Do cats try to protect you?
Seven Ways to Protect Your Outdoor Cat
These are the vaccinations, precautions, and trained behaviors you should know.
Roxanna is a freelance writer for MarthaStewart.com.
Published on June 12, 2019
Cats hunt-and no amount of domestication has changed their inherent desire to patrol their domain in the hunt for prey. Even cats that don’t go out of their way to chase a mouse still have inborn hunting and territorial characteristics. We’ve all seen the look of pure joy on our cat’s faces when they watch birds or squirrels from the window. And because cats are naturally curious creatures, they love to explore. This is why some people allow their cats to spend considerable time outdoors. The downside, of course, is that the outdoors has many dangers for our feline friends. It’s our job as responsible pet parents to keep them safe.
While many veterinarians and cat behaviorists recommend keeping cats indoors, you can allow your cats to get some fresh air in relative safety. «You have to be mindful of your surrounding area,» says Amy Kohlbecker, cat care manager at Best Friends Animal Society. «[Do you live by] a busy road? Are there lots of predators [that would prey on your cat]?» You may have to put some controls in place to ensure that your cat is protected when he or she goes outside. And if you want to allow your cat to free roam the neighborhood, you also have to think about the ways that you can keep your cat as safe as possible.
Try Leash Training
Giving your cats some outdoor time can be very enjoyable and healthy for them, but you might want to provide a more controlled environment for that outdoor experience. How can you do this? Leash training is one of the easiest ways to monitor where your cat goes, especially because you get to go along for the walk. «You’ll want to use a harness and a bungee leash, not a leash collar that goes around the neck,» Kohlbecker says. «Cats generally don’t like harnesses though, so you’ll have to get them used to wearing it first.» She suggests having the cat try on the harness while indoors and provide positive reinforcement with your cat’s favorite treats. Supervised outdoor time is a great way to bond with your cat and give her the mental stimulation and physical exercise that her instincts crave.
Outfit Your Cat with the Proper Identification
Whether you like to keep your cat as close as possible to you or allow her to roam free around your block, it’s important to have some identification on your cat. Lori Bierbrier, DVM, the NYC medical director for the ASPCA, says, «If you plan to let your cat outdoors for extra playtime, always make sure your cat wears a safety collar and an ID tag. A safety collar with an elastic panel will allow your cat to break loose if the collar gets caught on something.» She also recommends that the ID tag includes all owner information and that you have the cat microchipped. Make sure your contact information is updated because you’ll want anyone who finds your cat to be able to contact you.
Build an Outdoor Catio
Catios are a special outdoor enclosure for your cat. You can make a simple one that only goes partially outdoors or build an elaborate one-outfitted with a custom hammock-that spans the entire backyard. «You’ll want to be mindful of the materials that you use for your catio,» Kohlbecker says. «Make sure that it is sturdy enough to keep out predators and that there is a solid bottom so that your cat can’t dig a way out.» The catio can serve as an outdoor playground for your cat that keeps her within the vicinity of her home. You’ll always know where she is, and she’s safe from running out into the street or being picked up by large predatory birds or coyotes that may roam the area. Cat fencing is another way to keep your cat contained to your backyard. It’s a special kind of fence that curves over the fence to prevent your high-jumping cat from getting over it.
If your cat spends considerable time outdoors, he’s bound to run into other animals. Your cat can catch feline leukemia and FIV from other outdoor cats, and there’s also the risk for fleas, ticks, worms, and mosquitoes. «It is a good idea to keep your cat up to date on veterinary check-ups including vaccinations and flea preventative, especially if they are allowed to play outside,» says Dr. Bierbrier. Stay on your vet’s recommended schedule for cat vaccines and get your cat checked out on a regular basis. You don’t know whether the other animals in your neighborhood have been vaccinated, so do what you can to keep your cat safe. Flea prevention medicines and regular deworming is also recommended.
Plant a Non-Toxic Yard
Your yard could become dangerous for your cat. «Be mindful of the plants and the fertilizer you have in your yard,» Kohlbecker says. «Some could be very toxic to your cat.» For example, lilies might look pretty in a garden, but they can kill your cat if she eats one. You can check out the ASPCA’s list of non-toxic and toxic plants as you plan a cat-friendly garden. Another thing that you can do to keep your yard safe is to make sure that anything potentially toxic or dangerous, like oil cans and power tools, are kept locked up and secured from the cat. Cats can swallow small objects like nails, which will cause an obstruction in their bowels. Put tools and hardware in locked cabinets to prevent your cat from getting into them.
Know Friendly Neighbors
Your neighbors can also be a source of protection for your cat. If you know your neighbors well, you can ask them to watch out for your cat and provide additional safety if your feline wanderer ever needs it. Neighbors may also want to make sure that their yards are safe and non-toxic for your cat. Of course, some of us have neighbors who may not be so kind to our cats. In this case, supervised outdoor time with your cat would be a good idea.
Schedule a Regular Dinner Time
If there’s one thing we have learned from our cats, it is that they return for a tasty meal. Kohlbecker recommends having a scheduled dinner time that you indicate with a bell or by shaking the bag of food. Your cat can be trained to know that the sound means it’s time to come home and eat for dinner. «Then, you can keep your cat indoors for the rest of the night,» she says. Your cat will be safe inside of the house with you over night. This protects her from nightly predators like coyotes until she can do her daily patrol again in the morning.
8 Possible Signs Your Cat Is Protecting You
You might be surprised to discover that cats are quite territorial. Cats spend most of their time guarding their territory, which includes your house and usually, you!
There have even been cases of cats attacking intruders or animals that are threatening their family members. It’s definitely a form of a compliment: If your cat protects you, even if it’s from your roommate or significant other, it means that your cat trusts and loves you.
Here, we look at the signs that your cat is most likely in protection mode. We also look at the typical territorial behaviors that cats demonstrate, including ones that they can display when under threat.
These are the typical signs that your cat is in protection mode.
The 8 Signs Your Cat is Protecting You
1. Puffed-out fur
When cats are feeling threatened and ready to defend themselves or you, they tend to puff out their fur, making them appear much bigger.
You’ll notice the fur being particularly puffy along the spine and on the tail, which is called piloerection. This is a response through the nervous system that occurs due to natural reflexes in reaction to shock, anger, or fright.
2. Arched Back
Cats will use a variety of body language signs to show they are acting defensively. Most cats will arch their backs, stand sideways, and do an almost crab-like walk, along with hopping on stiff legs.
All these signs are designed to make the cat look large and threatening toward the intruder.
3. Tail Movement
When a cat isn’t sure where things stand, their tail will be held low to the ground and usually lashing back and forth in quick movements. However, the tail might puff up and be kept low with an elevated rear end, like the traditional Halloween cat posture.
This position can be either offensive or defensive. A cat’s tail is a great way of reading their mood at a glance.
4. Ear Movement
Initially, their ears will be turned out and alert and potentially swiveling, enabling the cat to stay alert and listen for approaching danger. When a cat is in full attack or protection mode, their ears will usually flatten fully against their head.
A cat taking an aggressive position will potentially position their ears backward without fully flattening them. This helps protect their ears from a potential fight.
5. Eye Pupils
When a cat is dealing with danger, they will make intense eye contact, and the pupils might be either tiny slits or fully dilated.
If the cat is in more of a defensive rather than offensive position, the pupils are usually dilated, and the brow is furrowed. Dilating the eyes gives the cat much wider peripheral vision so they can better observe any approaching dangers.
An aggressive cat is more likely to have narrow pupils because it gives them much better depth perception in order to determine the best attack.
6. Whisker Positions
For a cat that is feeling anxious or afraid, their whiskers will start to move back, usually in conjunction with the ears. The more frightened the cat is, the farther back they will pull their whiskers.
An aggressive cat will immediately pull their whiskers back and flat against their faces, as a means of protection.
This is where there’s no doubt that your cat is in protection mode! Once your cat starts hissing, spitting, and growling, they are sending out a warning. They are saying that they are angry, annoyed, or afraid and are telling the threat to stay back!
Hissing is also an effective way for cats to show off one of their best weapons: their sharp teeth. Sometimes the hissing is accompanied by swatting their claws in the direction of the threat.
Generally, cats want to avoid confrontation, so their body language combined with growling and hissing are warnings that the intruder shouldn’t mess with them.
8. Biting and Scratching
If their warnings are not heeded, cats will go into full-on attack mode. They will use their claws more than their teeth — it’s safer to use their claws because they don’t need to get as close to the intruder.
There have been several cases of cats attacking people and animals through biting and scratching in order to protect their loved ones.
Cats demonstrate several territorial behaviors, primarily through marking. You’ve seen this when your cat rubs their cheeks and body against items in your home, including you and your family. They can also mark by scratching and unneutered males will spray urine.
Cats will also show their territorial natures through aggressiveness. If the neighborhood cat is visiting outside, your cat may start hissing and hitting the windows in the intruder’s direction.
Typical Cat Behaviors When Under Threat
Other than overt aggressive behaviors, cats will usually have a flight-or-fight response to danger. So, cats will either fight or they will run and hide. Sometimes they might freeze like a deer in headlights.
How a cat reacts in a situation in which there is a direct threat completely depends on the cat’s temperament and personality. Not all cats will be interested in protecting anyone but themselves, and that’s okay.
Keep in mind that you can’t rely on these signs to determine if your cat is protecting you. Different circumstances can make these responses happen, such as bright light making your cat’s pupils narrow. Usually, when a cat goes into protection mode, most, if not all, of these signs will occur in an escalating manner.
But while many cats will try to protect you in certain circumstances, not every cat will. Some cats are timid and anxious by nature and not as likely to look after you in this way. Just enjoy your time with your cat without any expectations, and you’ll end up appreciating each other’s company overall.
Featured Image: evrymmnt, Shutterstock
Defending His Turf, Toys, Food and You
As part of his evolution eluding danger as a solitary hunter, your cat is hardwired to guard prized resources.
Published: February 6, 2017 Updated: September 24, 2019
You see your indoor cat purring, even cackling while nestled on a window perch, eying the birdhouse on a tree limb in your back yard. But he suddenly becomes agitated and then angry when your other cat dares to share his window perch. Your otherwise sweet cat taps into his wild ancestry as he stalks, hisses and swats the other cat who dashes to another room.
Your cat is probably exhibiting his territorial nature that has been genetically hardwired for countless generations. Like his ancestor, Felis lybica, the African wildcat, your cat will aggressively defended his turf, toys, food, bedding and even favorite people inside your home he regards as coveted resources.
It is important to recognize that cats are solitary hunters who spend much of their day searching for hunting opportunities in their environment. They feel the need to protect themselves from perceived dangers.
“Resource guarding stems from the normal desire to maintain access to valuable resources,” says Pam Perry, DVM, Ph.D., a resident in behavior at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. “It involves threatening behavior directed toward any individual — human or animal — that approaches the cat while he is in possession of or near something he does not want to relinquish.”
Resource guarding arises from underlying anxiety, so, when your cat displays aggressive behavior — hissing, swatting and attacking — and the person or animal backs away, the resource guarding behavior becomes negatively reinforced. Without proper intervention, it can become your cat’s go-to behavioral response. “Resource guarding is considered a type of aggression because it involves threatening behavior directed toward an individual,” Dr. Perry says.
The 4 Top Targets in Resource Guarding Cats
By addressing your cat’s physical and emotional needs, you can reduce his resource guarding tendencies and bolster his health and quality of life. A cat’s resources should be located in areas of the home that have at least two ways for a cat to enter or leave and they should not be in areas where a cat may feel threatened or stressed.
Here are key resource guarding concerns and ways to work with them:
Resource: Litter box
Basis: It can be a site of aggression — not as much as a resource to guard as an easy place for a cat to ambush another cat when the latter is in a vulnerable position.
Behavior: One cat in the house may lie down across the hallway, blocking access to the room where the litter box is located. The cat may also hide and then pounce on the other cat while using the box or when he exits it, scaring him away and potentially making him reluctant to use it again.
Possible solutions: Locate litter boxes in different rooms to prevent the resource-guarding feline from being able to block access. He can’t be in two places at one time. Make sure your cats can view any possible threat easily while in a litter box, so that may mean not having hooded litter boxes that block their view. Remember, the recommended number of litter boxes is one per cat plus one. So, if you have three cats, you should have four litter boxes located in different rooms to minimize resource guarding behavior.
Resource: Cat furniture tree or scratching post
Basis: Cats feel safe when they can survey their environments from a high, sturdy place. They also need to mark their territories by releasing scent from glands in their claws when they scratch on surfaces like cat trees.
Behavior: One cat will be lounging or even sleeping on the cat furniture when a second leaps up and attempts hissing, swatting or body positioning to take over that spot. Or a cat will block access for another cat to scratch a post.
Possible solutions: Increase the number of cat trees, scratching posts and position them in different rooms. These measures can aid in shifting your cat’s mindset of scarcity of resources to one of abundance.
Resource: Food bowl
Basis: Some cats who are more food motivated may be more apt to resource guard at mealtimes, especially when food is being prepared.
Behavior: One cat may quickly gulp his food and then push another cat away from his bowl. Or he may block the entrance to the kitchen while you prepare the meals. He may hiss or even attack the other cat when food is present. An intimidated cat may hide and wait until the bully cat leaves to enter the kitchen and attempt to eat his meal. And some cats may swat or bite a person if they perceive that person will take the food away before they’ve finished eating.
Possible solutions: In multi-pet households, feed the pets in separate areas of the kitchen or even different rooms so that they can enjoy eating meals at their own pace without the threat or fear of not being able to finish. Quietly position yourself between the two food bowls to block direct eye contact between the cats. Help your cat feel mealtime is safe by refraining from sticking your hands in the food dish or taking the dish away while your cat is eating. Occasionally, swap out food bowls for food puzzles to encourage your cat to earn his food by hunting.
Resource: Favorite cat toy
Basis: The toy contains the cat’s scent and has been a dependable resource for play, making it a valuable commodity for the cat.
Behavior: “I have seen my kittens growl at each other if they have a favorite toy or a mouse that another tries to take,” says Dr. Perry.
Possible solutions: Disrupt the interaction before it escalates into aggression by calling them away from the toy. Then with the cats separated, engage them in play with separate toys. Also, store and rotate toys and schedule mini-play sessions.
Your Cat’s Perspective
The severity can range from tensing muscles and hissing to lunging and biting. Keep in mind that cats mark what they deem to be their resources by rubbing their faces and bodies on these items. This action releases natural pheromones. Some cats feel so stressed and threatened that they will urine spray to mark their territory as a scent warning to others to back off. “The value of an item will vary between individual cats,” says Dr. Perry. It’s important to understand “core” resources from your cat’s perspective.
To minimize resource guarding in a multi-pet household, strive to create a healthy feline indoor environment. Do not yell at or physically punish your resource-guarding cat because this punitive approach will cause him to want to protect his resources even more and it can damage your relationship with him. While resource guarding is less common in cats than in dogs, it can escalate into a serious behavior issue that requires intervention by a professional.
Here are the key ways to meet the needs of your indoor cats in order of priority as identified by the American Association of Feline Practitioners. You should provide:
A safe place. Each cat needs a safe, secure place where he feels protected. These may include an open pet carrier, a cardboard box or a raised cat perch.
Multiple and separated key environmental resources in multi-pet households. These include food, water, litter boxes, scratching areas, play and sleeping areas. These resources should be separated from each other so that cats have free access without being challenged by other cats or pets in the home. Separation of resources reduces the risk of competition as well as stress-associated diseases.
Opportunity for play and the chance to display predatory behavior. Cats need to be able to capture “prey” during play. Using food puzzles can also mimic the action of hunting for prey. Be sure to rotate your cat’s toys so he doesn’t get bored.
Positive, consistent and predictable human-cat social interactions. Keep in mind that each cat has personal preferences regarding how much human interaction (petting, grooming, being played with or picked up) they can tolerate. Remind guests not to force interaction and instead allow your cat to initiate, decide and control the encounter with them.
An environment that respects the importance of a cat’s sense of smell. Cats use their sense of smell to evaluate their surroundings. Threatening smells to cats include scented products, cleaners or detergents as well as the scent of unfamiliar animals.
A cat is likely to guard a resting spot near a favorite human because he regards this person as a scarce resource to be coveted and not shared. That includes you and other family members. Be forewarned that the cat may hiss or swat at an approaching cat or the family dog who also wants to be on the person’s lap or share the sofa with them.
Stand up and leave the room at the early signs of your cat showing irritation as another pet enters the room. This removes your cat’s prized resource — your lap. Consider spending one-on-one time with each pet in closed rooms so each gets his share of attention.