The Google search “Can minimalists have pets?” boasts a whopping 170,000+ results as of writing this. As a minimalist with 5 pets, I was shocked that some people believe not. I even read a few stories of people giving up their pets for a minimalist lifestyle and even more questioning if they should. I believe that the two can live in harmony. Pets aren’t right for everyone, but they can be right for a minimalist. In this series of posts, I plan to cover how my pets fit into my minimalist lifestyle. Today, we’ll cover how cats can eat up your time and my solutions.
I’ve found that there are two groups of activities which take up my time. Daily activities, and bad behavior.
For daily activities, routines are essential. They make everything predictable for both you and your cat and help reduce frustration with necessary evils like brushing your cat’s teeth. Here’s Dean’s daily routine.
BREAKFAST AND LITTER BOX
I wake up in the morning, usually to an already hungry Dean. He doesn’t wake me up (anymore), but he does lay on my stomach or bite my shirt until I get up if he’s hungry. I feed him in a slow feeder bowl which I put away during the rest of the day, which also helps in keeping the amount of cat stuff down.
After I feed him, I generally go and get ready for the day. While I’m waiting for the shower to warm up, I clean his litter box.
I’m not home in the afternoons, but Dean still gets his lunch. I fill two puzzle balls before I leave for the day. When he’s hungry, he must roll them to get his food. He has a weight problem, and so the exercise helps him since food is about all he’s motivated by. It also keeps him occupied during the day.
BRUSHING TEETH AND FUR
I brush my cat’s teeth every day. I know most people don’t and with some cats, it isn’t an option, but I trained Dean as soon as I got him. Now, it’s part of his routine. Before he gets his dinner, I pick him up and brush his teeth. Once a week, I also brush his fur.
After his brushing, as a reward, he gets his dinner. I serve him wet food for dinner, which I put on a licking mat which also gets put away during the day.
By having a routine for some of the more involved parts of cat ownership (primarily the brushing), it comes as less of a surprise to your cat and makes it easy for you to remember. At first, it’s difficult — and I’ll be honest, Dean still hates getting his teeth brushed. But it isn’t a surprise, and he knows that afterward there’s food.
In the past when I brushed his teeth randomly when I remembered, it was always more upsetting. When I finished, Dean would run and hide, and I felt awful. Since adopting this routine, he gets fussy but gets back to the lovable, hungry cat I know and love as soon as we’re done. The more he gets used to it, the less time it takes, too. It used to take almost an hour to brush his teeth, but now it only takes 10 minutes. Sometimes less.
Now, routines can be helpful, but they aren’t the only solution. If you’re like me, some time is spent chasing your cat around trying to get them to stop scratching the couch/terrorizing your other pets/etc. It’s probably the most frustrating part of cat ownership. So how do you cope? For me, it’s been a mix of working with Dean and training him. While this simple method can be tailored to any issue, I’ll provide a few examples.
One of the biggest complaints with cats is that they scratch up the furniture. In fact, it’s the reason Dean was surrendered. When you get a cat, you should be prepared to put up with a bit of scratching at first while you’re training your cat. That being said, you don’t have to give in to a life of damaged furniture. Often, you can either provide a better alternative or train your cat out of the behavior. Here’s how we do it.
1. Provide a Nearby Alternative
Dean used to scratch up the back of our couch like crazy. The fix ended up being surprisingly simple. We simply put a scratching mat under the couch, rubbed some catnip on it, and he fell in love. He hasn’t scratched the back of the couch since. It’s a better alternative in the same area, and because it’s under the couch it doesn’t interfere with our lives at all.
Aside from that, scratching posts and loungers are a great alternative. I’ll cover keeping them manageable another time. I’ve found that if I provide an alternative in the same spot, Dean almost always prefers it. With one exception. The arm of the couch — it’s perfect for him. It has a strange curve which he loves to stretch on, making it the perfect scratching surface. He’s done quite a number on that arm and we’ve tried many alternatives (towels and quilts over the arm, but we couldn’t live with that and he just moved them anyways).
2. Discourage the Bad Habit
First, we used sticky paws tape so when Dean touched the arm, it felt bad and he didn’t like it. He stopped scratching for a while, but once the tape was off he quickly figured out that he could scratch again. What worked for Dean was us simply clapping when he scratched so that he was startled by an uncommon noise. You’ll have to figure out what works best for your cat, but avoid yelling unless it’s a simple, sharp “No!”
As soon as you discourage your cat, move them to an appropriate scratching surface. For Dean, we actually dragged his paws along the surface of his scratching post.
4. Encourage Good Behavior
Whenever your cat scratches on an approved surface, make sure to praise them. Dean always receives a nice scratch between the ears whenever he’s doing a good job.
I realize this method seems obvious — and that’s because it is! There isn’t really a magic solution to getting your cat to stop scratching. This takes time. But the point I’m trying to make is that once you put in that time you’ll have years of damage-free cat loving. You don’t have to live with damaged furniture if you want a cat. You might have to reinforce the habit every once and a while, but for the most part once your cat gets it, he gets it. This time investment is small compared to the ultimate time (and possibly money) saved.
TERRORIZING SMALL PETS
I don’t just have a cat. I also have two hamsters, a fish, and a snail, in a studio apartment. As you can imagine, that makes our other pets very tempting toys for Dean! We’ve kept them safe and stress-free, though. Here’s how we did it.
1. Protect other Pets
Dean used to sit on top of one of my hamster’s tanks and just watch her running around. She’s an old gal, and I worried that the stress would kill her. For us, the solution was to build a new cage for our hamsters. I’ll write more about the cage another time, but the point is that it moved the hamsters out of reach. Dean could still watch them from a distance, but could no longer sit and look down at them. Because our cages are built into a shelf, even if Dean does climb on top of it they can’t see him and aren’t disturbed.
We also have a small fish tank. Luckily, Dean hasn’t been as interested in our betta, but the same concept applies. We moved the fish to the top of our hamster condo, and we simply put a bushy plant next to the fish tank so that Dean couldn’t see/reach it when he was on top of the shelf. Again, he could still watch the fish from a distance, but he couldn’t torment them. After some time, we were able to move the plant when it became clear that Dean wasn’t interested.
2. Provide Alternatives
This may seem confusing — you aren’t exactly going to get a sacrificial pet. What I mean is that you should provide other creatures for your cat to stalk that are more appealing. Now that your other small pets are out of reach and harder to stalk, attract more interesting creatures with bird and squirrel feeders. We put a bird feeder outside of the window for Dean, which is much more interesting for him since they’re much closer. We also get a lot of squirrels and raccoons, and we leave the curtains open for him so he can sit and watch them.
If that isn’t an option for you, try some cat TV! If Dean is getting riled up and it’s a slow day for birds, I’ve been known to throw some videos on my computer for him. He gets hypnotized by them almost instantly. I’ve made a Dean-approved playlist of Cat TV. This YouTube channel, Relax My Cat, also frequently has live videos and has many Cat TV videos accompanied by relaxing music designed for cats.
Additionally, making sure your cat has toys hidden around and playing with him frequently is a great way to burn the energy and provide alternatives that he can actually pounce on.
When worst comes to worst, you have to turn back to the training method. I follow the same method as above. When Dean jumped up on the cage, I chased him down and clapped as soon as he got up. Whenever he thought about it or started to stalk the hamsters, but then stopped on his own, he got rewarded with lots of pets. Dean wasn’t interested in redirection, but trying to redirect to Cat TV or nearby animals may work for your cat. Although this does work, for the health of other pets I do think the best option is to limit your cat’s access to them as much as possible.
OTHER BAD HABITS
The discourage/encourage method can also work for just about any bad habits your cat has. Just make sure that you:
- Discourage as while the behavior is happening
- Redirect your cat to an alternative
- Praise your cat when they use the alternative
Here’s an example of a less common issue. Dean has recently acquired an inappropriate affection for my partner’s leg (although he is neutered). Here’s how we’re stopping it.
1. Discouraging the Behavior
As soon as Dean mounts my partner, we clap and move him off.
2. Redirecting to an Alternative
Dean absolutely loves kicking toys, so we keep one in the bed for him to wrestle with. After we discourage him from mounting, we toss it in his direction so that he has an opportunity to play with it. Often, he isn’t interested in that alternative. Aside from that, the only alternative is him just laying down, and not mounting.
3. Praising Good Behavior
If Dean wrestles with his toy, we pet him when he finishes. And if he lays down, we give him a good scratch as his praise. With this particular issue, we do have to provide muted affection to keep him from getting riled up again, but we still make sure to praise him.
Although this training method is nothing new, I’ve tried lots of “magic” methods and I truly believe the tried-and-true method works best. It just takes some time for them to learn. Be patient, don’t yell, and your cat will get it.
Minimalism for me has been about reclaiming my time and prioritizing the things that make me happy. By training Dean out of bad behaviors and using routines to manage the day-to-day tasks, I save a lot of time. It makes more time for the things I really enjoy — like playing and cuddling with him. I wouldn’t trade Dean for a more picturesque minimalist lifestyle, he brings me more joy than just about anything else, and I believe that’s worth it.
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