2015 Better with Pets Summit: Cat Behavior


Our third annual Better With Pets Summit was all about understanding the emotional wellness of our pets. Gathered from expert panels, keynote addresses and interactive exhibits, here are the 10 most incredible facts we learned about cats.

1.  Millennials Are Caring Cat Owners

Whether they’re climbing mountains, helping kids in their communities or embarking on nationwide artistic travels, millennials are doing more with their pets. To this generation, pets aren’t just domestic buddies, they’re artistic muses who help them break all kinds of boundaries. According to Purina behaviorist Sandra Lyn, we’re also “starting to see a shift with millennials who are willing to spend more on health care for their cats.”

2. You Can Visualize Your Cat’s Wellbeing

Cats communicate in many subtle ways, and it may be hard to interpret when something is wrong. We learned these tricks for evaluating a healthy cat through simple visual cues.

Digestion: Stools should be small, firm and in your cat’s litter box. Irregularities may mean it’s time to ask an expert.

Eyes: Eyes should be bright and clear. Discharge or cloudy pupils may indicate issues that necessitate a visit to the vet.

Coat and Skin: A healthy cat should have shiny, smooth, color-rich hair that’s free of flakes and mats. A problematic coat may be a sign of a bigger problem.

Energy levels: Playful demeanor and moderate activity indicate good overall health. A sudden change in energy level may mean something’s up.

Teeth: A healthy cat’s teeth are free of tartar and plaque, without unusual yellowing or darkening around the back teeth. Gums should be bright pink. Unusually bad breath may be a sign that something is wrong.

3. Cats Need a Balance of Play Time and Alone Time

Cats have a reputation for being aloof, but their occasional preference for solitude doesn’t mean they aren’t deeply affected by their social environment. When the impact is negative, we know it (think “elimination behavior”). Incorporating perches, ways to connect with the outdoors, hiding places and scratch posts will help bring positive stimulation to your cat’s daily life. Cats in the wild enjoy scratching, hiding, burrowing and hunting. Tony Buffington, who teaches veterinary science at Ohio State University, stresses that “for dogs and cats in mixed environments, it’s really important for cats to be able to get away to a safe space,” and reminds us that with a bit of effort, we can ensure our cats get enough of the activities they need.

4. Cats Are Natural Born Hunters

Cats have a natural energy cycle that dictates much of their behavior patterns. For cats in nature, this mostly centers on the search for food. After each successful hunt, the meal is digested while the cat rests. In the wild, hunting is part of the daily routine. You can use play to mimic instinctual hunting behaviors with puzzle feeders, which Dr. Buffington says are “probably the most important enrichment device there is.” Puzzle feeders increase mental stimulation and activity level while helping the cat burn off energy and calories between meals.

5. Ancient Instincts Explain Your Cat’s Behavior

After a meal, you may notice your cat spends time under her bed, on the back of a sofa or high up on a shelf. Each of these settings helps your cat feel secure and in control of her surroundings. These behaviors are much like those of your cat's ancestors in the wild, who would climb trees or conceal themselves in thick foliage or other hideouts on the ground. Allowing your cat to follow her instincts will make her feel more in control, and may improve your relationship as well. According to Cat Behaviorist Mikel Delgado, “Interactions between cats and humans last longer and go better when the cat is allowed to make their own decisions.”

6. Cats Are Communicators

Cats use their eyes, ears, whiskers and tail to communicate. In the wild, they rely on posturing and body language, among other things, to cast signals to rivals, predators and mates. Our own cats vocalize—by purring, meowing and hissing—and use body language to communicate their mood and receptiveness to contact. Understanding this information can help you decide when to socialize with your cat and when to give her space.

7. A Cat’s Sense of Smell is Essential

A cat’s senses of smell and taste provide crucial information about the world. How can we make sure that our pets are enjoying optimal use of these critical senses? Purina scientist Sandra Lyn has developed a way to test cats’ senses using scented cotton swabs.

Purina scientist Sandra Lyn explains, “Cats need control over their environment. They need to be able to walk away or participate as they choose. We needed to consider this carefully in developing our tests. Using cotton swabs to carry specific odors has proven very effective. Cats enjoy interacting with them. Some cats can’t smell, either as a result of age—which tends to set in around 10-12 years—or with certain illnesses. Smell and taste are very important to food and safety, as well as pleasure.”

8. Good Bacteria Can Mean Better Digestion

You may hear a lot about probiotics, but what are they? Probiotics are live microorganisms that, when ingested, have a beneficial effect on the digestive system by promoting improved microflora balance. Microflora balance helps support immune health, minimization of digestive upset, maintenance of normal fecal quality and other nutritional benefits. They help protect the gastrointestinal tract from harmful bacteria, which helps your cat feel his best. If you are concerned about your cat’s digestion, check out Purina® Pro Plan® Veterinary Diets FortiFlora®, a probiotic supplement specifically designed for cats, available only from your veterinarian.

9. Cats Should Feel Safe and In Control

We furnish and decorate our living spaces to meet our needs, and simple modifications can make our homes more cat-friendly. For instance, giving your cats places to hide and vertical spaces to perch can help to put them at ease at home. Unobstructed paths to food and the litter box also help cats remain stress free. Opening the blinds gives cats a link to the outside world, and makes them feel more in control.

10. Your Home is Their Home

Unclean and inappropriate environments, boredom, improper introduction of new pets and even some interior design choices can be very stressful for your cat. Chronic stress can cause a number of health and behavioral issues. The good news is that you can help alleviate chronic stress by considering your cats’ needs when decorating your home. For example, in a multi-cat home, be sure to provide more litter boxes than cats, and spread the litter boxes throughout the house. Cats are also sensitive to unnatural lighting. Heather Lewis, an architect who specializes in pet-friendly design, explains that although we are told that “fluorescent lights are full spectrum, they have really severe peaks at certain points in the spectrum” that can make cats feel anxious or uncomfortable.