key to our health. Did you know that exercise improves the appearance of hair, skin, and muscle tone for our pets too? We also all know that our sedentary lifestyle has contributed to an overweight society. Did you know that exercise helps prevent sickness and obesity in our pets too? But don’t cats like to sleep most of the time? Some cat experts suggest that this is a fallacy; cats sleep away their lives out of boredom. If that’s true, then we owe it to our cats to ensure they have ample reason to get up and move. Another expert noted that just like tigers in the wild, cats have short bursts of energy and that the rest of the time they sleep. Even so, those short bursts of energy are usually intense and purposeful. Again, we owe it to our cats to give them an engaging lifestyle. We can do this by providing them with toys to chase, obstacles to jump, and ledges to climb. The benefits are twofold; not only will our cats stay sleek, slim, and fit, but we’ll gain a deeper appreciation for their marvelous bodies.

To thrive, cats need mental stimulation. People who are bored tend to become apathetic or destructive. The same goes for our pets. Cats who lack mental stimulation are at risk of becoming couch potatoes or developing anxious, compulsive, or other neurotic behaviors. Studies have shown that play is important to keeping our brains healthy. Similarly, cats are curious creatures and that they need challenges to be happy. Research suggests that one way for people to stave off dementia and other cognitive disorders is to do puzzles, creative activities, and otherwise engage their minds. In the wild, when they aren’t sleeping, lions, tigers, and other wild cats are stalking and hunting their prey. Household cats still possess that instinct and, in all fairness to them, we must simulate that environment in our homes. We can do this by providing them with puzzle feeders, interactive games, and supervised outings in the yard or leash time. Again, the benefits are twofold; not only will our cats be happier, but we’ll gain a deeper appreciation for their unique personalities.

To thrive, cats need attention and love. Children who aren’t shown affection in their earliest months often grow up with attachment disorders and are incapable of developing relationships. When it comes to domesticated animals, ferality can develop in those that are removed from human contact in their earliest weeks. The standard socialization window for cats is from two to seven weeks of age, but it can extend up to 14 weeks. Moreover, cats who haven’t been socialized are more likely to be fearful in unfamiliar situations and uncomfortable with changes in their environment. Of course, there’s a stark difference between cats that fear humans and those that are simply shy or independent. But the point of my article is that cats thrive best when we provide them with more than just the necessities. Cats that receive water, food, sunlight, and shelter very well may survive, but they won’t truly enjoy life. If I’ve learned anything by talking to cat owners who treat their cats as living creatures with complex needs, it’s that they build a relationship with their cats that is golden. Yes, just like all living creatures, their cats will ignore them, tolerate them, and even crab at them. But their cats will also purr, snuggle, play, and love on them. Every single day. For the rest of their lives. And if this isn’t what you wanted from your pets, why do you have them?

A reason that cats rival for the position of most popular pet is that cats are considered easy to care for. And the truth is, cats have adapted well to our modern lifestyle. They accept the tight quarters of apartment buildings and the many solitary hours forced upon them by owners who work all day. They make their own fun by chasing insects and even rays of sunlight. And they stoically ignore symptoms of diseases until they absolutely must have medical treatment. Cats even tolerate our apathy. Yet just like some plants do better when their leaves are misted and fertilizer is added to their soil, so cats will only truly thrive when we take time to provide them with physical activity, mental stimulation, and love. And, in turn, we’ll discover that our relationship with them is richer and more meaningful, the way it should be.

18 thoughts on “A Cat is Not a Houseplant

  1. Great advice for people considering adding a cat to their family. Cats have the reputation of being an “easy” pet, but they require everything you spoke about. Any pet is a commitment that a person needs to be willing to take on.

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  2. I love this post!! While our blog is mostly centered around our activities with our dogs, we have a wonderful cat that adds so much to our life. She gets lots of love and attention and plenty of toys to help keep her entertained while she’s in the house. While I know that it’s controversial, she also spend a good amount of her time outside during the day. She comes and goes as she pleases, takes naps on the front porch, chases lizards, and comes in for dinner and snuggles at night, where she sleeps at our feet on the bed. I know having an indoor/outdoor cat is not for everyone, which is why posts like these are so great. Just because cats are “easier” than dogs doesn’t mean they do not have the same needs and wants as any other living being.

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  3. The title of your blog post really grabbed me because it’s funny. When I read it though, I realized it’s not that funny because some people only want cats because they’re supposedly “low maintenance.” This is important info–about the stimulation they need and the exercise. I don’t have a cat now and probably won’t since my hubby is allergic, but I think cats rock!

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  4. YES!!! Thank you for this! Far too many people think cats do not need the same love and attention as dogs. Sure cats are easier to care for and better for apartment dwellers and yes can be left alone longer than dogs BUT they still need loving attentive pet parents – not even need but DESERVE!

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    1. In reading about the history of cats, I realized how much people contributed to their domestication, and therefore how responsible we are for helping them to adapt to that life. Cats give us so much and ask us for so little but are so undervalued. Changing people’s mindsets towards cats has become my passion in life. 🙂

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  5. I love your unique title and analogy. I have not owned a cat, but most of your comments apply to dogs too. I always tell new dog owners that they should expect to spend at least an hour a day with an older dog and at least two hours a day with a young one. Of course, spread out throughout the day.

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    1. With cats, some experts say that even just fifteen minutes a couple of times of day will greatly improve a cat’s life and an owner’s bond with them. Thirty minutes for a cat and an hour or two on a dog. How hard can that be, right?

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  6. Our cat Rosie loves puzzles and usually solves them more quickly than our dog Ruby. She also learns commands more quickly than Ruby.

    I don’t think any pet is easy – caring for another living is always a huge responsibility and should be taken seriously.

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    1. Thank you for your comment! For years, I have watched dog obedience and agility classes. Some dogs take to one or the other or both right away. Other dogs need more support or even make clear that these activities aren’t for them. And yet I repeatedly hear, dogs are smarter and more responsive than cats. But maybe it’s just particular dogs and cats. Or maybe we just haven’t found the right activities for cats. Whichever the case, I agree with you that caring for another living creatures is a responsibility that every pet owner should take seriously.

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