Your Cat Needs a Private Space, Just for Him or Her
Veterinarian Reviewed by Dr. Janice Huntingford, DVM on March 1, 2019
Posted in Behavior Management
Cat owners quickly get accustomed to saying “where’s the cat?” throughout the day. It’s no surprise to cat lovers when their feline friend doesn’t emerge from its hiding space for hours on end. This is because it needs personal space.
Your cat might not always act like it cares about private space—maybe it likes to spend every night sleeping on your chest or every afternoon walking across your laptop, books and notes. However, cats can also be very particular about when and how they interact with people and other pets and are very protective of their person space.
Cats who are not afforded private spaces to hide, nap or decompress may end up lashing out through inappropriate behavior, anxiety and aggression. Here’s what you should know about cats and personal space.
Allowing cats to choose their space
You need to create private spaces for your cat (or cats) that allow them to get away from the hustle and bustle of your home. Each cat you own should have a designated space, although they may switch and use each other’s hiding spaces from time to time.
Often, cats will choose their own spaces before you have a chance to create one for them. This might be the top of the refrigerator, an empty corner of a shelf, the back of a linen closet or the furthest section underneath your bed.
Your cat’s personal space is likely to be one of two types of places: one that is very high up or one that is small and enclosed.
Cats tend to like these types of spaces because of their evolutionary instincts. In the wild, cats need to find spaces where they will be safe from predators, and they love to keep a close eye on everything that’s going on around them so they can stay safe.
Vertical spaces provide your cat a bird’s-eye view of your home where it is virtually untouchable. Up high, your cat can watch what’s going on down below while not worrying about being snuck up on or attacked. Cat trees and cat shelves are good options if you don’t have a lot of cat-friendly vertical spaces in your home.
Tight, small, enclosed spaces provide similar protection. Things like baskets and boxes let your cat back up and feel safe while observing the outside through the one open side. They can remain undetectable and out-of-sight while carefully monitoring the room.
Creating a private space and respecting it
If your cat hasn’t chosen a place to hide, you can easily create one for it. Choose a section of a quiet room (like a bedroom) to turn into your cat’s own private retreat. You can place your cat’s toys, food and water dish, cat tree, scratching post, bed and more in this space. By providing comfort items in this area and leaving it alone for most of the day, your cat will know it is safe and will feel comfortable going there to lounge when it feels overwhelmed, scared or tired.
When your cat is in its private space, don’t interrupt it unless it is causing harm to itself or your property. Chances are, there’s a reason your cat decided to hide itself away at that moment—it wants to be left alone.
This is especially important when you have visitors in your home. Your cat must be able to get comfortable with your guests on its own terms, which may include hiding out until it feels safe to come and sniff out strangers. If you force it to interact with people by removing it from its safe space, you risk increasing its stress and anxiety, which may develop into more serious, long-term problems.
Other areas for personal space
Another private space your cat requires is its litter box. One common mistake cat owners make is placing the litter box in a busy, frequently-trafficked part of the home. But would you want to be disturbed while you’re trying to use the bathroom? Our cats feel the same way. The litter box should always be placed in a quiet, separate location of the home where your cat can go in peace.
If you have more than one cat, you should also have more than one litter box. Cats can become very territorial over their litter boxes, as well as particular about where they are placed. Having more than one gives your cat options and can mitigate accidents.
Finally, make sure your cats have separate food and water bowls. You wouldn’t want to be forced to share a bowl with someone you live with, and neither do your cats. Separate bowls, sometimes even in separate rooms of the home, can make mealtimes more peaceful.
Sign up for our newsletter and receive more articles and the latest pet health updates and special offers.
Janice Huntingford, DVM, has been in veterinary practice for over 30 years and has founded two veterinary clinics since receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. She has studied extensively in both conventional and holistic modalities. Ask Dr. Jan