Cat food: check. Kitty litter: check. Scratching post: check. But what are you doing about biological fulfillment? The Pet Girl shines the light on helping a cat be…a cat.
Recently I interviewed Brittany, aka The Pet Girl about a subject dear to her heart, cats. This is an edited version of that interview.
On her mind:
“How we can biologically fulfill them, how we can train them? These are things that people don't consider with cats, and I think that it's a real disservice to a cat…They require things to support their optimal health.”
And when it comes to an anxious cat, The Pet Girl believes we’re even more lax.
“If we had a pet dog that was anxious and didn't want to be around people and tried to bite people that is a big issue. We would contact a trainer and we would get someone out to help us. But with cats we just accept it and I think that's really sad. I think that every cat deserves to have really good mental health and be in a good mental state and to live their lives like that.”
ADOPTING A KITTEN? THINGS TO DO ON DAY ONE
It all starts when cats are kittens she says. Let's say you adopted a kitten. What are some of those things that you should do right from day one to make sure that you are developing them neurologically if you like or giving them the right start from a healthy mental perspective?
The Pet Girl says the first thing she did with both her cats is handled them in the same way as she handled her dogs.
“In their first few weeks, that’s a critical period. They’re quite malleable and it’s the time that we need to be building confidence and showing them the things that we want them to be comfortable with in their lives,” she says.
“So for my cats, one thing that was really particular and very important was that they are able to be handled. And when I say handled that they are able to have their ears checked, their eyes, their teeth, and their paws… should be able to flipped on their back and be checked over thoroughly, especially around the neck area.”
Brittany says cats still have to go to the vet clinic and they still have to get vaccinated, so she wants to make that visit to the vet as stress free as I possibly can.
“So when you get a kitten the first thing that I would recommend is set that cat up for success and make sure that you're handling them and you're getting them used to the life that they are going to live in the future.”
When they get a little bit older, how should your approach to that change?
“Once they're out of very early kittenhood, well, for me, it never does change,” she says. “I think that it's important that our animals are learn to deal with pressure and stress, because that is a part of everyday life. We can't cotton wool our animals; there are going to be times in their lives where they're going to need to do something that they don't really want to do. So for me, I did that with my dogs as well.
"I'm very passionate about ensuring that my animals are adaptive and they're able to relax and show relax compliance in certain situations.”
WALKING THE CAT…
Outside of feeding and health checks, there are also fun things to do with your cat – that are also good for the cat’s mental and physical health. And while some people think you can only do active things with your dog, The Pet Girl says you can do that with your cat as well.
“I mean look, I'm really blessed. I live on 6 acres here. There's about an acre and a half that's fenced. And so my cat Bullseye gets access to go outside. She's got a really good recall, [and when she hears the whistle] she comes back … literally as fast as she possibly can, and she flies through my door. …Across and in the door, which is just there, and she flies through. She goes straight to her food bowl 'cause she knows she'll be fed.”
The Pet Girl says don’t just think your cat’s “whole purpose is to lounge around your house”.
“That is not a cat purpose. A cat is a predatory animal. They have biological instincts that need to be fulfilled. And if we don't fulfill them that we're going to be contributing to stress, that's going to be in their lives.”
That said, unless your cat is trained it's unlikely that you're going to take your cat to the dog beach or to the cat park.
“I walked my dogs the other day, and I did see a cat on my walk on Esplanade with their owners and the owners were training the cat. The cat was laying down so I don't know what's going on there. I'm not joking, it was really cool,” she says.
EXPRESSING THE PREDATORY NATURE – SAFELY
But how do we allow cats to express that predatory instinct without also killing everything?
“We obviously don't want our cats out hunting in, you know, hunting animals and hunting down wildlife,” says Brittany. “There are a couple of things that you can do I believe...
"Every cat should be able to go outside in a safeway, so I don't mean just open the door and let your cat out and let them go bananas. I'm talking about things like cat runs or cat enclosures…. Every species deserves to be able to have natural vitamin D. They deserve to be out in the sun. They deserve to have grass and do things that biologically or appropriate to them.
“So for my cat, how I fulfill her predatory drive is that I have a teaser toy that I play with it. We do structured play. So like I have structured play for my dogs, I have structural play for my cat… I know that I'm never going to be able to fulfill my cats biological needs unless I give her something to hunt like obviously I'm not going to be able to do that. So what I do is I try to supplement that with learning so she actually has to use her brain and think…
“So she's clicker trained. She participates in shaping sessions. I teach her tricks where possible. She is crate trained as well. I'm trying to work on boundary training so she stays on a boundary which would be really cool. And then I can do that with the dogs.
"Multiple dogs and cats. That would be fun, but yeah, these are some of the things that I do with my cat to biologically fulfill her and I think that's why she's such a well-adjusted, calm, cool, calm and collected cat.”
The Pet Girl is a trainer and animal nutritionist with a growing list of accreditations. I spoke with her recently about getting cats off to a great start in life, for our interview series Pet Parent with a Brain. (This is an edited excerpt from the transcript of that interview; you can watch the whole interview here.)