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What cats need is not what you assume.
What cats need is not what you assume. / Lori Adamski Peek / GETTY IMAGES

The good news is that more people are keeping their cats indoors only, says cat behavior consultant Pam Johnson-Bennett, author of Think Like a Cat. But are we really giving our indoor-only cats what they need? “Maybe not,” she says.

The secret to success is to think like a cat.

“A cat’s perspective is so different from our own,” says Johnson-Bennett. “What cats need is so very different than what we might assume.” Thinking like a cat, you can prevent behavior problems before they occur and share your home with contented felines. Here are four tips to bring out your inner feline:

Get cats to think inside their boxes.

Inappropriate elimination is the most common cat behavior problem. “Cats have a complicated relationship with their litter boxes,” says Johnson-Bennett. “It’s about territory, safety and a clean place to go; they don’t want to be ambushed when they’re taking care of business.”

Even when cats are getting along well, multiple litter boxes in multiple locations are best. Besides, the feline family members may not always be getting along as well you believe. For example, a cat lying in a hallway leading to a litter box might be intimidating others that require an alternative place to go; after all, you can cross your legs for only so long.

Scratch 'n' think.

By scratching, cats remove old sheaths from their claws, leave a visual mark and get a good stretch. But Johnson-Bennett says that even cats that have been declawed go through the motions of scratching because they deposit a scent (from their paw pads) as a sort of graffiti, and scratching is an emotional release.

Some people assume that if cats are indoors, they’ll ruin furniture. “That’s a myth,” says Johnson-Bennett. “Satisfy the kind of scratching the cats need at a location which makes sense to cats.”

Learn typical cat behavior.

Cats often scratch when they’re excited — as in happy to see you. After you return from a long day, with no scratching post near the door, the cat chooses to scratch a chair. You think your cat is being spiteful. You holler at the cat, who was only expressing delight.

Think vertically.

“Cats live in a world that is horizontal and vertical,” Johnson-Bennett says. Cats don’t climb to be sneaky. They developed their climbing skills, in part, to get away from predators and comfortably watch the world below. Offering vertical space is confidence-building and a tool to provide lots more elbow room in multi-cat homes. Sometimes three cats do like sharing a window ledge; at other times they may each want their own place to hang out.

If cats are jumping onto a vertical surface that you prefer them to not to be on, simply make that place unattractive (try a product called Sticky Paws, double-stick tape or a carpet runner — nubby side up), and offer a more appealing vertical alternative.

So think like a cat. Johnson-Bennett guarantees you will have a better relationship with your feline friends.

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Contributing editor Steve Dale is a certified dog and cat behavior consultant. He writes a twice-weekly syndicated newspaper column and is the host of two syndicated radio shows. Most recently he is the author of two e-books that answer common (and some not-so-common) pet-behavior problems, Good Dog! and Good Cat! (available wherever e-books are sold).