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Pet care and behaviour help topics

Pet care & behaviour

Hunting comes naturally to cats, of course, because they’re predators. When roaming outdoors, they prey upon small wildlife like birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians. While not every cat has the same motivation to hunt, the fact remains that, collectively, cats are responsible for the deaths of millions of wild animals each year in Canada.

Given that hunting is an innate behaviour, then, can anything be done about it?

What the science says

To help answer this question, researchers have looked at aspects of care that may influence a cat’s desire to hunt.

For instance, in a recent study conducted in England with 355 cats, guardians were asked to spend just 10 minutes a day playing with their cats. Surprisingly, over the course of the 12-week experiment, they saw a 25 per cent drop in the total number of animals their cats brought home!

These findings indicate that it may be possible to reduce hunting behaviour in cats through modest changes in human behaviour.

Cat using scratching post and playing with a wand toy

What about bells?

Over the years, researchers have also looked at factors that impact a cat’s ability to hunt.

Cats have been outfitted with bells, bibs, collar covers, sonic emitters and lights, all with the goal of reducing their hunting success. Results have been mixed, with some devices like bibs performing better than others. Cats are highly adaptive, of course, and can even learn how to silence a bell while hunting.

Ultimately, the most effective way to prevent cats from predating on wildlife is to keep them indoors.

Risks to outdoor cats

While it’s true that cats are predators, they’re also a prey species. Being outdoors leaves them vulnerable to attacks from wild animals such as coyotes. Other risks they face outdoors include vehicles, fights with other cats, diseases and parasites, frostbite and secondary poisoning from eating rats or mice who have ingested rodenticides.

Keeping indoor cats happy

Indoor cats aren’t doomed to a life of monotony, as long as their guardians are willing to put in the work to keep them happy and healthy. There’s a long-standing belief that, unlike dogs, cats are low-maintenance, independent pets. In fact, the opposite is true. In order to give indoor cats a satisfying, enriched life, they need many of the same things that dogs do.

One of these things is playtime with their guardians which, as the research above demonstrates, can be an excellent outlet for their natural hunting behaviour. In many ways, play mimics the hunting sequence in cats, including behaviours like stalking, chasing, pouncing and catching.

Furthermore, keeping cats indoors doesn’t have to mean they are deprived of the outdoors entirely. Providing your cat with time outside supervised in a backyard or on a harness and leash is one way to give them exercise and opportunities to explore. You can also build a simple cat patio — or catio — to let your cat come and go from an enclosed outdoor space as they please.

Cat outdoors wearing id and walking on a leash

At the end of the day, cats hunt because it’s instinct. It’s up to us as their guardians to provide them with an outlet for this behaviour that keeps both them and wildlife safe.

Find out more ways of keeping your cat stimulated indoors.

 

Cats are wonderful companions. Each has a unique personality – just like people!

Some are shy and quiet while others are outgoing and social; but no matter the personality of your cat, they always rely on you as a guardian to provide a good home with what they need to be happy. Remember, a healthy cat is a happy cat!


Typical life span for a cat

  • 13 – 20 years

How to keep your cat happy and healthy

Cat food and feeding

Kittens need good quality kitten food when they’re weaned. Adult cats do best on a mixture of good quality dry kibble and canned food. Feeding guidelines provided on the bag can help you determine how much your kitten or cat should eat in a day.

It is common for most cats to eat two to three meals a day. Feed the last meal of the day right before bedtime. An adult cat will sleep throughout the night. Kittens may need more meals a day.

Some cats need special diets. Ask your vet for a recommendation for your cat.
Your cat must have access to fresh water all the time. Change the water daily and wash out the bowl regularly.

Cat grooming, teeth and nail trimming

Grooming

Brush your cat on a regular basis, especially if they are long-haired. Regular brushing prevents hair from matting and removes loose hair. It also will help with hairballs.

Teeth

To keep your cat’s teeth healthy and tartar free, they need to be brushed daily. Buy a special toothpaste and finger brush from your local pet supply store or at your vet clinic. Do not use human toothpaste.

Nails

Nails need regular trimming, usually once a month or as needed. Take care not to cut the blood vessel (the quick) that runs through each nail. Cats who go outside do not need their nails trimmed. They need their nails to climb and defend themselves. If you prefer not to cut your own cat’s nails, a veterinarian can do this for you for a small fee.

Declawing cat

The BC SPCA is against declawing cats.

Cat’s nails are not like fingernails, they’re attached to the bone. Declawing is a serious surgery. It’s like removing a part of your finger at the knuckle.

Read the BC SPCA Position Statement Cosmetic and Other Non-Therapeutic Alterations (PDF).

*If your cat is scratching furniture, learn what to do.

Black cat wearing id indoors being brushed by woman

Identification (ID) for your cat

Nobody plans to lose a pet. Prepare for the unexpected and ensure your cat has two forms of identification.

Indoor cats vs outdoor cats

The BC SPCA recommends that cats be indoors, however, some cats get frustrated indoors and may enjoy outdoor time. Whether you choose to let your cat out or keep them in, know how to provide them with the best environment to keep them happy and safe.

Tabby cat sitting on perch looking out window curiously

Medical care is important for your cat

Take your cat to see a vet when you first get your cat. After the initial visit with the vet, you may only need to go back once a year for a check-up and vaccinations. Kittens will need to go back more often at first for vaccines.

It is also important to have your pet spayed or neutered to prevent unwanted litters. There are also many behavioural and health benefits to sterilization. Learn more about the benefits of spaying or neutering your pet.

Over time, watch for lumps and bumps on your pet. Also pay attention to signs of your cat not eating or a change in their behaviour. If you notice anything different talk to your vet.

Find a veterinarian in your area.

Learn how to make your kitten or cat’s vet visit less stressful.

Cute black kitten getting a vaccination at the vet

Playtime is a special time with your cat

Cats love to play, explore, run around, use a scratching post and spend time with you. These are all essential activities for cats. Set up your home so your cat can explore, run and scratch on a scratching post.

Make time in your day to play with your cat with a variety of toys, rather than your hands. Learn what to do if your cat or kitten is biting and scratching your hands.

Cute black and white kitten playing with and biting onto feather wand toy

Further resources for cat care and behaviour issues:

Welcoming a new cat into your home

Introducing your new cat to your resident cat

Litterbox training your cat

My cat has stopped using the litter box

​My cat bites me when I pet her, how do I stop her?

We have that covered

Don’t worry about bringing a carrier or something to take your cat home in. We provide what is called a Hide, Perch & Go™ box for you to take kitty home in.

taking home your BC SPCA adopted animal

What is a Hide, Perch & Go™ box?

To help cats cope with the stress of being at a shelter, the BC SPCA developed the Hide, Perch & Go™ box. The box provides cats with more control over their limited environment. The box allows them to express behaviours such as hiding, perching and face rubbing (scent marking). All the natural cat behaviours that help reduce stress.

Hide, Perch & Go™ box helps lower a cat’s stress

As the box gets saturated with their own scent, cats feel safer and more at home. Taking their box home with them will help lower the stress from moving into a new home. New smells, people and furniture can make a cat anxious, stressed or scared. Something that has their scent and they’re familiar with will them adjust to their new home.

How does it work?

The box is designed so a cat can hide inside, perch on top and scratch or rub the sides of the box if they want. When you need to take your cat home from the shelter the box converts into a carrier. Once home you reassemble the box into a place where your new kitty can hide, perch, rub or scratch. And it isn’t something new, it’s something with their own scent on.

Putting Hide, Perch & Go™ box together

1. Take cat home
2. Open box and let cat out
3. Remove inside piece of box
4. Fold top flaps of box over
5. Attach inside piece on to top box
6. Place box near wall
7. Place bedding from shelter in box

Follow the same steps in reverse to turn your Hide, Perch and Go™ box back into a pet carrier.

Looking for a new cat? Visit the BC SPCA adoptable animals.

Work with animals and want to purchase Hide, Perch & Go™ boxes?

Find out how to order Hide, Perch & Go™ Boxes for your veterinary clinic, hospital or shelter today!

To help cats cope with the stress of being at a shelter, the BC SPCA developed the Hide, Perch & Go™ box. The box provides cats with more control over their limited environment and allows them to express behaviours such as hiding, perching and face rubbing (scent marking). All of these are natural cat behaviours that help reduce stress.

The Hide, Perch & Go™ box is included with the adoption of your new feline friend! Learn more.

Cute ginger coloured cat lying down sleepy in a hide perch and go box

The BC SPCA recommends that cats live indoors. Indoor cats have a longer life span than those that go outside. Whether you choose to let your cat out or keep them in, know how to provide them with the best environment to keep them happy and safe.

Grey cat wearing collar and id playing with a young baby and woman indoors

What’s the issue with indoor and outdoor cats?

Risks of letting your cat outdoors

  • Other cats or dogs in the neighbourhood can cause injuries to your pet
  • Busy streets and traffic can cause injury or death
  • Exposure to contagious diseases and parasites
  • Extreme weather issues
  • Poisoning
  • Pet theft
  • Animal cruelty
  • Eaten or injured by wildlife like coyotes, eagles or other predators

Sad lonely stray cat hiding outdoors

Outdoor roaming cats also cause

  • Problems by digging in neighbour’s gardens
  • Marking territory by spraying
  • Prey on songbirds and other wildlife

Risks for indoor cats

  • Depression
  • Frustration
  • Become lethargic if their environment does not provide enough stimulation

To prevent these issues, help your cat be a cat. Indoor cats need to do things in their home that let them hide, chase, climb, jump and pounce.

Cat using scratching post and playing with a wand toy

Tips to keep your cat happy, healthy and safe indoors

  • Give your cat toys that are safe and stimulating.
  • Use feathery and fake furry toys that move like small prey or toys filled with catnip.
  • Rotate toys and new objects to ensure there’s always something novel
  • Give your cat a scratching post with high perches. Put it near doorways or window.
  • Spend time every day interacting with your cat. What does your cat like? Play or petting? Play with toys, games of chase and peek-a-boo. Train your cat.
  • Cats need at least 15 to 30 minutes of play broken into short five minute sessions throughout the day.
  • Plant a pot of indoor greens for your cat to munch on such as cat grass from seeds (oat, rye, wheat, barley) or catnip.
  • Open screened windows to let fresh air in. Give her access to window ledges to sit on and look out at the world.
  • Cats are auditory hunters. Be creative, get toys that make buzzing noises.
  • Reward your cat when he hunts the sound.
  • Use food puzzles! Cats normally have to work for their food through hunting. Food puzzles can be a nice substitute for hunting behaviour and provide lots of important cognitive stimulation for your kitty!
  • Add a catio so your cat can go outside, keeping them and birds safe! And other safe outdoor access options.
  • Provide multiple litter boxes of different sizes and litter types to do a preference test of what your cat likes best.
  • Feed meals in smaller increments throughout the day to mimic hunting. Use enrichment feeding toys to make it a little more fun.
  • Teach your cat to high five using positive reinforcement clicker training.

Playful black and white kitten crouching down ready to pounce on blue toy ball

I want my cat to have some time outside

  • Supervise your cat outdoors
  • Train your cat to walk on a harness
  • Build an enclosure outside to keep her safe

All cats need a collar and identification

Whether inside or out, your cat should always have a collar and ID tag as well as a tattoo or microchip. “Quick-release” or “break-away” collars with elastic are best. They’ll prevent your cat from getting tangled in branches or other objects.

Tips to help keep your cat safe outside

Think about all the risks before deciding to let your cat go outside. It might be hard to change her habit of going out if you change your mind and want to keep her in.

  • Train your cat to come back at a certain time every day by feeding her only then.
  • Give your cat access to the inside of the house or a safe shelter near the house to escape other cats or dogs if one is chasing her.
  • Train your cat to respond to a whistle by blowing the whistle every time you feed her or give her a treat. (Be careful as your cat may come running from across the street when she hears the whistle. You should not use the whistle unless you know it is safe).
  • Talk to your vet about vaccines and parasite prevention.

Young cat walking outdoors on a leash being held by a group of kids

Read more about indoor vs outdoor cats and how to enrich your cat’s life

Indoor versus outdoor – how to provide the best environment for your cat (PDF)

Enrich your cat's life

Cat playing with woman with wand toy