Ingrid Johnson, CCBC on March 24, 2013
Osteoarthritis is defined as inflammation of the joint lining and deterioration of the cartilage. Arthritis is a painful condition that should always be
taken seriously. Almost all senior cats have some degree of arthritic changes. In fact, studies have shown that cats start developing microscopic arthritic
changes around 10-12 years of age. Treatment for arthritis is most effective if started early before obvious signs of the condition occur.
How will you know if your cat is arthritic? Well, take into account a few obvious precursors:
Is your cat overweight?
Is your cat over 10 years of age?
Is your cat handicapped in anyway (i.e. a tripod)?
Is your cat de-clawed?
If you answered yes to any of these questions then starting treatment earlier rather than later would be to your cats benefit. Just like people if your cat
has suffered an injury, is handicapable, or has been overweight most of their life then they are more likely to suffer joint pain sooner. Rainy days and
cold weather cause flare ups in arthritic symptoms in animals just like in people. It is important to ask your veterinarian what type of supportive care
they would recommend.
There are other signs that your cat may be suffering from arthritis. For example, have you suddenly noticed they haven’t jumped up onto the counter top in
a while? Do not be fooled! Your cat may still get on the counter, but remember cats are the masters of disguise and excellent at masking any symptoms of
illness. They may simply be taking the path of least resistance to access the counter. When was the last time you saw them jump directly from the floor to
the countertop without using a chair, stool, table etc. to aid them?
Other signs include:
Difficulty climbing the stairs or jumping onto the bed or sofa:
if your kitty used to fly up the stairs and launch onto the bed and no longer does so that could be an early sign. It is not that they are just “getting
old”, there are physical changes slowing these behaviors as well.
Heat seeking behavior such as lying on heat vents and sunny locations:
providing warmth is actually a great recommended treatment for arthritis support so provide access to sunny spots; heating pads, snuggle safes, thermal
heated cat cushions, and the like.
think about how difficult and tiring it can be to walk on the beach. Posturing in cat litter every time your cat has to go to the bathroom can be extremely
difficult when their hips, knees, and elbows don’t work like they used to. Sometimes we have to provide less litter depth or a puppy pad for arthritic cats
to help set them up to succeed in their litter box. Having more targets available is also helpful. More litter boxes ensures they always have a clean place
to go. If they have a hard time navigating in the box they could accidentally step on a soiled area creating litter box avoidance; since cats are
fastidiously clean animals and do not want to become soiled in the process of eliminating. After all, the carpet is always clean and is a nice stable
surface that doesn’t move out from under their feet!
Changes in grooming habits:
cats get matted along their hips, back, and hind quarters when they are too arthritic to groom. If they are too obese to reach these areas and arthritic on
top of that, now we have two challenges to overcome. Arthritic senior cats need regular combing and brushing to maintain their coats and if they are not on
anything to help with their discomfort the grooming process can be a painful one. If your cat is extremely matted you may need the help of a professional
groomer to gain a fresh start. Your groomer should be able to teach you what tools to use to continue to maintain your cat’s coat, but you still may need
professional help from time to time. Shaving your cat into a lioncut can be very helpful and more comfortable for them then combing in their senior years.
some arthritic cats are so very painful that they are quite irritable and exhibit pain induced aggression or petting intolerance. These kitties really need
some help. They may also have matted hair coats compounding the pain as matted hair alone can be uncomfortable to the skin and sensation of touch. If
beneath that their joints also hurt, you may have a very irritable kitty on your hands.
As you can see, arthritis can result in some significant changes in behavior and daily routine for your cat. So what do you do? Ask your veterinarian!
There are a wide variety of products on the market now. There are glucosamine and chondroitin products for cats, these come in the form of treats or
capsules depending on how agreeable your cat is to being medicated. There are also prescription mobility diets specifically formulated to be high in Omega
3 fatty acids, this is a very easy way to provide your senior cat with some arthritis relief! Antioxidants and Omega 3’s are also great supplements for
senior cats for many reasons more than just joint support. Lastly, if your kitty is severely affected pain control may be prescribed and there are a few
different forms your veterinarian may recommend depending on the degree of discomfort your cat is experiencing.
Remember that with a cat any change of behavior can be a sign of a possible medical condition. Arthritis support in cats is often grossly over-looked as
their symptoms are more subtle. They are not dogs. We don’t take them for a walk or a run each day and then notice they are falling behind or limping.
Again, because they are a species that is both predator and prey, they mask their symptoms and will not tell you they hurt. It is up to us to listen and
observe early warning signs!
Ingrid Johnson, CCBC on February 22, 2013
Our cats may seem like pampered indoor housecats, but on the inside they are still fierce predators! The greatest thrill for a cat is what is referred to as the “completion of the sequence of the kill.”
It is important when we are playing with our cats that we remember this sequence and try to mimic it the best we can. Whether playing with an individual toy or engaging in interactive play with you, it is important to allow them to capture their prey. Many people think it is funny to not let the cat catch the toy; this is actually very frustrating and quite frankly, not nice. If you play using a laser light toy, give your cat a tangible object to capture at the end of the play session, feed them a meal or offer treats, something that says you caught it!
When cats play they do not have to be flying through the air to be engaged and having a good time. Simply focus and eye contact on a toy, with ears perked up and erect tells you that your cat is engaged. (See photo)
Be sure to keep the toy moving away from your cat as most prey do not run towards their predators and bop them on the head! It is remarkable how many people stick the toy right in a cats face and wonder why they are not interested. Move the object in a tantalizing motion; let it be still, quiver, then bolt, as that is how prey moves.
Let your cat pounce on it a few times and then engage them in the stalk and chase again. Despite what great hunters they are, they do not always catch and kill their prey on the first try. Cats also like to torture the poor creature a little bit, letting it go and then recapturing it.
Try different toys! Cats are extremely prey specific; so much so that they will actually hunt the exact species of mouse or bird their mothers taught them to hunt if given the opportunity. If they do not play with one thing continue to try other toys and do not lose hope. Some cats enjoy feathers, others prefer tiny delicate lure objects, and others enjoy a big stuffed animal type toy. If you have multiple cats you will likely have multiple preferences.
Finally, end every play session with a satisfying kill!
Ingrid Johnson, CCBC
Certified Cat Behavior Consultant
Jane Ehrlich on November 27, 2012
In the beginning, I underestimated play. Interactive play. As an owner I knew it provided exercise (for me especially; my cat would watch while I chased—you know the drill). As time and experience as a behaviorist carried on, I learned of the many benefits that play offers for a cat’s health—not only physically, but mentally and emotionally as well. It can make all the difference to a cat’s complete well-being. Play is fun exercise.
We know that real play—not tossing the same ol’ toy until the cat looks at it, one day, and lies down, but real interactive action—improves muscle tone. It is hugely rewarding to see shoulder, back and leg muscles become defined in an out-of-condition cat that now has an exercise regime. Of course it is far healthier for an overweight cat to exercise more and eat less, and to dismiss, to my mind, the feline diet foods and eat less of the good stuff. I’ve also seen scrawny metamorphose to healthy bulk, because of increased leaping and chasing and dashing and pouncing.
Action motivates the couch-potato feline. Whether by illness, age or temperament, some cats don’t appreciate moving. If they could get you to forever peel kibble for them from a silver platter, while they imprint their body shape on velvet cushion, they would. The right toys and patience, not to mention encouragement, arouses my 13 year old from her cheerful lethargy. Her feline instincts blossom and her ‘inner hunter’ emerges. Our indoor kids are used to their measured, timed plates of food. Having them hunt for the odd treats and using puzzle-balls so they have to roll and paw and chase after their food reaps rewards in so many ways.
That mental stimulation: the hunting instinct, with its focus, stealth, run and attack, are not only sharpened but increased as the boredom that can come from being too domesticated in the home often enervates. Boredom saps the cat as much as the human. There’s nothing better for vanquishing it, besides a good dose of love, than making the cat move and dash…
...preferably with you. Bonding thing, play. Through play you learn to appreciate the graceful, powerful, beautiful animal she is, and she looks forward to you being there as a provider of wonderful excitement and fun. Many owners have seen their shy, under-confident little ones become friendly, assured furry beings in a household which is now less threatening. A cat must get used to a whole battery of new smells, spaces, people and paces when she comes to a new environment. Playing when she’s comfortable emerging from under the bed can work wonders when it comes to easing into her new life. Additionally it benefits the resident cats whose lives she intruded into. Increasing the exercise (separately, then gradually, together) for everyone helps to ease the situation.
Many times the dissent between members of the multi-cat household has been considerably eased by the introduction of several daily 20-minute play sessions. With individual cats, play helps them gain confidence in their new territories and families both human and feline, as well as re-channeling fear, frustration and anger into a more constructive energy outlet. When cats can play closer, and eventually together, they often learn better levels of tolerance and may even gain friendship.
Play is a huge stress and aggro-wrecker for various kinds of aggression, from redirected to territorial to intermale and others. So many behavioral issues have been calmed by introducing interactive play. The camaraderie, with joy, creates a happier outcome as the anxiety and the aggression is properly, healthily re-channeled.
Many a cat, having gone through some ordeal—gaining a new home, losing an owner or best cat-friend, or showing common symptoms of depression (decreased eating or grooming, hiding, increased sleeping, vocalizing)—has been able to adapt, even thrive, through structured and plentiful activity. I’ve observed cats clearly mourning for a loved fur-friend adjust far more rapidly to a life without him because he’s been distracted through action, and those endorphins whizzing around (no, it’s not scientific) mean he’s feeling good.
A play session before bedtime can help the cat sleep further into the night, and can help keep owners’ ankles from being attacked due to frustration at not being able to—you guessed it—play, hunt, catch! I’m willing to bet the quality of sleep is healthier, as well.
Exercise can also help cats who previously had access to the outdoors but now need to adapt to an indoor life. While different countries continue to stoke the controversy over which means a healthier life, the fact is more people are keeping their cats inside. To give them the best quality of that life possible it’s crucial not only to provide the territory, the ‘cat TV,’ the posts and the potted grass, but interactive play—lots of it—as well, to ensure those instincts are able to emerge and thrive! In my part of the world coyotes, irrigation pipes and sizzling temperatures take their toll. When advising clients to help their cats adapt to an indoor environment that kind of exercise (interactive play) is at top of the list. The results speak for themselves: they adapt—and adapt well.
Play’s fun! Even if you were out of the habit before pets came into your life, remember what it did for you when you were younger. You’re getting the same stimulation, the action that your cat is, together! You’re running around more. You’re learning this toy works and that one doesn’t, by trial and error, not to mention a bit of frustration on your part. You’re spending calories. You’re thoroughly enjoying yourself and your happier, healthier animal.
What gym could do that?
Jane Ehrlich is the owner of CATTITUDE Feline Behavior.
Ingrid Johnson, CCBC on November 06, 2012
Cats visit the veterinarian far less than our canine companions. This is largely due to the common problem that most pet parents cannot get their cat into a carrier; at least not easily. If we change our expectations of cats and train them from kitten hood the way we do with puppies it would certainly make things a lot easier. One of the first activities for families with a new puppy is an exciting ride in the car to pick out a leash and collar. We should do the same with our cats. We also take the puppy to different places, which means the car ride doesn’t always equal a trip to the veterinarian. We should do the same with our cats!
The following is a list of suggestions that can make getting your cat into their carrier easier and less stressful for all involved.
Leave the carrier out in the home. One of the most common complaints I hear from clients is that when they took the cat carrier out of the closet their cat ran under the bed. Well, of course it did! That cat hasn’t seen the carrier since the last time they were sick and didn’t feel well, had surgery, or last year when they went in for their annual visit and got poked and prodded. If the cat carrier sits under the desk in your home office or out on the sun porch 365 days a year than it becomes no more scary than the armchair in your living room. Doing this will essentially desensitize your cat to the carrier. When it is time to go somewhere, simply pick up your cat and bring them to the carrier. DO NOT bring the carrier to your cat.
Make the carrier inviting and cozy.When leaving the carrier out and about in the house make it a great place for your cat to hang out. Put a nice bed in there or an old T-shirt that smells of their favorite human. Place food and treats in the carrier for your cat to discover. Catnip and toys should be included too. Sliding around inside a slick, scary box that you were put in against your will is pretty unpleasant. Add to that fear and motion sickness and the potential for your cat to vomit and eliminate during travel is it also pretty gross. Having bedding in the carrier makes for a warm and cozy trip. If your cat should eliminate, at least there is something absorbent in there so they are not covered in it upon arrival to the clinic. There is nothing worse than starting off your cat’s annual physical with the stress of a bath! If you know your cat tends to make messes during travel then bring a change of bedding for the ride home. It is also nice to cover the carrier with a towel or specially designed carrier cover to help your cat not feel so vulnerable and exposed. See photo.
The type of carrier is important as well. While there are many varieties on the market a top loading carrier is really the easiest for most people to work with to achieve a successful outcome. A plastic, hard sided carrier with a removable top is ideal. This allows the vet staff to take your cat out with ease and even perform much of the examination in the comfort of the bottom of the carrier. Cats do better when the can stay inside the one place that smells like home or their favorite human, as it is the only familiar thing they have while at the vets office. Soft sided carriers do not allow for this technique. If your cat is challenging during an office visit, then soft sided carriers are definitely not preferred. The mesh sides give the cat too much to hold onto and it can be very difficult to remove them from the carrier. If your cat typically vomits or eliminates during travel then the soft sided carriers are also very messy as the contents can leak out onto your car seats, floorboards, and even onto you! Safety should also be considered, and a hard sided plastic carrier will keep your cat safe should you be in a car accident while traveling with your kitty.
Training can make all the difference. If you are truly motivated to make getting your cat into their carrier less of a struggle, then train them to go in on command! Clicker training is ideal for this to be successful. Simply leave the carrier out for your cat to explore, and leave both the front door and top loading door open. When they approach the carrier or perhaps jowl rub it, click and treat your cat. If they show any interest in sticking their head inside to sniff and check it out, click and treat that as well. One foot in the carrier, click and treat. Basically, you are rewarding any close approximations towards the end goal, which is all four feet in the carrier. Once you have achieved this then you only click in treat when the whole cat is in the carrier. Eventually you can add a verbal cue, such as carrier, crate, or box, etc. You can also play with your cat with the carrier completely open. Dangle a feather toy or piece of string and have them run thru the door and jump out the top. Never getting closed in, but having a good time in there will build trust.
Practice trips can help too. You can take your cat for a quick car ride just as you would your dog. The end result does not have to always equal a trip to the veterinarian which will help your cat not have such a negative association with that pesky travel box. This can be especially helpful if you have an adult cat or newly adopted cat that really hates the carrier. Try to reinforce that bad things do not always happen as a result of being in the carrier while simultaneously reinforcing that they always get to come home.
To start, put your cat in the carrier using one of the positive techniques described above and take them out to the car. Give them a very high value treat such as chicken deli meat and come back inside. The session is over. Nothing bad happened, in fact, chicken happened! You may need to repeat this for a few more sessions before moving on. You want to gradually build to taking a trip around the block, giving that high value reward and then returning safely home, no vet visit, just cruisin’, snackin’ and then home. I even have some clients that bring their cats along to the vet to pick up medications or food and the cat never comes out of the carrier. They just come along for a positive visit. Perhaps their human picks up some yummy treats or a catnip toy and they go home. No needles, no nail trims, no handling; just a positive trip to the vet.
Help them cope with the stress. Despite all of these suggestions, it is still no doubt stressful for most cats to have to go in their carrier which often leads to a vet visit. Feliway should be used to aid in minimizing your cat’s stress. Feliway is a synthetic feline facial pheromone that helps your cat feel comfort in a new or strange place, and helps them feel as if they have already marked this place before so it seems more familiar. Spray your cat carrier and car with Feliway at least 10 minutes prior to travel. You can also spray the carrier regularly while it is sitting out somewhere in your home.
Lavender and honeysuckle are also scents that cats can find calming and appealing. You should not allow your cat to come into direct contact with these essential oils however. Simply allow the fragrances to aerate the surrounding area so that your kitty has a smell that they may find calming.
Composure treats are calming treats that can be used in many different stressful situations. Giving your cat one or two treats prior to their vet visit may not only help with travel but the examination as well. Some clients have also found Rescue Remedy to be helpful.
Consider carrier storage. Keep in mind where you store your carrier. Is it buried in the garage covered in debris and filled with dead bugs and cobwebs? Is it up in the attic, buried under this years’ yard sale goods filled with dead bugs and cobwebs? Do you think your cat will find this filthy, weird box that is saturated in all of these unappealing smells inviting? Cats are clean and tidy animals, their carrier should be clean too. Not to mention, that carrier is your cats’ ticket to safety if you have an emergency. Take it from someone who has experienced a house fire!! Make sure you can easily access your cat’s carrier. It could be a situation of life or death!
The goal is to not make the cat carrier a big scary monster! Make it a cozy fun place to be!
Ingrid Johnson, CCBC
Certified Cat Behavior Consultant
Jane Ehrlich on August 21, 2012
While living in England, I often met vets and other cat lovers who maintained that outside cats lived healthier lives, even if they were shorter ones. One professor at the Royal Vet College recently admonished me, "Keeping cats indoors is both cruel and unnatural. It’s a pity the U.S. doesn’t feel that way."
The U.S., indeed, doesn’t. Our cats, say U.S. vets and behaviorists, should remain inside. Why the discrepancy? Tradition. Fewer outside risks, such as coyotes, bobcats, and presumably, outside dogs. Less traffic in smaller towns. The image of the Great Hunter stalking and racing through grasses and zooming up trees, their wild spirit and free nature unleashed, is both romantic and prevailing.
A cat’s independent nature is one of the traits we love best. Cats get lazy and obese if they stay indoors, don’t they? All that ranging territory! And that artificially enormous density hassle if there are several cats in the home—very stressful. Better a shorter, happier life, than a longer, less "normal" one, yes?
Keep them in.
Easy to say, I know. But the fact is, cats can have extremely happy, healthy, normal lives when they’re indoors. They’re avoiding the stress that comes from chronic threats (and the physical and psychological problems that derive from that), other animals from cats to coyotes, the cruelty of many people, poisonous plants, traffic, illnesses from infections to feline leukemia to rabies to FIV, being drowned (a problem in irrigation-pipe-ridden cities like mine), toasted, frozen, stolen, trapped, tortured… You know those arguments. Just part of the risk of being a pet? Of being a pet owner? Shouldn’t have to be.
One client recently explained, "Riley knows his limits when he’s in the front yard." The other neighborhood animals and people may not know theirs.
Would you let your young child roam like that? Didn’t think so.
I don’t want my cats to be one of those who were swiped by kids for "gang initiation" (I’ve known of three this month alone), by those selling their fur, shot or poisoned, or ripped up by car engines or tires. Clients have told me too many horror stories.
Keeping a cat safe by keeping him indoors without the tools to exercise his instincts would be cruel, indeed. This isn’t being suggested. I’ve seen as many cats for behavior issues who are outdoor cats as I have who live strictly inside. That being said, I have seen no data to support the idea that outdoor cats are emotionally healthier. I don’t know anyone in the field who has.
"Unnatural?" Nobody would sanction denying a cat’s natural hunting instinct.
The answer: enrich your cat’s everyday life by providing the stimulation and the action she both wants and needs.
Inside—-with an extensively enriched environment. With this, arguments for keeping cats outdoors simply do not stand up.
For scratching, climbing, increased territory, safety, plus that needed environmental control (that awareness of who is where, when, and what is going on), get six or seven-foot towers. Not those flimsy ones using fleece and cardboard, but sturdy, heavy ones, with hidey-hole, and easily accessible platforms. (Cheap towers are poorly-designed, with levels stacked so Mittens can’t easily jump from one to another.) Posts should be sisal-roped, not carpeted; rope gives a much better surface for scratching, is easy to replace, and it’s hard to explain to cats: "This carpet is fine to claw up, the one on the ground isn’t." Put them in front of windows, and hang bird and squirrel-feeders outside for the best cat TV. They are wonderful for climbing. Such towers also decrease the stress of that "density", of more than a couple of cats in a home.
Speaking of climbing and jumping - add shelves across walls and in hallways. For outdoor exercise, introduce your cat to a leash or a harness. Add a good selection of interactive toys—Cat Dancer and Da Bird are two favorites and several play sessions a day ensure a good measure of play and exercise and bonding. Ribbons, paper bags, boxes, cat tracks, catnip-filled socks, balled-up paper, non-toxic soap bubbles, you name it. Hide the toys and hide treats so your cat has to hunt. Rotate toys so your cat doesn’t get bored. Good play sessions, company to chase and play with, and watching the diet ensures no cat has to get lazy or obese. Hiding kibble behind cushions, under sofas, tucked around pillows, even scattering them across the floor means your cat works a little for their food.
Create a safe outdoor environment. A ‘catio’ built on a slim balcony, enclosures accessible by flap or window, or something more elaborate, with high channels running across the ceiling will provide fresh air and outside views your cat needs. Look online for patio makers, and create your own, with the help of a handy person. Add towers, plants (catnip? oat grasses?), and platforms for sunning. Those forever changing smells, views, and sounds mean massive stimulation in your cat’s life.
Interacting: I’m a big proponent of cats having cats. While some cats do need to be the "Only One", most would benefit from a feline companion. I‘m firmly convinced that cats and people have a richer relationship with each other when Fluffy’s inside. But you, human, aren’t always enough. Although you need to build in enough quality time with them. They’re healthier emotionally and physically when they have someone to be entertained by, to learn from, comforted by, and have fun with.
I’ve seen so many cats with symptoms of frustration, boredom, aggression and depression disappear once these enrichments were put in place.
They do live longer. That fact is not disputed. Much longer.
Peter Neville, renowned feline behaviorist, in his excerpt in "Handbook of Feline Medicine" by J. Willis and A. Wolf (Pergamon Press, Oxford): "The cat…accepts the benefits of living in the family and den w/o compromising its self-determining and independent behavior." Dr. Nick Dodman, head of the Dept., of the equally renowned, Tufts Behavior Vet School, keeps his cats inside having, by his own admission, lost several to horrific outside events. "It’s a lot safer to keep cats indoors. The average lifespan of an indoor cat is around 12-14 years (I’d say more), while outdoor cats are lucky to reach double digits (I’d say five or six!)."
They’re British, by the way. (Couldn’t resist.)
Jane Ehrlich on August 08, 2012
Judging from my mailbag, summer’s the season for new mothers to bring home their babies, and worries about how their resident cats will react abound. It also means, unnecessarily and often tragically, that more cats are dumped at shelters—or worse—because of that. Therefore, a few suggestions for keeping everybody happy. Cats and babies coexist quite well, of course, and there’s no better way to raise children than in a pet-populated home!
First, be safe: ensure your cat’s current on all meds, worming, shots—have that vet check. Altered pets are also calmer. Trim claws. Keep her indoors, of course. Toxoplasmosis is rare in the US, and you probably have it dormant in your body, anyway, if you handle raw meat or garden without gloves, but clean the litter box with gloves, anyway, and wash hands well afterward.
A few months before baby’s due: repainting and carpeting the nursery, as well as changing furniture means diruption. Cats hate disruption, and they hate change. Keep those alterations easy and gradual, though quickly done; she needs to get used to those differences in what’s still, in her eyes, her territory. She’s no outsider, but welcome in that room, and needs her natural curiosity satisfied. The novelty will subside. Let her explore the crib or bassinet, but cover them with nets if you don’t want her there, afterward. Lemon spray or double-sided sticky tape in certain areas will also keep her away.
As the time gets closer, get Bella used to the baby lotions, wipes, mobiles, toys, and the other baby things. Treat and praise her, as she investigates, so she associates positive things with those new items. Have friends bring their own babies over, so Bella can get used to the idea of a wee thing taking attention - the crying, the burblings, the smells… The idea: whether it’s the new nursery, the new items, the new smells, the new presence - keep her part of everything! If Bella’s bonded with you, and you’re not only away, but certainly preoccupied (and will be until This Thing is 18?), have someone else in the home give extra attention and caring to Bella, so she continues to feel loved.
While you’re in the hospital, have a family member bring home a soft blanket, with the baby’s smell. Put it in the favorite nesting area, so your cat can lie on it. You’re beginning a kind of scent-bonding, hopefully.
The second (home) coming! When you walk through the door, Bella may well be glad to greet you. For a cat, mind you—no rose petals, but she’ll be there. Give the baby to someone else for a bit, and pay attention to her, with caresses, a warm, calm voice and treats. After all, you haven’t been there in a while, and her routine has been upset.
Then bring your cat with you to sit next to the baby, and treat and praise her for good behavior—all that sniffing is just fine. Don’t force, or hold, or restrain her—let her find her own pace. If there’s any negative reaction, simply stop, pick up baby and walk away. If cat continues to hiss or growl, keep calm, but silently put her in another room, let her cool, and try an introduction later. Don’t reassure her that "It’s all right"; she needs to understand that if she wants good attention, she needs to behave.
Remember, Bella was your first baby, and she could well feel jealous. Some behaviorists question whether cats feel that emotion; I’m firmly of the opinion they do. Keep the changes as gentle, calm and gradual as possible, and keep her loved.
Think of it from the cat’s point of view: "Ohhh, this is new. I hate change. What is this? It’s loud! It’s taking all her attention! What about me? Take it away—oh, I’m bored. Then again…what—?" The baby’s point of view: "Zzzzzzz…whaaaaa! Burp. Pooop. Ohhhhhh! Zzzz…"
Ingrid Johnson, CCBC, IAABC on June 05, 2012
We humans get so upset when cats don’t do what we want them to do, where we want them to do it. We do a remarkable job setting them up to fail while forcing them to comply in our human world. For example, the only one in the home that thinks that all the food and water has to be fed in the kitchen is you. Most scratching posts are placed in out of the way places where no one ever goes, which is the place where cats are least likely to “scratch mark” and use them. The only one that insists on litter boxes being placed in laundry rooms, closets, and basements, is also the humans! The key to compliance is understanding. If we better understand our cats, what they need, and why they need it in a certain place, then we can simply focus on providing aesthetically pleasing versions of that need so that they can be set up to succeed.
Competition for their most basic resources (food, water, litter, height, etc.) is one of the most common reasons multiple cat households develop intercat aggression problems. If you have cats that do not get along, why would you make them share the same food dish? If the victim cat has to spend most of his day trying to avoid getting attacked by its aggressor, someone is bound to miss a few meals. Many families also do a “treat” each day and force all of the cats in the home to congregate in one area and have their portion of the treat dispensed on tiny plates. In most of these scenarios, only the confident cats get to eat the treat and the others are pushed aside before they are finished or never get to have any at all.
Rather than creating all of this competition, create feeding “stations”; locations where your cats can take comfort that there will always be a reliable food source. This will also allow your cats to pick and choose where they feel most comfortable eating. They can eat with other cats that do not make them feel threatened and avoid a bully cat. One great location idea for where to create a feeding station is on their cat condos! Cats take great comfort in being up high. If you have a cat tree/condo that has a large enough flat surface then that is a great place for a food bowl, especially for a shy or bullied cat. This is also a great solution if you have dogs or toddlers that attempt to access the food bowl. On the desk in the home office, a windowsill perch, a bathroom (on the floor or countertop) are all great ideas for feeding stations (and water bowls). Get creative, but just be sure to pick a location where you know your cat(s) is already comfortable spending time.
When cats scratch they do so for 3 reasons: to groom their nails, to stretch and relieve stress, and to scent mark. Cats want to scratch mark in high traffic, frequented areas of the home and humans tend to hide the scratching posts in a guest bedroom where the family rarely spends time. This is why they would rather scratch a favorite armchair or some door trim molding. The best solution is to have a tall, sturdy scratching post that is aesthetically pleasing in these high traffic places. The family room, the breakfast nook, the home office, and master bedroom are all great locations for scratching posts. Cats want to place their scent in areas where their favorite humans’ scent is strong. If they are scratching the side of the sofa, then they are telling you that is where they want to mark and leave their scent, put a scratching post right next to the arm of the sofa! Once your cat is using it successfully for a few weeks then you can gradually inch it over to a place in the room where it is not in the way. Or just leave it where it is if it does not impede the ability to navigate the room.
Alternatively, cats usually want to mark with urine and feces around the perimeters of spaces. Most importantly they must feel safe and secure when eliminating. This is oftentimes why hooded litter boxes, boxes placed next to scary washers and dryers, and boxes placed in dark, cramped, off the beaten path areas are rejected by the cat. They will simply choose a nice open area, which is clean, inviting, and again safe to eliminate rather than use a place where they feel threatened for whatever reason. Once again we revisit the term of competition for resources. If you were attacked and smacked in the head every time you eliminated you would find a different place to go to the bathroom, wouldn’t you? The same holds true for cats. If you have multiple cats that do not get along why would you make them all use the same box? Having 3 boxes all lined up together isn’t any better! You could have 10 litter boxes, but if they are all in the same room, that is simply one giant box to your cats and they still have to figure out how to get in and out of the doorway to that room safely!
The solution is to have multiple litter box locations and this is for multiple reasons. Cats prefer to urinate in one place and defecate somewhere else entirely, this means ideally two litter box locations even if you only have one cat. Multiple litter box locations means that all the boxes cannot be guarded by one bully cat all of the time. The boxes stay cleaner as there is not as much deposited in just one box. Additionally, odor is controlled as the boxes are now spread throughout the house with less elimination in each box, so odor is not concentrated in one “litter box room”. Cats typically do not want a “cat room”; they prefer their needs to be dispersed throughout the home and if done so tastefully, this will keep your home looking and smelling beautiful and your cats happier and compliant!
When providing for your cats, one should always keep in mind the phrase “environment of plenty”. You can never have too many places to eat, sleep, scratch, and eliminate! Cats are the most three dimensional pet we as humans have chosen to domesticate. They like to climb and perch and freely move about the home without feeling threatened. Cats are also one of the least domesticated of our domestic species. They are still very in tune with their natural instincts and we force a very human world on them. Grasping a better understanding of why cats do what they do and where they prefer to do it, helps us be better pet parents.
(Photos compliments of Kelly Stone taken in Ingrid Johnson’s home)
Ingrid Johnson, Certified Cat Behavior Consultant
Paws Whiskers and Claws, The Feline Hospital
Eric Goebelbecker on July 20, 2011
From the summer archive series, Animal Behavior Consulting: Theory and Practice, from Fall 2006.
Here is the Table of Contents:
Case Study: Billie the Dalmatian - Simon Goodall
Preparing Your Parrots for a Future Without You - Kashmir Csaky
Competency Assessment Programme (CAP) Level 2 with Feline Jazzmanda - Jaqueline Munera
Beyond Bossy: Feline Status Aggression - Mikel Maria Delgado, CCBC
Medical Evaluation of the Feline Behavior Patient - Lore I. Haug, DVM, MS, DACVB
Establishing Professional Relationships with Veterinarians - Pam Johnson-Bennett, CABC
Being Prepared for Disaster - Susan Bulanda, MA, CABC
Book Review: The Emotional Lives of Animals by Mark Bekoff - Tonya Sakadinsky, BA, CDBC
Animal Behavior Consulting: Theory and Practice: Spring 2008
Eric Goebelbecker on July 06, 2011
Our summer archive series continues.
Embedded below is the IAABC Journal: Animal Behavior Consulting: Theory and Practice, from Fall 2007.
Here is the Table of Contents:
What’s the Point of Peer Review? - Beth Adelman, CABC
What We All Learned From the Pet Food Recall - Steve Dale, CABC
Rehabilitating an Umbrella Cockatoo - Debbie Winkler, CABC, CDBC, CPDT
Aggression in Parrots: Another Myth - Jan Hooimeijer, DVM, CPBC
Survey Finds High Satisfaction with Service Dogs - Pamela S. Hogle
When Good Parrots “Go Bad” - Liz Wilson, CVT, CPBC
Growing Your Animal Behavior Consulting Business - Lee Livingood, CDBC
Animal Behavior Consulting: Theory and Practice: Fall 2007
Eric Goebelbecker on June 01, 2011
In honor of Cat Adoption month in the U.S, IAABC invites cat care & behavior professionals to join our Cat Division. Cats are currently the most popular pet in the United States and it’s imperative that we support and educate regarding growing need for feline behavioral assistance and services to help cat owners.
Here is a flyer with details. Share it with your friends!