It’s surprising to some—especially beginner cat parents—how much a small change in routine can affect their feline friend. A routine is pretty much a basic cat need because it gives them a sense of security and is crucial to their physical and mental wellbeing. In this post, we’ll further explore why cats love routine so much and share tips on setting a routine for your cat.
Why Is Routine So Important for Cats?
The simple fact is that a cat’s need for a routine is a matter of instinct. While humans have a host of complex matters to think through during the day, cats only think about the most basic things—being fed, watered, being able to exercise, and having somewhere clean to go to the bathroom.
Domesticated cats have these needs met by their owners as they can’t take care of matters themselves as they would have to in the wild. For this reason, cats rely on us to make sure they’re not going hungry or getting bored.
A routine is something cats quickly adapt to and take comfort in as they have a good idea of when they’re going to eat, exercise, and where they’re going to pee or poop.
Routine isn’t just about setting alarms, either. It’s about consistency in the type of food they’re eating, where the bowls are placed, the kind of litter in their box, and where their litter box is. In short, cats need life to be as predictable as possible to avoid getting stressed out or even physically unwell.
What Happens If a Cat’s Routine is Interrupted?
Sudden changes to a cat’s routine—even small ones—can wreak havoc on their physical and mental wellbeing. A change in routine can cause cats to become stressed or anxious to the point where you spot behavioral or physical changes.
Behavioral issues linked to stress include excessive licking (which can also lead to hair loss), scratching, chewing, aggression, and urinating or defecating outside the litter box. Physical signs of stress include appetite loss, sleeping more, and digestive issues like diarrhea and constipation.
Not every cat will suffer from physical stress-related symptoms, but some may show it in more subtle ways, like vocalizing more than usual to express their distress or scratching at furniture to attract your attention.
Setting a Routine: Top Tips
If you’re unsure how to go about setting a routine for your cat or don’t know what kind of things should be part of your cat’s routine, check out these tips to get an idea.
Stick to Feeding Times
Try to feed your cat at approximately the same time every day. This doesn’t mean that all hell will break loose if you feed them a little earlier or later than usual (though your cat certainly won’t hesitate to let you know if they’re hungry). A little flexibility is fine, but try not to let the feeding routine fluctuate wildly.
Avoid Sudden Changes
Suddenly changing your cat’s food or feeding schedule can be very stressful for them and sometimes, even result in digestive issues. If you need to change their food, be sure to do so gradually over a period of time to ease them into it. Also, keep water and food bowls in the same location for each feeding.
Allow for Flexibility
As mentioned above, it’s okay to be a bit flexible with your routines. Sticking to a cast-iron routine like doing absolutely everything on the dot every single day is unreasonable to both you and your cat. It also creates too much expectation, which in turn creates more stress for your cat if you need to make changes down the line.
For example, don’t panic if you always feed your cat at 6:00 am precisely but oversleep one day and end up feeding them at 6:30—your cat isn’t going to internally combust or anything like that (they might act like they’re going to, though—as anyone who has ever dared get up later than their cat wants them to can attest to)! Just stick to a reasonable time frame and all will be fine.
Stick to the Same Litter
Even something as seemingly simple as a change in the type of litter can be stress-inducing for cats. Feel free to change up brands of the same type, but, for example, if you usually buy pine litter, it’s not a good idea to suddenly switch to clay. It’s also a good idea to keep the litter box in the same place and avoid moving it around too often.
Exercise Cats Daily
Exercising your cats with toys and playing at around the same time every day helps keep them healthy and keep boredom at bay. Cats with a means of exerting energy are less likely to become stressed or destructive.
If it’s been a surprise to you to learn just how important routine is for cats, you won’t be the first. Things that seem so small to us can feel like a huge deal to a cat, so having a routine is the best way to alleviate their stress and anxiety about their basic needs being met. Being consistent, avoiding sudden changes, and allowing for a little flexibility are the key factors that make a routine work like a dream.
Featured Image Credit: New Africa, Shutterstock