red tabby and white cat on a white shearling blanket background

Cats: Low Maintenance Pets?

The stereotype of the cat as low maintenance pets that doesn’t need, or want, much from their guardians prevents cats from getting what they need, causes stress, boredom, behavior and health problems, and leads to failed adoptions when the needs exceed the expectations. 

I’ve seen it in rescue with cats being returned for being too clingy, too loud, too destructive, or “mean.” I recently saw a client with a lovely ragdoll kitten. The guardian was frustrated because the cat was “attacking” her, attention seeking, scratching her furniture, getting on the counters, and messing around with stuff the human didn’t want her to get into. She’d tried training the kitten with a spray bottle. She wanted a stereotypical, low maintenance, cat that slept all day and provided passive companionship with the sweet, laid back ragdoll personality. She had a bored kitten that was undersocialized in an environment that was not set up for a cat and provided no enrichment. 

Related Post: Help! My Cat is Bored.

The myth of cats as a low maintenance pet has done much damage to the quality of life for cats. We keep our cats as indoor, house pets for their health and safety and to reduce their effects on the environment. But we miss the part about the need to provide Kitty with alternative ways to “cat.” Both cat and guardian end up unhappy. 

Let’s look at some of these myths about our feline friends.

Myth: Not “Just a Cat” that you can leave to fend for herself

Cats are not just couch potatoes that can be left to their own devices. They are Intelligent and resourceful animals that want and need our companionship. Cats that don’t get enough mental and physical stimulation get bored. Bored cats will make their own fun and you probably won’t like it.

The results can include destructive behaviors like scratching your furniture or door frames, shredding paper towels or your curtains, climbing your shelves and knocking things over. A bored or lonely kitty may develop inappropriate behaviors such as over-grooming/fur pulling, excessive vocalization, over sleeping or eating, or aggression toward other animals or people in the house.

Red tabby cat meowing excessively.

Stress eating and eating out of boredom is a thing for cats as much as it is for you or I. This leads to obesity and related health problems.

Myth: Cats are Aloof and Antisocial

Actually, a well-socialized cat craves interaction with her people. Your cats do like you and want to be with you. Learn cat body language. The effusive greeting you get from a dog is very different from the greeting you will get from a cat. But it does not mean the dog loves you more, the cat and dog just speak different languages.

Related Post: Your Cat is not a Jerk

While cats in the wild are solitary hunters, they are not loners. Cats do form social bonds. Your furbaby will miss you while you are gone out to work or traveling. Consider adopting in pairs if your cat is going to be alone for the bulk of the day. Especially if you get a kitten. They need a buddy.

Despite their reputation for independence, cats are loving, social animals that need regular care and attention to thrive.

Myth: Cats’ Needs are Limited

While you might not need to walk your cat around the neighborhood every day after work like a dog, your cat does require an investment of your time and treasure. Properly caring for a cat requires investment of time, energy, space, and money.

Related Post: Enrichment for Indoor Cats

Cats need more than just food, water, a litter box and a bed. They also need enrichment, exercise, opportunities to express predatory behaviors in play and a place to hide when they feel threatened. Kitty needs places to get up high and view his territory. They need to have appropriate places to scratch. You need to set up your house for Kitty’s happiness by providing adequate resources in a cat-friendly way.

Obviously they need fresh food 2-3 times a day, clean water, and a litterbox scooped at least once a day; but Kitty also requires daily playtime with you, grooming, and cuddling. And, depending on your cat’s personality, he might enjoy that daily walk too.  

Related Post: 5 Pillars of a Healthy Feline Environment

Myth: Cats Can’t be Trained

Actually, cats can be trained. They can be trained to do tricks, to run an agility course, to walk on a leash. You need time, practice, a good relationship, and high-value treats. 

It is easy to house train a kitten. You can teach a cat to stop scratching the sofa and stay off the counter. But you need to be able to think like a cat to be successful. You need positive training approaches, rather than discipline or discouragement. Negative training will only make cats do the things you don’t want them doing when you aren’t around and associate you with fear. 

Have you heard it said dogs are like toddlers, cats are like teenagers? Cats won’t change their behavior “because you say so” like a dog.  You have to figure out what they are getting out of the behavior you object to and give them a better way to meet that need. 

Reward her good behavior and distract her from what you don’t want. Be sure you are not subtly reinforcing the behavior you are trying to change. Even negative attention is still attention.

Myth: Indoor Cats Don’t Need to See the Vet

The idea that cats are low maintenance pets that just need food and don’t need to see the vet is fading, but cats are still being under served when it comes to vet care. Cats are masters at hiding pain and illness. By the time a cat shows subtle signs of sickness, it’s likely been ill for some time.

Your indoor cat needs vaccines. She needs parasite control and regular preventive healthcare visits to the veterinarian. 

Related Post: Take Your Cat to the Vet

.Don’t Compare Your Cat to a Dog

Judging cats by dog standards does no one any good. People think dogs require more attention because they need to be walked to go potty. They are more outgoing in asking for affection and attention. Puppies need training to become good pets. It is socially acceptable for your dog to become part of your activities. 

Cats are quieter and less “in your face” about getting their needs met. But that doesn’t make them low maintenance, cheap alternatives. As we have seen, indoor cats are actually quite high maintenance pets and need significant time and energy to build a satisfying relationship that makes both cats and their guardians happy and fulfilled. 

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