South Godstone Animal Centre Supervisor Liz Forbes-Dale gives us a look at the ways we put cats in our care at ease, offering some inspiration for how you might be able to help your own feline companion feel more at home.
Cats arriving at RSPCA centres can be frightened and confused. They may have been in several places before arriving, or they may have only lived in their owner’s home until now.
Cats are often seen as the ultimate control freaks who find any change in their routine and environment very difficult to cope with.
Domestic cats are very similar in their behaviour to their wild ancestors, so some of the measures we take help to allow them to follow their instincts in what is an unnatural environment for a cat.
The cattery at South Godstone has 40 cubicles in total, each with both an indoor pod and outdoor run.
Pictured left: A view of South Godstone cattery’s indoor pods, complete with feline resident.
We often know in advance when new cats are arriving, so we will set up a cattery pod with a number of different things in preparation:
Covered beds or cardboard boxes both inside the cubicle and in the outdoor runs give cats the chance to hide away from people if they choose to do so. The beds and boxes are filled with warm comfy bedding, sometimes partially covering the top so the cats can peek out. (Cats mostly prefer to be warmer than cold, so we try to make them as comfortable & warm as possible.)
We try to keep very new cats away from the public viewing areas. Like many catteries that the RSPCA run South Godstone is open for the public to view the animals, and this can be quite upsetting if the cats have just arrived. Cats are often more comfortable with new faces and experiences once they are familiar with and confident in their environment.
Our pods are made from lovely, easy to clean plastic: very hygienic but not very stimulating for the average kitty! Rugs, duvets or mats add another element and texture to their limited environment.
We spray the bedding with Feliway Classic. This contains an artificial facial pheromone (scent) that cats naturally produce. Normally a cat will rub this around their environment so that it smells familiar and they feel that they have been in this place before.
Large litter trays
Sometimes we have pairs of cats that will need a litter tray each, plus a spare one. Toileting for cats is a time when they will feel vulnerable and, like people, they often do not like to be seen while doing their business. We try to give them some privacy from the other cats alongside them by giving them enough space, and offering covered trays.
Cats like to scratch for 2 reasons: it helps to maintain the health of their nails, and allows them to scent mark an area using scent glands between the pads on their paws, making it familiar, and leaving a message for other cats. Some cats prefer to scratch vertically & others horizontally, so we offer both scratching posts and carpet tiles.
Confinement in the cattery can be very boring for cats and they can become frustrated, so we aim to keep them entertained. When the cats first arrive we do not play with them as it may be overwhelming, but we leave toys in their pods so that they start to become familiar. When they are ready and settled, both the staff and volunteers will engage in play sessions with the cats if they are interested.
We like to groom all the cats in the cattery. Sometimes the more nervous cats will let us groom them where they wouldn’t let us pet or stroke them. The brushes are left in the cubicles for when the cats are settled enough to allow interactions, leaving the brushes inside also allows the item to become familiar to the cat.
We put one water bowl inside the pod and one in the back run.Cats are very sensitive about where they drink, and may prefer this to be away from feeding areas. As space is at a premium inside, we we give them an extra bowl outside. Plastic bowls can taint the taste of the water so we try to use other materials: glass, metal or a ceramic.
Once the cats have settled we consider how we can help to mimic some of the cats wild behaviours. One of the easiest way is by getting them hunting!
Hunting is a natural behaviour which is not solely linked to hunger. Cats in the wild will go on hunting adventures up to 40 times a day and may catch something 10 to 20 times, so with this in mind it must be very boring to have your dinner served in a bowl! As well as play, we try to use alternative feeding methods which simulate this search for food.
Pictured left: Danaerys tackles a toilet roll pyramid: the rolls are all glued together with biscuits hidden inside, meaning the cats have to seek out the hidden treasures!
We hope a few of these tips and trick from our cattery will come in useful if you’re hoping to welcome a new cat into your household soon, and may even help your existing feline feel more at home!