18 Sep 2022

Dr. Zazie Todd - Purr: The Science of Making Your Cat Happy

From Sunday Morning, 10:35 am on 18 September 2022

Despite some interference from her 'senior' tortoiseshell cat Melina, Zazie Todd has just released her second book Purr: The Science of Making Your Cat Happy.

"She has a habit of lying on the keyboard at the end of the day when its time for me to stop work … if I'm typing she actually grabs for my knuckles with her paw," the animal behaviour expert tells Jim Mora.

A composite image of animal behavior expert Zazie Todd and the cover of her book "Purr. The Science of Making Your Cat Happy"

Photo: supplied

In Purr, Zazie offers advice for even the most experienced cat owners, all of it backed up by science.

Her central message is the more you understand your cat's needs, the more contented it will be.

"Many people find cats quite hard to understand but the more attention you pay to a cat the better you'll figure out what they might be wanting."

So what does a contented cat look like?

"Lying out, quite spread out, perhaps on their side with a bit of the tummy showing. The tail will be away from the body, the whiskers will be nice and relaxed, the eyes might be closed or semi-closed and the ears will probably be forward and quite interested in what's going on."

A happy cat spends the day snoozing, eating, playing and moving around and maybe kneading soft surfaces, Zazie says.

An unhappy cat will have their ears back and its eyes wide.

ginger cat

Photo: Michael Sum / Unsplash

So how do you help your cat be happy?

The main thing is taking the time to engage and play with them, Zazie says.

"Most cats would really love it if you would make the time to play with them. And also they'd like you to do more for their environment."

This means setting your home up for a cat so they don't get bored, she says.

If they don't have access to the outside, try to create a space where they can see and smell the outdoors.

Inside, they love having access to a cardboard box as a safe space to hide and a plaything - and also shelves or surfaces high up where they can hang out.

Cats also need something to scratch and may prefer wood, cardboard or a horizontal surface.

"Scratching is a natural behaviour for cats. It helps to keep their claws in good condition. And when they scratch they're depositing pheromones from the pads in their paws."

Scratching posts need to be both sturdy on the ground and tall enough for them to stretch out on, Zazie says.

You can train a cat with positive reinforcement such as awarding them treats when they scratch their scratching post.

Yelling at your cat - which 75 percent of cat-owners do - will not only stress them out but may not even teach them a lesson as they won't connect their behaviour to your reaction, she says.

When it comes to interaction, cats very much like to be in control.

To summon one, get down on their level, call them by name and put out your hand or finger for them to touch.

If they come within a metre of you they're comfortable with you, Zazie says.

Some may not be interested in getting any closer than that, but if you're lucky they'll enjoy cosying up.

"Nothing beats sitting reading a book of an evening or watching TV with a cat purring away on your lap - that's just really nice."

Dr Zazie Todd previously wrote the award-winning book Wag: The Science of Making Your Dog Happy. She writes the blog Companion Animal Psychology.


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