The Water Bowl
Breed & Health Resources

How to Make Your Cat Happy and Healthy

By Dusty Rainbolt

happy cat

The CATalyst Council designated September as Happy Cat Month to improve feline health by focusing on feline happiness – but there’s no reason not to practice these habits all year long. Scientific studies show that happy cats are healthier cats, and vice versa.

Visit the Vet Regularly

One way we make our kitties happy is to take them to the vet once or twice a year. (Of course, we’re looking at long-term happiness, not necessarily happiness on the spot.)

Did you know that dogs are five times more likely to see a vet than their feline counterparts? People assume cats are healthy if they don’t appear sick. But kitties are masters at masking illness, so looks can be deceiving. Preventive vet care will help keep your cat healthy by catching illnesses earlier when they’re more easily treated.

If you worry about your cat’s (and your) anxiety level, go to a cat-friendly or FearFree® veterinary practice or find a mobile vet in your area to give your feline the once-over in your home. Since cats are so good at hiding symptoms, take them to the vet if you notice:

  • Straining in the litter box (especially males) or repeated attempts to go to the bathroom with no results. This is a life and death emergency and you need to visit the vet immediately
  • Litter box habits have changed (missing the box, diarrhea, constipation, blood in urine or stool, or going more frequently than before)
  • Labored breathing
  • Change in behavior (suddenly missing the litter box, sleeping in a different place, hiding, aggression, etc.)
  • Seizures
  • Persistent vomiting; vomiting more than twice in 24 hours or vomiting occasionally over weeks or months
  • Bleeding
  • Lethargy, staggering, or stumbling
  • Lameness or favoring a limb
  • Any symptom that persists for longer than 48 hours or gets noticeably worse quickly
  • Change in appetite (i.e. suddenly hungry all the time or loss of appetite)
  • Bad breath

Carrier Train Your Cat

Your cat views the carrier as the vet transportation device, but you can crate train your cat from thinking of it as a scary prison to a sanctuary.

  1. Place the open carrier in the room where your cat spends most of their time
  2. Put a towel inside & toss a treat or catnip into it every once in awhile to encourage your cat to get comfortable
  3. Once they’re taking naps in the crate, take them for a trip around the block and give them treats during the excursion
  4. Follow up with some trips to the vet for treats only – no thermometers

ID Your Cat

Whether your cat roams the neighborhood or lives exclusively inside, microchips, collars, and visible ID tags are a good idea. If they ever escape or get lost, a microchip can make a happy reunion possible even if they lose his collar.

Keep Your Cat Indoors

The lifespan of an indoor cat runs 14 to 18 years, whereas a cat who goes outside averages only 4 to 8 years. Keeping your cat inside protects them from lethal viruses, parasites, predators, and cars.

Make Your Cat’s Environment More Interesting

Your cat isn’t in jail and they need something to do indoors. In the wild, a cat sleeps 16 hours a day, but the rest of the time they’re very active. Offer the same enrichment opportunities they have outside: hunting, chasing, jumping, climbing, scratching, pouncing, hiding, and problem solving.

Put kibble inside a food puzzle or other hunting toy that requires them to knock it around to eat. They get exercise and it’s more fun than grazing from a food bowl.

Cats are predators and love the thrill of the hunt, even when it’s not the real thing. When you’re home, encourage them to exercise with a feather toy or a laser pointer. Even ten minutes of active play twice a day is great exercise. Feed your cat immediately afterward – every successful hunt ends with a meal.

Provide Safe Scratching Opportunities

Scratching is a natural cat activity. Set up a legal (yet satisfying) place for your cat to dig in and they'll likely avoid the furniture. Provide a scratching post or cardboard scratcher tall (or long) enough for them to fully stretch their back and stable enough to stay in place even when they give it a good yank.

Clean Their Litter Box

If your cat lived outside, they’d always have access to a clean bathroom, so be sure to scoop the box daily. Research shows that cats prefer large open litter boxes fill with unscented litter.

Give Your Cats Hiding Places

A simple paper bag (with the handles removed) can give your kitty a place to hide. Clear off a shelf on your bookcase to give them an elevated place to observe their territory.

Show More Affection

Cats want your attention, but each cat has their own preferences. Some kitties see affection as a warm lap and chin scratches, some like a vigorous game of kill the feather, and some thrive on learning new tricks and skills through clicker training. Experiment to learn what your kitty prefers.

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