This post is about certain aspects of the quantity and quality of space required for a contented domestic cat. A predictable environment that provides safety with stimuli and control over the environment for the cat, is a good start as a general recommendation for cat housing requirements.
Even “experts” don’t know enough about the best housing requirements for cats. However, one aspect seems to stand out: giving your cat a degree of control over his environment. How does that translate to on-the-ground behavior? I can think of one circumstance but there will be many others. Cats need a place to hide or a secure place. In a barren environment that does not provide such a facility a cat is likely to become stressed.
A uninteresting or barren environment will induce apathy and boredom. I am reminded of the person who kept a group of tame servals in a basement. Shocking, I am afraid.
While barren environments lead to apathy, environments that provide unpredictable and unfamiliar stimuli all the time can lead to stress (depending, of course, on the character of the individual cat – bold or timid).
Without introducing extremes, a place where a cat can exercise some choice and control over both the physical and social environment, is likely to develop behaviors that cope nicely with stimuli. In other words he’ll be content.
Poor housing can lead to inactivity and abnormal behavior in relation to feeding, grooming and elimination (defecating and urinating). In the worst cases it can lead to “overtly abnormal behavior”¹.
A nice spin-off of providing an environment that is ideal for a cat is that if a cat’s behavior changes due to illness, the cat’s owner will be able to detect illness through altered behavior, whereas if the cat’s behavior is already abnormal due to an unsatisfactory environment it is harder to detect illness.
In multicat households where the group of cats is constantly changing, a balance needs to be struck between making the environment more interesting and the transmission of disease. It may be necessary to isolate cats but that should not result in a barren environment.
It is interesting to note that in houses that have two full-time, neutered and spayed, indoor cats, that had lived together for 3 months, a study² found that:
- where there were 2 male cats they spent 19% of the time they were watched, together, either against each other or within 1 meter of each other.
- Where there were 2 female cats they spent substantially less time close together than male/male couples – 8.6% of the time observed.
- Male to female partnerships spent 8.6% of the time close together; similar to female/female pairings.
- 35% of the time in 2 cat households the cats were within 3 meters of each other.
What does this tell us? I think this information is of more use to cats in cages than cats in homes except to say that cats who get along like to be together for about a third of the time. Clearly physical space is important but for one third of the time all that these cats needed was 3 meters of space.
The Vertical Dimension
As for cat enclosures (I am thinking of household cat enclosures in this instance), there should be an emphasis on vertical space. This is because the domestic cat has evolved from the African wildcat, which is considered, by some experts, to be semi-arboreal (likes climbing and spends some time in trees). I don’t recognise the African wildcat as semi-arboreal but this wildcat will be a good climber and, as for all wildcats, likes high places from time to time. It is about safety and control (vantage point); two major factors in a cat’s life.
Where there are high places in a home, a domestic cat will spend more time on “raised surfaces” than on the floor.
So, cat enclosures should provide facilities for cats to exercise their desires in the vertical dimension. We are referring to high platforms and climbs etc. (at least 1.5 meters high). Cats like climbing and jumping.
We know cats spend 15 hours a day or so resting, snoozing. One obvious cat housing requirement is a nice place for a cat to rest – comfortable surfaces come to mind (soft and not cold). Wood rather than plastic is a preferred material for cats. And polyester fleece was found to be preferable to other materials. In general, substances that maintained a constant temperature were preferred by cats.
Also cats like to rest alone. Therefore there should be enough areas for all cats in a group.
As well as open resting areas (i.e. shelves), there should be areas where cats can conceal themselves (i.e. boxes and igloo beds). Allowing cats to get out of sight of others is also preferable (i..e vertical room dividers).
This is often mentioned. Ideally, there should be one litter tray per cat, which are away from resting and feeding areas. Each cat’s preferences as to type of litter material should be catered for.
- The Welfare of Cats page 179
- The Welfare of Cats page 180