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.