When we think of a “Zen” state of mind and environment in human terms, we might envision sitting in a meditation pose, basking in peace and relaxation, and saying “Om” while the scent of lavender oil wafts around the room.
Our cats also benefit from a blissful, calming state of Zen – a word that originated from a type of Buddhism – but some of their needs are different, experts say. Cats need a bit more stimulation in the form of objects, lest they get bored from too much calm, says Marilyn Krieger, a California cat behaviorist who runs The Cat Coach.
“When you’re talking about Zen, usually people want an uncluttered type of environment,” says Krieger. “With cats, you need a lot of things. You need a lot of environmental enrichment because cats are so smart. They enjoy a little bit of clutter,” she says.
Lynn Stitt—founder and “head can opener” at The Best Little Cat House in PA, a Harrisburg-area cat hospice that was specially designed and built for kitties—knows all about creating a comforting space for cats that need it. Stitt says Zen for cats in a multi-feline environment is about creating more space in interesting and unique ways.
Here are some tips for making your cat’s home environment more peaceful and relaxing, while keeping in mind her need for stimulation.
Provide plenty of toys. These can be as simple as toy mice and balls, or a more interactive, complex toy. Krieger likes ball and track toys, where cats can chase and manipulate a ball encased in a track, often circular. Change up the toys regularly, and add a novelty – like my rubbing dehydrated chicken on the cloth toys, Krieger suggests.
Pay attention to your food bowls. If you have more than one cat, having the cats eat out of the same bowl, or putting the bowls right next to each other, causes stress. They will be happier and more relaxed if they have their own space to eat, Krieger says.
Provide moving or dripping water. There’s something about water that is soothing to people. It’s the same thing for cats, and some love to drink moving water, Krieger says. You can purchase a motion-sensitive faucet for your kitchen sink, and your cats can activate the water to drink. You also can purchase a special cat-drinking dish with a flowing fountain.
Create vertical territory. This is especially important in a multi-cat household, because cats show their positions in the hierarchy by how high they perch, Krieger says. Cats also just love to check things out from above, and they feel safe in high-up places.
A cat tree is an obvious and good choice for meeting this altitude need, especially if it has a few layers where cats can sit. Look for one that is 5 to 6 feet tall for maximum feline enjoyment, Krieger says. Cats also will love bookshelves and armoires. Don’t put anything fragile on the shelves, Krieger recommends, and consider clearing out an area for the cats.
Consider building catwalks. If you’re the handy type, you can build something in your house for your cats that is actually fairly simple to execute, Stitt says. You can put a ladder along a wall in a room that the cats can climb, then install a wood or metal beam that stretches across the room at least a foot below the ceiling. This gives cats their own catwalks and high-up places to explore and relax. You can also can buy ready-made shelves at a hardware store and install those by a ladder. Turn the shelves into Zen-like lofts with cat beds, so kitties have a human-free retreat to themselves.
“It’s just creating space where we don’t walk, but yet it’s perfect for them,” Stitt says.
Get a good scratching post. As scratching is a natural and soothing behavior to a cat, it’s important to provide a place where they can file those claws. If you don’t provide a good scratching object, your cats will claim your couch, carpet, or other inappropriate spot.
“Not only do cats mark their territory when they scratch, they scratch when they’re feeling a little stressed and conflicted,” Krieger says.
Bump up the bed count. Our cats may love sleeping with us in our beds, but you also should provide additional beds around the house for cats, who spend a great amount of their time napping, Krieger says.
Consider playing some cat-friendly tunes. Some audio albums designed to comfort and please cats are available for purchase or download. These compilations usually feature classical-style music and some cats love them, Krieger says.
Don’t ignore the litter box. Be conscientious with your kitty’s litter box, which can be a major source of stress, Krieger says. If it stinks to you, it especially stinks to your cat’s sensitive nose. Having several litterboxes around the house, and keeping them very clean and uncovered makes for a pleasant and Zen environment for your cat.