It’s that time when we all start to think about how we’re going to improve ourselves for the new year. Going on a diet, taking a class, or stopping a bad habit are common resolutions we make for ourselves. But, have you thought about making a resolution to strengthen your bond with your cat? Here are twelve ideas to help you do just that. I’ve offered one tip to focus on for each month, but any of these ideas can be used year-round for a healthier pet relationship!
Make regular time for your cat in January: It’s so easy for us to ignore our seemingly self-sufficient cats, particularly if they’re well behaved. With so many shows to binge-watch and electronic toys to play with, it’s no wonder that our cat, sitting quietly on the couch, gets short shrift when it comes to attention. Associate Certified Animal Behaviorist Katenna Jones told me she gives her clients the idea of a, “no electronics policy. During this time, do not let yourself be distracted by your smart phone or computer.”
Ask what your cat loves in February: Think about what your cat enjoys. Is it being brushed? Is it a cuddle on your lap? A game of chase the cat toy? Find things to do together that are fun from her perspective.
Add play and toys to the menu in March: While some cats do regularly play, there are many types of enriching play that you can bring into their lives that may be completely new. For example, try playing with cat wand toys to stimulate your cat’s desire to chase things. Visit your local pet supply store and browse the cat toy isle and get ideas about the variety of play available. There are many possibilities!
Give your cat a view in April: Put in a window box or shelf for your cat so she can watch what’s going on outside. This is great enrichment for cats that doesn’t involve having them wandering around outside, without supervision, which is not safe.
Encourage your cat’s natural instincts in May: Foraging is an activity that your cat can really get into. There are many types of toys on the market that are stuffed with food that your cat must find and pull out. You can also make your own very inexpensively. Check out foodpuzzlesforcats.com for ideas.
Train for mental stimulation in June: The idea of training a cat to do anything still seems unusual to many cat lovers. Too often you hear, “cats are untrainable!” Well, the truth is, training is a terrific way to build communication between the two of you. All you need to do is get a clicker and some basic information on marker training and decide on a few simple behaviors. For example, try teaching your cat to sit up, or to touch her paw to your hand. Or, go with a behavior that’s useful, such as asking the cat to move to a cat bed when you find her on your computer keyboard. There’s really no limit to the tricks and behaviors you can teach your cat and this can have a huge positive effect on your relationship.
Resolve to “hear” what your cat is saying in July: We know that cats can’t speak English, but that doesn’t mean they don’t talk to us every day. We often tend to ignore the vocalizations cats make as cute or annoying, without spending time thinking about what is going on in your cat’s head. This year, make a promise to your cat that you will spend time really watching what she does each day and learning the ins and outs of her daily routine. This is vital when your cats are trying to tell you they aren’t feeling well. Most often these negative changes in a cat’s health will show up as disruptions in routine, and some of them may be quite subtle. Or you may notice a slight difference to the sounds they make, or the body language they display.
Learn more about cats in August: Budget in some time to learn more about feline body language so you can really understand what’s going on. An excellent resource is the CD set “What is My Cat Saying” by Carol Byrnes and Jacqueline Munera.
Grooming is bonding in September: Make sure, if you don’t have one already, to make a regular grooming schedule for your cat. Not only does it help keep your cat healthy, but a session of brushing and grooming is very pleasurable for most cats.
Schedule a veterinary visit in October: How long has it been since you’ve had a visit to the veterinarian? Cat parents tend to take their pets to the vet even less than dog parents. In fact, the American Veterinary Medical Association reports that cat visits to the vet have gone down by 30% since 2001. Just like humans, cats need a yearly physical. So make sure you schedule an appointment for your cat before the year is out!
Work with their fears in November: One reason many cat parents hate taking their cat to the vet is because their cat finds it extremely distressing. To avoid trouble, many simply skip the trip. Rather than avoiding important medical care, work on helping your cat feel less stressed at the veterinarian’s office. Work with a behavior professional who can help you with this critical task. You can find qualified cat behavior consultants via the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (iaabc.org), the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (avsab.org), the Animal Behavior Society (animalbehaviorsociety.org), the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (dacvb.org), and the Fear Free Initiative at fearfreepets.com.
Emergency preparedness for cats in December: This is a small task that is critically important and often forgotten. Make sure your cat’s ID tags are updated and clearly legible. Replace worn-out tags with new ones. Contact your microchipping company if you’ve moved or changed a phone number or email address. And take good, up to date pictures of your cat in case you need to make a lost and found flyer. Likewise, if you live in an area that is disaster-prone, make sure you have a disaster plan in place for your cat. You never know when something may happen and your cat might become separated from you, or when you both may need to evacuate quickly. Being ready is the best way to care for your cat and continue your relationship together.
All of this might seem like a lot of work, but taking it one month at a time will help you establish routine. The enjoyment you get from your strengthened relationship with your cat will be a major reinforcement to continuing success. Happy New Year!
If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian -- they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.