AAFP and ISFM: Criteria for Environmental Needs of Cats 
The level of comfort a cat feels in her environment is directly linked to her mental health, emotional well-being and behaviour. It is not just about the physical environment but also about social interaction between cats and between cats and their humans.
In this study, a healthy environment for the cat is based on 5 pillars. Understanding these principles regarding cat’s environmental needs helps veterinarians, cats and caregivers to reduce stress and prevent unwanted behaviours.
What is the importance of environmental needs?
Different diseases and behavioural problems can be related to stressful environmental situations. This is not about enrichment of the environment but about basic needs, which go beyond just physical environmental factors. Cats do not always show their stress and feelings of fear. Usually, we are only aware of what is called bad, inappropriate and aggressive behaviour. The use of the information set out here helps us to work proactively and anticipatively, making happier cats and satisfied owners.
A healthy environment for the cat is based on five pillars:
1. A safe place. For a cat this is a possibility to be alone, preferably in an elevated place.
- It can retreat even if it is not completely invisible, giving a feeling of security.
- A cardboard box, inverted with an easy entrance and a ceiling.
- An elevated seating area which enables the cat to see its surroundings, e.g. on top of the inverted cardboard box.
- A cat bench with own blanket and recognizable scent, with closed walls. If the bench is always accessible to the cat, it is also a suitable means of transport.
- A cat can be kept inside but outside is its natural environment. An enclosed activity area can provide a safe outdoor environment. Cats can also learn to walk a leash, provided the cat can choose where she walks
- In an area with multiple cats, a safe place must have more than one exit. Each cat must have a safe place for itself, separated from the other safe places.
2. Provide multiple, separated places for basic needs
Basic needs are eating, drinking, scratching, playing, resting and having sufficient litter boxes. These basic needs must be accessible in different places, both in a multi-cat household and for an individual cat. This increases the cat’s sense of territory and increases the sense of privacy. In order to maximize the cat’s ability to avoid stress it requires a choice of more than one place for every basic need.
As mentioned, cats in a household can live as individuals or and in groups. Separated areas for basic needs are essential for individuals as well as for each group.
3. Allow opportunities for play and natural behaviour
A cat will want to hunt for part of the day. If the cat cannot do this then there is a predisposition towards obesity, boredom and frustration, resulting in excessive self-grooming, stress-related illnesses or aggressive behaviour. Owners can help by providing toys, playing with the cat or allowing cats to play together. Make the cat ‘hunt’ for its food and at the end of a game allow the cat to ‘capture’ its prey. Use items that the cat can throw into the air to simulate flying prey, scatter toys and food and to avoid boredom alternate the toys you use.
If you have more than one cat then place the toys at different locations and play with individuals in different places and separately. Kitten need to play but older also cats benefit from play.
Toys with parts that can be swallowed must be avoided.
4. Provide a positive, coherent and predictable interaction between owner/carer and cat.
Based on its need for control, a cat regularly questions friendly and predictable behaviour of people. Consistent and positive treatment of the cat from a young age reduces fear and strengthens the connection with humans. Social preferences differ greatly in cats and are determined by genetics, experiences and early education. The cat must be able to indicate when it wants contact, in what form and when it should end. The cat must be approached carefully and an owner must be aware of the cat’s preferences such as licking, plays, being spoken to, being picked up etc.
The cat shows when it wants to be approached by rubbing, purring, blinking slowly with the eyes, rolling on the side, etc. Kittens must have contact with people when they are 2-7 weeks old in order to promote contact with people. The preferences of cats can change over time. One must take into account any medical causes for changing behaviour, for example if the cat no longer wants you to pick it up.
5. Provide an environment that respects the cat’s scent.
The cat marks its environment and communicates with other cats through odour and recognises familiar scents. The cat will spread its own scent by rubbing its head and tail, areas rich in body odour and pheromones, onto the surroundings. One can add new objects into the cat’s own area by rubbing them with the blanket on which the cat sleeps. Leave shopping bags and other items that have been in contact with the outside world at the front door so that they do not disturb the scent profile of your cat. Wash the blankets on a rotational basis so that there is always a blanket with the cat’s scent on it. If there are multiple groups of cats, allow each group the opportunity to create a scent profile. A cat returning home after a visit to the vet will carry unfamiliar scents and if you have a group of cats they may then show aggressive behaviour towards it. Try to take all the cats together for a routine visit to the vet. An individual cat that has been to visit the vet could be kept separately for a short time to allow unfamiliar scents to fade. Try to minimize interference in the behaviour of cats and do not show any preference. Kittens can be trained to have a more flexible response to new scents.
Tip: Never completely clean the cat bench/carrier so that some of the cat’s scent profile remains intact.
 Summary of “AAFP and ISFM Feline Environmental Needs Guidelines”, Sarah Ellis et al., In: Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, 2013, No. 15, p.219-230
AAFP = American Association of Feline Practitioners
ISFM = International Society of Feline Medicine