From the Life of a Cat Sitter

Besides being a cat behaviourist I work as a cat sitter as well.

People ask me whether I just feed and clean litter trays all day. Well, yes and no. I mean I do feed cats and clean litter trays, but there’s much more to it.
In the series of posts I’ll share some anecdotes from my life as a cat sitter. I promise these stories are all true, though the cat’s names have sometimes been changed to protect their identity 😉

On a nice, sunny day many cats enjoy spending time outdoors. When cats have outdoor access via a cat flap they may decide to stay out rather than have cuddles with the cat sitter. This is England, after all. It might well rain again the following day!

However, when cats do not have outdoor access they usually come and greet us. Sometimes they are snoozing somewhere nice and cosy, but at least we see them. Although….

Some cats seem to enjoy a game of hide-and-seek. I know they are inside because they did not leave when I opened the door, but where are they??? I’m not talking about hiding under the bed, sofa, or on dining chairs, all well-known hiding spots. Some of my clients’ cats have hiding places that I still don’t know about! One meows to attract my attention and is quiet when I walk through the room looking for him. However, as soon as I leave the room he meows again. He must be having fun watching me trying to find him 😉

Another cat likes to sit inside cupboards. A telltale sign is of course an open cupboard door. Except when he opens it slightly, squeezes through and then the door closes behind them. It’s a good thing hisowtold me that’s what he does or it would have taken me ages to find him!

Some cats are so nervous around strangers that they rarely show themselves. I always feel for those cats. Luckily this is very unusual, but it does happen sometimes. Most owners know when their cats are nervous around visitors so they will warn the cat sitter before visits. All I can do is wait patiently and hope they decide to come out and this has worked – eventually – on several occasions.

Another favourite hiding place: on top of the kitchen cupboards.

If I fits I sits

We all know our cats love to squeeze themselves into impossibly small boxes. The smaller the better it seems!

Now research by Smith et al (2021) has found that cats don’t just enjoy sitting in boxes but in “imaginary” boxes as well. Of course we do not know whether these cats actually imagined they were sitting inside a box, but the cats showed a preference for sitting inside a square, even if it was just an illusion.

How did they test this?

Cat owners were asked to test their cats at home, meaning the cats were not subjected to a test environment. This is a huge bonus because cats often do not perform well (or at all) in test environments due to stress or being unfamiliar with the environment and/or the researchers.

These cats did not know they were being tested, but their owners did. However, in order to avoid owners influencing their cat’s behaviour they were asked not to interact with their cats during the short tests. The owners were also instructed to wear sunglasses so they could not inadvertently guide their cat’s actions. Owners were also asked to record videos of their cats during these tests.

Roughly 500 owners signed up to participate, but only 30 cats completed the whole study. Whether the cats or owners gave up is unknown 😉

The participants received all the material and instructions from the researchers and were given “six randomized, counterbalanced daily stimuli to print out, prepare, and place on the floor in pairs”. There were three possible stimuli: an outline of a square, a Kanizsa illusion of a square using Pac-Man shapes or a control that had the Pac-Man shapes facing outward.

The control outline (left) and the cat sitting inside the Kanizsa illusion

The study found that cats chose to sit in the Kanizsa illusion of a square just as often as inside the actual outline of a square and sat in the control outline less frequently.

What does this mean?

As one of the researchers says, “[t]he major takeaways are that cats are susceptible to the Kanizsa illusion in a human-like way, and are most likely attracted to 2-D shapes for their contours (sides), rather than solely novelty on the floor”.

Why do cats like to sit where they fit?

Although more research is needed, I agree with Nicholas Dodman who wrote that “cats like to squeeze into small spaces where they feel much safer and more secure. Instead of being exposed to the clamor and possible danger of wide open spaces, cats prefer to huddle in smaller, more clearly delineated areas.”

How to Build the Best Cat Towers

* From my partners at katzenworld.co.uk

Building a cat tower requires doing some research and understanding your cat’s behaviour. It’s not an easy task. In fact, there may be instances where you build one, only to tear it down after you’ve seen how your cat is using it.

Here are some tips for building the best cat tower for your pet.

1. Research

It’s always a good idea to do some research on any project that you set your eyes on. Take some pictures, analyse reviews and talk to cat owners who own towers to gain some insight and advice. By researching, you can find design inspirations, determine which colours to use, and identify which structures you can add. The best cat trees are those that take your cat’s needs and behaviour into account, and also complement your home’s interior décor.

2. Determine The Size Of Your Home

One of the most important factors when making your decision to build a cat tower is the size of your home. You need to determine how big your walls are, how tall the trees surrounding you are, as well as the buildings around you. If you build a tower that’s too small relative to your space, your cat may be more interested in climbing taller and bigger objects. If the tower is too large compared to your space, you may feel cramped up in your space, considering it will share space with your furniture. Articles that discuss pet guides and product reviews can give you more insight into these essential considerations.

3. Determine The Tower Structure

Cat towers and houses are available in a variety of sizes. Some pet owners prefer to build them in tandem with a cat fence so that the cats will have a place to go to relieve themselves.

Most cats like to climb objects, which means that the structure you’re building needs to be tall enough for your cat to climb up and down comfortably. Your cat shouldn’t need to jump from one level to another, but the tower should help your feline companion improve their climbing skills. It is a good way to teach them to trust their paws and not use their claws when trying to climb.

4. Tower Material

The material used to build the tower can determine whether your cat will enjoy the tower. Materials such as rope, reed and thatch may be irritating for some cats because their claws get stuck in the material. Other materials used to make cat towers include wood which may be wrapped in cloth. Stay away from certain fabrics like cotton, because they may quickly become torn by the constant movement of your cat.

5. Consider The Size Of Your Cat

The best cat tower is one that can effortlessly hold your cat’s weight. You don’t want your cat to topple over or for the tower to give in to the weight. This can hurt your cat as well as the space in which the tower stood. Make sure to use a material that’s strong enough to hold your cat to avoid potentially dangerous scenarios.

6. Preferred Tower Location

Where you decide to place your cat tower is largely determined by your cat’s preferred location in the house. Some cats enjoy spending time with others in the lounge area, while others seem to prefer a quiet window corner. You may decide to place a tower where you’d prefer to see your cat, but if your cat hardly spends time in your preferred locations, then he or she may not fully enjoy the tower.

7. Rebuild

If you realise that your first attempt didn’t come out as intended, don’t be shy to dismantle and rebuild. Perhaps you’ll notice that it’s wobbly when your cat is on it, though it may appear steady. You may also notice that your cat struggles to navigate the tower because they’re too big for the tower. You simply have to observe your cat and fix the tower accordingly.

Conclusion

Before building your cat tower, you need to do some research. Gather design inspirations and building tips online. Consider the size of your home, your cat’s behaviour, and the size of the tower. Place the tower in a space that your cat enjoys. If you realise that there’s something wrong with the tower, you can always dismantle and rebuild. Wobbly towers or ones that are too small for your particular cat can cause dangerous scenarios where your cat may fall or knock the tower over. Also consider the type of material that you use to build the tower.

Will my current cat(s) accept a new cat?

*Adapted from International Cat Care

It is very difficult to predict whether a cat will accept another cat into its household.
Cats, as a species, have become more socially flexible during the process of domestication, but individuals still vary hugely in how accepting they are of other cats. Furthermore, their ability to change their sociability is limited once they reach adulthood.

Sociability refers to how comfortable a cat feels around both people and other animals, including cats. This shouldn’t be confused with a cat’s general confidence towards all aspects of the cat’s environment, both physical and social. If a confident cat is not sociable to other cats then it will not necessarily accept a new cat. A cat that loves spending time with people is sociable with people but may not enjoy the company of other cats.

There are a number of areas that should be given careful thought before making the final decision as to whether to get another cat or not. These factors are all likely to interact rather than act in isolation, and therefore the more that are answered in favour of another cat, the greater the chances of a new cat being accepted. Click here for the questionnaire if you are thinking of getting another cat.

If you do get another cat or already have more than one cat and are experiencing problems, contact me.

From the Life of a Cat Sitter

Besides being a cat behaviourist I work as a cat sitter as well.

People ask me whether I just feed and clean litter trays all day. Well, yes and no. I mean I do feed cats and clean litter trays, but there’s much more to it.
In the series of posts I’ll share some anecdotes from my life as a cat sitter. I promise these stories are all true, though the cat’s names have sometimes been changed to protect their identity 😉

I see a lot of litter trays and types of litter in my work as a cat behaviourist and as a cat sitter. Some cats are extremely fussy and don’t use a tray twice: it has to be clean or else they won’t use it. In multi-cat households you always need multiple trays, although I did once visit 5 cats that all used the same tray…

What type of litter you use depends on both you and the cat. No matter how much you like a certain type of litter (for example one they are not as likely to traipse around the house) if your cat does not like it they will not use it. Most cats prefer a sandlike litter as they can dig around properly. You can get various types of litter trays or put down a mat in front of the tray, but in all honesty I have yet to find the perfect solution to prevent cats spreading litter through the house.

You can also use a wood pellet type of litter. These are not as likely to stick to your cat’s feet, though not all cats like these. This is especially the case for older cats.

Two other popular types of litter are silica crystals and non-clumping granules. These are known to absorb urine and last longer so you don’t have to scoop litter trays as often (just scoop poo). While this is true, please remember that cat’s have a far more sensitive sense of smell than we do. You can’t wait until you smell the urine to clean it as your cat will be able to smell it long before you do. If your cat is a bit fussy then they may well decide to do their business elsewhere…. I know some unlucky owners who have found pee inside shoes and poo just beind the front door.

Some cats pee or poo on their owner’s bed when they are left home alone. Although it sounds disgusting, some cats feel happier when they mix their scent with yours. That it why they may pee (or poo) on your bed or laundry when you are away.
If your cat is like this, then let your cat sitter know. It may be best to restrict access to the bedroom while you are away. Also consider getting a herbal or pheromone diffuser to help your cat feel calmer while you are away.

If your cats have strange toileting habits then always let your cat sitter know. As far as strange habits go, peeing or pooping in the bath, shower or on a tiled floor are not too bad as these can easily be cleaned. Sofas or beds are a different story… If your cat refuses to use a litter tray then get in touch. Together we can figure out why your cat is doing its business elsewhere and how to tackle it.

Most cats prefer some privacy when they go to the toilet, though some, like my own, are quite happy to have an audience….