How to Give Your Cat Space, According to Dog People

Published: 10/27/2020

Whether you're new to housecats or a seasoned kitty parent, it can be tricky to know what your cat needs. The only communication method they have is body language, and even cat experts haven't deciphered all their elusive behaviors. Any cat-lover knows that leaving your cuddly cutie alone is difficult — but sometimes, that's precisely what they need. 

How do I know if my cat needs space?

There are several indicators that a cat needs space. Hissing, spitting, running away, yowling, and raised fur are unmistakable signs that a feline doesn't want to be touched. More subtle signs include anxious purring, cowering, laying their ears back, and moving to a higher position. 

What should I do when my cat needs space?

Of course, the most obvious answer is to leave them alone. But your pet's spatial needs may be more than just a passing notion. Unlike dogs who are happy to be by their owner's side every waking (and non-waking) moment, cats want attention on their terms. Cats thrive when they have a private space of their own. So how can a doting cat parent accomplish this? 

Give them something to climb.

Your home's square footage doesn't matter as much as the arrangement of your living space. In fact, large areas with few hiding spots can be quite intimidating for felines.

In the wild, cats climb to escape predators and stressors, and to feel safe in general. A kitty condo, tree, tower, window perches, or even a corner shelf will fulfill this need. Unfortunately, pre-made structures are quite costly. You can even repurpose items for your kitty to scale when they want to escape daily stressors. Pallets, PVC pipes, and cardboard boxes can all be made into a grade-A kitty condo. 

Let your cat lend a paw with picking their area. Notice the areas your cat frequents; they might be telling you their favorite spot is due for a makeover. 

Give them privacy to potty. 

Everyone wants privacy while pottying, and your catto is no different. You probably think an enclosed litterbox is the “purrfect” solution for privacy and odors, too, right? Not necessarily.

Enclosed litterboxes block visibility, which in a cat's mind, translates into vulnerability. The ideal kitty box will allow your cat to survey their surroundings but still poop in privacy. Typically this means an open container in a seldomly used area, like a spare closet. Don't put the kitty box near their bed either; odds are they'll quit using one or the other. Homes with multiple cats should have a litterbox for each pet, even if they switch up boxes from time to time. 

Let Furball decide for themselves.

Like humans, cats aren't always in the social spirit. If your cat is doing their own thing or off hiding, don't make them interact with other people or animals. Forcing a hesitant cat to socialize is a recipe for disaster. Besides opening the possibility for defensive behaviors, forced socialization can cause your cat to develop a fear of people. Rest assured your kitty will come out when they're ready.

Cats need space from other cats, too. 

Cats are territorial creatures that tend to be apprehensive about other animals, especially newcomers. Fears of sharing resources, space, and their parent's attention can arise. These concerns can turn into altercations if household integration is done improperly. Integrating a new cat will take time and shouldn't be forced. It can take upwards of a year for felines to become cordial with other furry housemates.

Like we touched on briefly above, multi-cat households will need multiple feline domains. Try to map out your cats' respective areas in a way that they don't have to cross paths when traveling to their litterbox or bed. The distance isn't meant to decrease interaction between your pets or even avoid conflict. The idea is to prevent territorial tendencies and teach your pets (and humans!) to respect their space.  

Cats love their humans as much as we love them, but everyone needs their space sometimes. Just make sure all those cuddles are on your kitty's terms. With a climbing pole, private privy, and some social manners, your cat is sure to be living their best life!