Felis Sylvestris Catus: Cat's are People Too
an article written by Nicole Neu-Yagle
The cat, Felis sylvestris catus, is an obligate carnivore that has evolved in a desert environment. Evidence of this can be found in archaeological records, and can be noted from their inability to synthesis taurine (found in raw, fresh meat) and a lack of a strong thirst drive coupled with an excretory system that functions on little moisture. Wildcats can function adequately solely from the water they consume with their prey. Cats self domesticated themselves after the agricultural revolution; they were welcomed into our homes because they consume creepy crawlies (mice, bugs, and snakes) and because they are adorable (big eyes, ears, and a small nose with a flat face are classic paedomorphically cute signals to our brain). As a scent based territorial organism that loves to have its skin massaged, it secured our bond that we, in turn, love to massage them (the chemical benefits of petting a pet are well documented).
The cat is an elegant, intelligent, and invasive species that many of us enjoy sharing our lives with. However, like any non-human animal we welcome into our lives, it does them a disservice to deny them their instinctual needs. The environment we set up for them and the diet we feed them are very important things to consider if we want our cats to be happy, and if we want to be happy with them.
The personality of a cat varies dramatically between individuals; when bringing a new feline home it is sensible to prepare for the shyest cat possible. Some cats can be set free in a house immediately, but it is recommended that you set up a single room for the cat to live in until it feels safe enough to explore more of the house. This means you will need a room with an appropriate litter box, water bowl, scratch post or board, sleeping nook, and preferably an elevated perch. Cats are smart enough to learn that their litter box has moved (as long as it has been potty trained) and will only have a problem if the litter box was moved to a poor place (do not put the litter box in a high traffic or noisy area) or if their litter substrate was changed all at once (when changing litters mix the new stuff with the old). Very cautious cats may need weeks in their room; remember to visit them and play with them quietly. A couple brief, patient sessions of holding a day, followed by a tasty treat like Sassy Cat or Cat-Man-Doo would be a great reward!
A cat needs something to scratch if you want them to feel welcome and comfortable in your home. Scratching is a stress release behavior that duals as an instinctual territorial marker. If a cat is told not to scratch, you are telling the cat that this house is not his. You can, however, tell a cat to scratch on something specific and not on items you deem to be inappropriate. Give the cat something it likes to scratch on, like locally made Purr-fect furniture or a Corrugated Cardboard Scratch Board, in each of its favorite rooms. Double sided tape, like Paws-Off, can keep the cat off of inappropriate items until they learn what is theirs and what isn't. Rubbing Elemental Provisions Organic Catnip (or spraying From the Field liquid catnip) can entice a cat to scratch something new. Remember if you catch the cat in the act of scratching, or going to the bathroom in an inappropriate area, an appropriate scold should be immediately followed by placing the cat in the correct position with praise. The method of scolding depends on the cat, but it’s best to start mild. Most cats respond to a harsh “SSSST” noise, and if your voice is not strong enough then using a compressed air can, like the Pet Corrector, will usually do the trick. Declawing cats is strongly discouraged; it involves removing the final phalanx (the end of each of their fingers, which structurally would be like removing the ball of your foot) and at the very least creates pain and arthritis, which can then cause the cat to quit using the litter box. Supplements like Wapiti’s Elk Velvet Antler powder can significantly reduce the pain and inflammation from declawing and old age.
A healthy cat tends toward tidiness, thus failure to use the litter box is usually due to stress or illness. Cats that do not feel safe using the litter box will find a different place to go. Cats that experience pain or discomfort while in the box will try and avoid what they initially suspect as the cause. Some cats experiencing a urinary infection or unhappiness with a household change will actually urinate in a place that gets your attention: your bed, your laundry basket, or even while standing right in front of you and crying. Once, a friend told me that when she started letting her dog into her bedroom (which had been a cat only zone for years) the cat began jumping on the kitchen counters and urinating (not surprisingly the litter box was also not safe any more). There are many holistic treatments available for handling urinary tract issues.
So how do you prevent the health issues that cause litter box problems? The cat’s diet is the key. Taking into consideration the evolutionary history of a cat and its process of elimination, it is no wonder that many cats suffer kidney problems while being fed a diet of dry, extruded pellets. The cat needs moisture in its diet, or else their kidneys slowly fail through time. One in three cats in America is a dietary diabetic due to the high amount of processed grains and carbohydrates in their kibble diets. Struvite crystals have become increasingly common; these crystals are precipitated magnesium shards that are supposed to naturally dissolve in what should be acidic urine. Heavily processed, cooked foods of any kind, alkalinize the urine while acidifying the blood (the opposite of what is healthy for a cat). Fresh, complete, raw diets (such as Rawr, Anderson's, Marty's Meals and Small Batch) are the best way to balance the body’s pH and reverse the common health issues with modern pets.
High anxiety is a common complaint among cat owners. Adequate B-vitamin levels are impossible to receive from a cooked diet and have been linked to reduced anxiety and depression. Whole food nutrients also help those “neurotic” cats that whip around and scratch you for petting them (this can also be a sign of hidden pain or itchiness). Supplements for high anxiety include CS Drops and PetNaturals colostrum calming complex treats. Usually if a cat vomits after eating it is simply because the food was dry and shocked the stomach, and a cat with proper pH levels and healthy digestive fauna will be able to digest hair to an extent (another source of B-Vitamins) and cease to have hairballs. Skin issues that diet alone doesn’t fix will often be resolved with kelp supplementation (helps the thyroid function properly), and extra virgin coconut oil can also reduce dry skin.
Have fun with your cat! The house cat is often described as aloof and independent, and it is very true that most cats don’t care to go on a walk with you (though I have seen many that do!), but they love to play games and have an instinctual drive to hunt (even with a predictable source of food). Almost all cats will chase a string or wand toy like the NekoFlies, and little lightweight balls make great kitten or spirited cat toys, like the From the Field cork balls. Hand wrestling may be cute when the cat is young, but it will encourage inappropriate behavior. It is best, if the cat gets too riled up, to quit the game. Maybe toss them a kicker toy like a Catnip Sock. A classic sign of a bored cat is one that sits or walks around and starts meowing loudly at nothing in particular (make sure you neuter or spay). Rotate toys in and out of accessibility to keep them interested, and be creative with games (some cats will play hide and seek, or consider putting a favorite toy in a box with an armhole cut in it). If your cat still has stress issues or you need more complex tasks to give it, clicker training is a very effective tool. Having the structured learning time gives cat’s confidence and something to intrigue their minds.
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