Pet Talk | Give 'em room

Pet Talk | Give 'em room

By UI College of Veterinary Medicine

What if you had only one bathroom at your disposal and someone you really didn't like was always hanging around it?

With that scenario and other tips, Dr. Kelly Ballantyne, a board-certified veterinary behaviorist, helps people get into the mind space of their feline companions as she expounds upon the second pillar of a healthy feline environment.

The American Association of Feline Practitioners and the International Society of Feline Medicine recently outlined the five pillars of a healthy feline environment. Ballantyne recently wrote about the first pillar, which is safe places.

Pillars three through five are: the opportunity for play and predatory behavior; positive, consistent, and predictable social interactions; and an environment that respects the importance of his sense of smell.

Ballantyne, a faculty member with the UI College of Veterinary Medicine, sees clients and their pets at a Chicago-based practice, Veterinary Behavior at Illinois. She says all cats have the same essential environmental needs. When those needs are met, cats enjoy better physical, emotional and behavioral health.

The second pillar of providing a healthy environment for your cat is: Provide your cat with the resources he needs and spread them out. Key resources for cats include food and water, litter boxes, scratching posts and safe spaces, both elevated and ground level, which constitute the first pillar of a healthy feline environment.

When you have multiple cats living in your home, spreading their resources out into several areas of your home is essential for providing them with an appropriate environment. Are you thinking, "Well, my cats get along just fine. They eat next to each other, and they never fight. This seems unnecessary"?

Think again.

Unless your cats regularly groom each other, wrap their tails around each other and sleep in a physical contact with one another, at best your cats are merely tolerating each other. Forcing them to interact to get to their essential resources causes significant stress.

While this may seem like an exaggeration, consider this: Have you ever avoided going to the restroom at your office because the co-worker that you don't get along with sits near it? Have you ever waited until they took their lunch break or even waited until you got home? While this is certainly annoying and can cause some discomfort, at least you do get to go home (and get away from that co-worker) at the end of the day.

A similar scenario happens every day, multiple times per day, in multi-cat homes when resources aren't spaced out. These cats never get to get away from each other. So, if you have multiple cats living in your home, one of the best things you can do to improve or maintain their relationships with each other is to spread out their resources.

For best effect, keep each resource out of view of other locations of the same resource. This allows your cats to avoid seeing each other (a cat's best method of avoiding a fight), can help decrease competition for that resource and can reduce bullying and social stress.

You may be thinking that if you have just one cat, you don't need to space your cat's resources out. On the surface, that makes sense because your cat won't have to compete with other cats to get to these resources; however, single cats actually benefit from having their resources in several different areas as well. This adds variety to their environment (which reduces boredom) and gives them options if they need to avoid something — such as a weekend houseguest.

Even single cats benefit from two different resting areas, two different feeding areas and two different litter box areas.

Also, be sure to separate your cat's food and water dishes from each other. Unlike dogs and humans, cats don't drink while they eat.

An archive of pet columns from the UI College of Veterinary Medicine is available at Requests for reprints of this article may be directed to Chris Beuoy at

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