If you're a cat lover, chances are you've wondered more than once how to you keep your cat happy. The sheer preponderance of cat memes here on the interwebs makes it clear that we humans have no clue what's going on behind our furry friends' inscrutable little faces. Sure, when Fluffy's purring, it's easy to tell that she's in a good mood — right? — but as for the rest of the time, the existential question about the level of satisfaction our fur children have with their lives looms in the heart of any pet parent. Okay, I know it does in mine, anyway.
Imagine my delight when I had the opportunity to talk with Jackson Galaxy, the premiere cat behaviorist and solution-wielding guru behind Animal Planet's hit My Cat from Hell. If you've never seen the show, wait until you finish reading this article, then go straight to your DVR, because Jackson (otherwise known as The Cat Daddy) walks fearlessly into feline danger zones where the fur, spit, and claws are flying and the cats' humans are frequently are on the edge of madness over their VERY ANGRY FUR CHILDREN. Mere weeks later, with some hard work on the part of the cat guardians, peace has been restored. If anyone knows what makes cats happy, it's Jackson, and he took time out from preparing for his upcoming Cat Camp, slated for June 1-2 at New York City's Metropolitan Pavilion, to break it down for us.
1. Connect To The Elemental Wildness Inside Your Cat
Believe it or not, that furry lovemuffin who sits on your laptop while you're trying to type and paws at the television when he sees a bird isn't so far removed from the big cats in the wild. The secret to making him happy lies in trying to see things through the lens of this heritage. "Connect to what would keep the 'raw cat' happy, the cat that your cat is descended from," Jackson says. "The difference between that cat and your cat is actually very minimal. Provide them with a daily routine that speaks to their DNA — where they can play, eat a meal, then groom, then sleep a while." The more your cat's life mirrors what he'd be doing in the wild, the happier he'll be.
2. Play With Your Cat Every Day
Cats are hunters. To keep your cat happy, you can replicate this activity by giving them the opportunity to exercise their skills with playtime every day — Jackson says 10 to 15 minutes is sufficient. "The toys can be simple, but it's the effort you put into it that's important. You have to use the toy to act like a bird, or a mouse, or a bug... be unpredictable, have fun with it, give the cat a challenge. By committing to that every day, then feeding afterward, the cat knows what to expect."
3. Feeding: We're Doing It All Wrong
I have cats. I love my cats. When it comes to feeding my cats, whom I love, I am doing every single thing wrong, according to The Cat Daddy. "Would a cat go out there and hunt down a little brown pellet?" he responds when I ask him if he prefers wet or dry. "I advocate for a raw diet, but at the very least go for a wet diet that has the least number of ingredients possible. Dry treats are fine." The other cardinal mistake I've been making that I bet 90 percent of other cat owners are, too? Free feeding, which is a definite no-no in Jackson's book. "Feed your cats meals," he says. "Meals should be a bonding time between you and them, just like humans."
4. The Catification Of It All
Finally, consider how you can adapt your environment to better suit your cat's needs. As viewers of My Cat From Hell will know, Jackson calls this process catification. "Make sure they have places to go that they want to get to," he says — like the "stairs" shown in the photo above, for example. "For starters, every window in your house should have places that they can look out the window... ledges, cat condos, hammocks, shelves, places to go, places where they can observe from a height. Your cat doesn't spend all day sleeping; they're going to be watching things, and if you give them good places to do it, that will keep them engaged."
5. Kids And Cats
More than 36 million U.S. households include a cat as a family member. Cats can be wonderful companions for children; the key is making sure that they have some space to get away to when they need some alone time (moms, does this sound familiar?). "Give your cat space off the ground they can get to where they don’t have to be subject to anything they don’t want to be subject to," says Jackson. "Especially when kids are at that toddler stage, they can look like Kidzilla to a cat — huge and all hands coming at them. If the cat doesn't have a place to get out of the way, they can get defensive."
6. As Your Cat Ages
Vetrinarians say that the average lifespan of a spayed or neutered house cat is 14-16 years, according to Cat Health. As your cat ages, it's especially important to ensure that he keeps off that extra weight, Jackson says. "It's critically important to keep older cats moving to offset obesity, which is a serious epidemic in cats," he says. "However, if you have a 13-year old cat, you’re going to want to provide them with steps, ramps, etc so that they’re not constantly stressing out their joints." Jackson adds that a program of supplements, similar to what humans take, will help your cat remain spry and prevent joint and tendon damage.