I’m referring to domestic cats of course. But the same actually would apply to wild cats. Domestic cats like to do these two things most (1) procreate i.e. mate with a female and (2) hunt to kill prey to eat and survive. Almost everything they do in the homes of their human caregivers relate back to these two activities. Number (1) is bigger than number (2) because of neutering.
The problem for the domestic cat is that they cannot express the activity described under 1! This is because they are either spayed or neutered. They are sterilised. The male cat cannot produce testosterone because they have lost their testes. This doesn’t always stop them having an urge to mate although it dampens down an awful lot of their “unwanted” (according to humans) behaviour such as marking territory through spraying urine on vertical surfaces.
But my cat likes to mate with my arm when I am wearing a certain, rather tattered, fleece dressing gown. It obviously feels a bit like a female cat as does the shape because it is the shape of my arm. He wants to mate with his mother, which is how he sees me.
He doesn’t mind. As long as he can express his desire to procreate, which is programmed into his DNA.
Hunting is a different kettle of fish. A lot of domestic cats are allowed outside unsupervised which allows them to hunt to their hearts content much to the consternation of Australia’s administrators and conservationists. And then they bring mice and birds into the home to disturb their owners. But for a domestic cat hunting is play. And play is hunting. All forms of domestic cat play boils down to hunting.
For the full-time indoor cat that means playing with a toy of some sort which might be home-made or commercially produced. The best toys are those that can be destroyed which means they are made of paper or felt but not plastic. The classic example of the need of a domestic cat to destroy their toy is when you watch a cat shredding a toilet roll. Toilet rolls have a nice consistency about them from the cat’s perspective. They can be destroyed and when a cat gets hold of them, they often are.
The domestic cat tires of the commercially produced plastic toy. They can’t ‘kill it’. And often petting can lead to feline play which is suppressed feline hunting. But it might mean biting the hand that feeds them. They can’t help it. The urge to hunt and sink those canine teeth into the neck of a prey animal is instinctive.
Expressing desires – raw cat mojo
Those are the two activities that domestic cats like to do most. It is up to their owner to satisfy those instincts in order to keep them happy. If you suppress their natural desires, you automatically suppress contentment in the domestic cat.
The way to ensure that a domesticate it as content as possible is to allow them to express their innate desires. You do that by creating an environment in which they can behave normally.
Abnormal human environment
The problem here is that for full-time indoor cats the environment is abnormal. There is carpet under their feet rather than earth and grass. There is a ceiling above their head rather than a blue sky, clouds and sometimes rain. There is silence indoors whereas outdoors there is the rustling of leaves, birds song, and the vocalisations of animals some of whom will be prey animals such as mice which the cat can detect from the sound they make with great precision. There are no trees to climb and instinct that definitely needs to be satisfied.
Domestic cats watch cat television which means looking out of a window at the animals outside. This is a very poor substitute for the real thing but we have to understand that the first duty of a cat caregiver is the companion animal’s security and safety. That’s why they keep cats indoors, they say. The truth is though that cat owners keep their cats indoors for peace of mind. They worry about their cat being outdoors in high traffic areas for instance.
The elephant in the room
The final point to make, though, is that a lot more needs to be done by cat owners to improve and enrich the environment in which to full-time indoor cat lives. This is the elephant in the room which is never discussed except by me! You can’t just bring your cat indoors full-time and tell yourself that you’ve fixed the problem of safety because you will have created another problem which is boredom leading to stress, leading to ill health (e.g., cystitis) and this counteracts the safety benefits.