Your Cat: The need to be able to exhibit normal behaviour patterns

We are in charge of our cat's welfare
We are in charge of our cat’s welfare. Photo by GirlieMac
Until September 7th I will give 10 cents to an animal charity for every comment. It is a way to help animal welfare without much effort at no cost. Comments help this website too, which is about animal welfare.

This is a guide on how to allow your cat to exhibit normal behaviour patterns.

Anyone, anywhere who wants to be reminded of how to care for their cat could do far worse than refer to the UK government’s Code of Practice for the Welfare of Cats, which is closely based on the Animal Welfare Act 2006, which in turn is the law in England, Wales and N.Ireland on animal care. If you are in breach of it you could be prosecuted and be sent to prison.

I’ll look at one section of that document in this post, the section that deals with how to allow your cat to express his/her normal behaviour.

It is an overview so it does not set out details. The document leaves that to the cat owner. It is an excellent guideline document and it is nice that it comes direct from statute – the law.

All cats have the same basic needs and behaviours. It doesn’t matter if the cat is highly domesticated, slightly wild or totally wild. They are all part of the same family.


The domestic cat needs enough mental, social and physical stimulation. What is enough? It depends on the individual cat and the age of the cat. However, just because a cat is dozing a lot and doing nothing does not necessarily mean he does not want to do anything. He may respond well to play.

A cat owner should provide his cat with safe toys and opportunities to play. Personally, I am not a great fan of commercially produced toys. They may interest a cat and the modern cat games on tablet computers seem to work well. However, simple homemade toys are as good as any commercial product.


The cat owner needs to make sure that a cat has a place to rest undisturbed when he wants to. This is not normally a problem. However, it might become a problem in a noisy household. A large family in a small house might result in this need not being met.


A cat needs to exercise from time to time and should be allowed the opportunity to this. This ties in with play and providing physical stimulation. This is where there is a greater responsibility on cat owners who keep their cat in all the time. I understand the good reasons why cats are kept in, however ,a cat allowed outside in an environment that is considered safe, will get some natural exercise, be stimulated mentally and be able to express normal behaviour. One of the great modern problems of cat caretaking is that the outdoors is becoming increasingly less safe because of increased road traffic and population growth and activity.

How much exercise does a cat need? I don’t think it is a lot. Diet and exercise go together. A play session once a day for an indoor cat should be a basic minimum I would have thought.


A good sized, solid, high quality scratching post or pad should be provided. Cats need to scratch. It is part of natural behavior. The are several reasons why cats like to scratch: marking territory through physical marks, stretching, scent marking, sloughing off top layer of claw. Declawing not only amputates a part of each toe it also takes from the cat a range of natural behaviours. It modifies the cat’s behaviour in a negative and significant way.

Get to things he needs

A cat should be able to get to the things he needs without any emotional barriers. What I mean is that things that might scare a cat should not prevent a cat getting to things he needs such as food, litter, water and the outdoors, if he goes out. In multiple cat households, sometimes one cat will prevent another using the litter. It is a form of dominance and control of territory. This is an example of what I mean. Providing separate litter trays is the solution. Feeding and the positioning of food can also be a source of anxiety in multi-cat households. I think an awareness of a cat’s emotional state is important. This comes about through close and long contact with one’s cat.

A hiding place is also useful. The current fireworks is a case in point where a lot of cats like to find a quiet place to hide as it makes them feel more secure. It is natural behaviour for cats. Everyone can understand this.

Know your cat

A good cat owner gets to know the behaviour of their cat. This knowledge can be very refined. Every detail and nuance of a cat’s behaviour can be known, including all the routines. This is very useful as the knowledge informs the cat owner when something is wrong. An ill, injured or stressed cat will behave differently to when he is content and healthy. Picking up on changes in behaviour and routines informs the owner when (a) to take their cat to their vet or (b) see another specialist or (c) simply fix the problem themselves.


Cat training through negative reinforcement is a contentious issue. Some experts advocate it. The best advice is not to do it. I am writing about punishing your cat for doing something that you don’t like. The UK government’s document makes the point clearly:

“Never shout or punish your cat. It will not understand and will just become more nervous or scared”.

When you think about it, that advice is common sense, yet a lot of cat owners don’t take this advice.


Ideally, a cat owner should accept all forms of natural cat behaviour. That is why the person adopted their cat: to enjoy their behaviour. Any form of “training” should be through “positive reward based training”.

These are the basics to providing the opportunity to let a cat exhibit normal behaviour patterns.

8 thoughts on “Your Cat: The need to be able to exhibit normal behaviour patterns”

  1. A very good article to share as a reminder to people who have cats that their behaviour is natural and that they shouldn’t expect their cat to behave other than cats do.

    • I totally agree. I think sometimes part of the problem is with what some people think is ‘cat behaviour’. Maybe some people expect all cats to cuddle on the couch with them for example – but we know it’s a 50/50 chance depending on the cat. People’s expectations are the problem, whether it’s expecting the cat to behave or respond as would a human or if it’s expectation based on a made up idea of what cat behaviour is or ‘should be’. Cats of course are so different you just can’t use words like that.

      • Agreed – expectations or even demands from the person looking after the cat can be a problem. I always let my cat lead the way. He takes charge unless I think something will benefit him, which means he is free to do what feels comfortable.

        It’s about a sensitive, respectful approach I feel.

  2. Thank you Michael, well worth reading again and again, there are a lot of casual cat owners who should be forced to read this, in fact I’d go so far as to say that it should be mandatory reading for anyone wanting a cat, but of course it wouldn’t be possible to enforce it because, as we all know, cats are so easy to acquire.

    • Thanks Barbara. I thought it needed restating because, as you say, a lot of cat owners don’t do these basics and I really like the fact is comes from the government (Defra) via the law in the UK. Pretty neat that.


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