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April 25, 2014

Tips for Adding Vertical Territory for Cats

Let’s Get Vertical!

Cats need vertical territory. The term “vertical territory” is a catchall phrase that describes the high places cats climb and jump up too. It takes many forms—commercial and homemade. You do not have to go in debt in order to give your cats high places to hang out. You can make your own or use household furniture and architectural elements that are already built into your home. Armoires, bookshelves and the tops of entertainment centers are perfect places for cats to lounge and nap. Architectural elements such as beams and windows with wide sills can also double as vertical territory. Other solutions include readymade cat furniture such as cat trees, condos and shelves.

Tips for adding vertical territory. Great example of vertical territory

Example of good vertical territory

Vertical territory (VT) serves many functions for cats. It helps them feel safe, secure and entertained. From up high, cats can survey their world, picking out a stray morsel of food, watch the goings on in their homes and they can observe other resident animals who may pose a threat to them.

VT is one of a few ways cats show their position in their changing hierarchy. Cats are into time and room sharing. One cat might occupy the top shelf of a cat tree during the morning, another at night, while another surveys her world from up high in another room. Many factors determine where cats sit in relationship to each other. It can be as subtle as a change in room temperature, a favorite persons’ presence, the arrival of food or it may be that one cat is feeling a bit under the weather. VT helps keep the peace.  For more details about why cats need VT, check out: Being High is Good. Vertical Territory Matters.

Tips for adding vertical territory. My cat playing in his cat tree

My cat, Sudan, playing in his cat tree

Not all vertical territory is created equal: tips for adding vertical territory

Some VT solutions are perfect—others not so much. Consider these five points when buying or building cat furniture:

  1. Stability. Cat furniture needs to be stable and should not have the wobbles. If it wobbles, stabilize it with extra hardware.
  2. Shelf size matters. Shelves and perches should be large enough to accommodate 1-2 cats. Kitties like to have the option of stretching out and lounging. Many delight in sharing a shelf with a buddy, especially on a cold day when they snuggle together for warmth.
  3. Check shelving surfaces. Although some creative interpretations of cat furniture are beautiful to look at, they may not be ideal for cats. Some have perches finished with a slick varnish. Cats can slip and fall when jumping up on them. Additionally, many cats find hard surfaces uncomfortable for napping. Make the slick surfaces comfortable and slip-free by firmly securing sisal, cat beds or other material to them.
  4. Keep it safe. Rambunctious cats can cause shelves to crash to the floor and cat trees to topple. Make them safe by securing shelves to the wall with substantial brackets and by attaching stabilizing pieces of plywood to the bases of unstable cat trees.
  5. Think accessibility. Cats who have special needs and those who are not quite as agile as they once were may find it difficult to navigate tall cat furniture. Help them access the tops by giving them furniture that has shelves down low they can easily reach. The lower shelves will help the special kitties safely climb to the higher perches. Pet stairs and chairs, placed next to the furniture, will also help them enjoy hanging out on cat trees and shelves.

Don’t skimp on vertical territory. More is more—your cat will thank you for it.

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More information on how to keep cats happy is found in Marilyn’s book Naughty No More!

 

Maulee’s Story: Obituary for a Bengal Cat

Although, I cherish all of my cats, there is one who stands out. I am not sure why that happens. Maulee was my heart cat.

Maulee was my first Bengal. In 2001, we drove into a remote area in Oregon to adopt her. She was seven years old at the time. The woman who owned her sent me loads of pictures. In all of them, Maulee looked very pissed off. Who in their right mind would drive hundreds of miles to another state to rescue a cat who obviously wasn’t friendly?

Adoption picture of Maulee

Not a happy cat

She was originally part of a breeding program but was retired after one litter due to a congenital problem. Her original name was three words too long and did not describe her personality. We renamed her Maulee. She lived up to her new name.

Rough beginnings

Maulee did not like people and she had IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Disease)—not a great combination for a cat who would have to be medicated. Whenever anyone came within 10 feet of her, she would start foaming from her mouth, hissing and spitting. What had I gotten myself into? Maulee and I had a rocky beginning together.

The first few weeks were traumatic for everyone. Then I found a secret weapon—chicken. Chicken along with the art of non-action won her over. I sat on the floor a short distance from her, making sure that she was never cornered. She needed to be able to retreat. I called her name and tossed her a piece of chicken. And, I sang to her. She sang back. Whenever I paused in my song, she chirped and chortled. I always reinforced her responses with pieces of chicken.

With time and patience, I slowly earned Maulee’s trust. Play helped too. I discovered she loved pole toys and would wait by the door for our daily sessions to chase toys around the room. Of course, I always gave her either a meal or a piece of chicken after each play session.

Medical issues

Because of her IBD and food allergies, it was important that she develop a good relationship with her cat carrier. Trips to the vet had to be as stress-free as possible. I kept the carrier in her room, made it part of the furniture. It lived with her. Sometimes I fed and threw treats in it. I also put toys inside and made it a comfortable place to sleep. After about one week, Maulee voluntarily hung out in it. The little Bengal loved her carrier. It grew to be a safe place for her to go. She would seek it out when she was startled by a noise or sudden movement and when she didn’t feel good.

Maulee had severe IBD. I tried many different diets and proteins until I finally found a diet she tolerated and loved—canned Venison and Pea.  Thankfully, she could also eat small pieces of chicken without getting sick. She also needed a cocktail of medications—twice a day. How does one medicate a cat without traumatizing both the cat and the piller? Especially a cat who does not fancy being touched.  Positive reinforcement of course! I will write a follow up blog about medicating Maulee. She will continue to teach, even after her death.

From anti-social to social butterfly

Who knew? Within a few years, Maulee became a lap cat. She also enjoyed hanging out with my friends who came to my house specifically to socialize with her. She had to be an active part of whatever was going on and always had lots to say.

Maulee sleeping

Maulee sleeping on my lap

Maulee in the media

In 2005 Maulee and I discovered clicker training.  She was 12 years old at the time. Maulee was a fast and eager learner—quickly learning to sit, stay, shake hands, find my keys, follow directional hand signals and jump through hoops. A year later we were contacted by Ken Bastida, the news anchor at CBS. He wanted to come over and do a segment on purring. Since Maulee was big on purring, she was perfect for the segment. She wowed Ken and the camera crew with her beauty, inquisitiveness, her singing voice and personality. Maulee was a natural. This was the start of her media career. She was featured on many other programs, including Animal Planet’s Cats 101. 

A couple of months ago she was in a segment about hybrid cats, hosted by Monte Francis on NBC Live.

Maulee helped me write my book Naughty No More! as well as my articles. While I wrote, she usually slept either in my lap or between my keyboard and my monitor.

Maulee help me write my book Naughty No More!

Maulee helped me write

She helped in other ways as well. Maulee’s antics caused me to develop creative solutions for specific challenging cat behaviors. Additionally, because of her, I started to work on ways that seem to slow down the symptoms of feline dementia.

Can dementia be reversed?

Maulee’s behavior started changing when she was about 16 years old. Sometimes I found her facing a dark corner, crying and calling. Other times she wandered aimlessly around the house, disoriented and lost. It was heartbreaking.

The vet did a thorough exam and found nothing medical that would cause the concerning behaviors. He agreed that Maulee was suffering from feline cognitive dysfunction. Maulee and I started to experiment until I found a combination of specific activities along with slight changes to the environment that seemed to decrease her symptoms. Once again, she was my bright, mischievous Maulee.  Although the disease probably cannot be stopped or reversed, perhaps its progression can be slowed down.

Now, other elderly cats suffering with feline dementia are benefiting from the plan I developed for Maulee.

Activities seem to slow down Maulee's symptoms of dementia

Maulee, at 19 years old sitting pretty

The last days

Maulee’s IBD got the better of her, as it does with so many cats. The last year of her life, she no longer tolerated commercial food of any kind. She also could not eat raw. Since the only protein she did not react to was pork, I cooked a special diet of pork and peas with added supplements for her. She was not thrilled with the diet, but she ate it. I made her meals more palatable by sprinkling powdered chicken on top. Her medications were adjusted and we went to holistic as well as western veterinarians. I did everything possible to slow down the progression of the disease and I lost.

I helped Maulee cross the bridge on Sunday, September 15th, 1:45 PM. I miss my Maulee. Although she is no longer here, her legacy continues through the lessons I learned from her and can pass on.

Obituary for Maulee a Bengal Cat

Sleep in peace my little one.

February 14, 1993–September 15, 2013

Cat Introductions: Pillow and Sudan

The stage was set and it was time to start the cat introductions– introducing Pillow to Sudan, through a combination of clicker training, management and environmental changes. Since Sudan does not like other cats, except the ones he grew up with, the introductions between the two cats needed to be slow and gradual. The good news is that my other cats, Maulee, Olivia and Jinniyha were already playing and interacting with Pillow under the door.

Hello

One month ago we started the first phase of the four-phase cat introduction process. Phase one used scent exchanges combined with clicker training to help develop a friendly or at least a tolerable relationship. Both cats were already clicker-savvy—having a positive association with the sound of the clicker.

Cat introductions & scent exchanges

Cat Introductions: Clicker, towels and treats

Clicker, towels and treats

I focused on the pheromones secreted by sebaceous glands on cat cheeks. These are sometimes referred to as “the friendly pheromones”. They can help promote a remote, but friendly relationship

All of the necessary tools were assembled: soft towels, a clicker and treats. I conducted the scent-exchange exercises twice a day—once in the morning and then again at the end of the day.

 

I began the exchange by gently petting Sudan’s cheek with a towel. Taking the second clean towel, I stroked Pillow on his cheek. The towel with Pillow’s pheromones was placed in the hall where Sudan hangs out and then I placed the towel with Sudan’s scent on it in the sun room.

Cat introductions: petting Sudan's cheek with a towel

Petting Sudan’s Cheek with a Towel

Sudan immediately went over to investigate the towel. Since he did not display any stress or fractiousness towards Pillow’s scent, I clicked and tossed him a treat. I aimed the treat so that it landed about six inches away from the towel. After he ate the treat he checked out the towel again. I waited a couple of seconds while he explored it and then clicked and treated him again. There were no signs of anxiety or aggression. I am always very alert for these signals.

Cat introductions in a stress free fashion

Sudan checking out the towel

After a few cycles I focused on Pillow who had picked up the towel and carried it over to his table-bed. Of course he was reinforced with a click and a treat.

I repeated the scent exchanges twice a day, each time with a fresh towel. Both cats responded positively to the scents on the towels. Sudan became very attached to the newly-Pillow-scented towels, rolling on them immediately after they were placed on the floor.

Usually, after one-two weeks of positive responses the second phase of the introductions can start. Because of Sudan’s reluctance to accept other cats, I extended the pheromone exchanges to one month.

A serious setback

Cat Introductions: Sudan darts through the door

Sudan

The first phase was progressing nicely, but then two weeks ago, a friend of mine accidentally opened the door to the sun room. Sudan, waiting for the opportunity, darted under his legs into Pillow’s room. My friend yelled, startling Sudan. The Maine Coon was sun bathing when Sudan spotted him and ran at him. He first gave Pillow a nose touch and then immediately launched himself at the unsuspecting cat. Although it was an aggressive attack, neither cat was injured.

This is not a good sign. I am not sure if Sudan will ever tolerate another male cat in his territory.

Help for cat behavior problems is available

For help with cat introductions and other behavior challenges, contact Marilyn to discuss scheduling a consultation.

Older Cat is Adjusting to his New Home: the Further Adventures of Pillow the Cat

Pillow, an older cat is adjusting to his new home and life. He’s the cat I inherited when my mom died recently. To help make the adjustment as stress-free as possible for him, I brought home the beds and blankets he favored at my mom’s house. Pillow is ignoring them, preferring to shoehorn himself in a small table that I converted into a cat bed. It is circular with a little wicker frame around the edges, barely big enough for him to curl up and sleep in. It also stands about 4 feet high—perfect for viewing the sunroom and the kitchen.

Pillow's new bed

Pillow’s new bed

When Pillow isn’t favoring his table-bed, he enjoys sleeping in his carrier. The carrier is always open, available to him and is complete with a comfortable towel and a favorite banana toy. Sometimes he nibbles on treats as he lounges in the carrier. As evidenced from the pictures, Pillow continues to enjoy his meals to the fullest.

Pillow loves his cat carrier

Pillow loves his cat carrier

Pillow and I have established a routine that includes hobnobbing while I eat breakfast and drink my morning coffee. He sits on a stool next to me, never begging or trying to grab my food. He is a great cat. Part of our morning ritual includes my grooming him after breakfast. When he lets me detangle and de-mat his fur without complaint, he is given special treats—making what could be traumatic into a pleasant and rewarding experience for both of us. The daily grooming sessions are becoming easier every day. Pillow, being a Maine Coon with fur that easily mats, needs to be groomed at least once a day.

Pillow has adjusted well. It is about time to start introducing him to the rest of the gang—one cat at a time. I share my home with Bengals and a large, male Savannah. Bengals and Savannahs are highly energetic cats, who love to spend their days climbing, running and playing. They are not calm, mellow cats. Pillow, a portly cat prefers napping—the exact opposite of my other resident cats.

Jenniyha loves to play

Jenniyha loves to leap and play

Although I live with more than one cat, I will concentrate on introducing Pillow to Sudan, my male Savannah. Sudan will have the most difficulty adjusting to a having another male cat in the household. Because the Bengal girls will be a little easier to integrate with Pillow they will meet him after he is introduced to Sudan.

Portrait of Sudan, my Savannah Cat

Sudan, my Savannah Cat

A four phase approach

I will introduce Pillow and Sudan to each other in as stress free way as possible, following the four-phase approach detailed in my book Naughty No More!.The two cats will be encouraged to share mutually enjoyable experiences while they remain separated from each other. Although this may sound a bit strange, cats can start to build relationships without meeting face-to-face.

During the first three phases of the introduction, the cats will be kept separated from each other, Pillow in the sunroom and kitchen, while Sudan and the girls stay in the hall, office and bedrooms. They will only be allowed to switch rooms during the last phase of the introductions.

Cat pheromones

The first step will involve building social skills through doing scent exchanges and basic clicker training. Cats have scent glands on different parts of their body that produce pheromones—some are friendlier then others. The pheromones that are produced by the sebaceous glands on cat cheeks, are sometimes referred to as the friendly pheromones. Cats often say hello by approaching their fave people and rubbing their cheeks and head on them, marking them with their scent. I will use these friendly pheromones, along with clicker training, to encourage good will between Sudan and Pillow.

Clicker training—not just a dog thing

Clicker training is not just for the dogs—it is for all animals, no matter the species. It is a reward-based training technique that has its roots in classical and operant conditioning. Clicker training is based on the premise that animals will repeat behaviors when their actions are immediately reinforced.

It is easy to clicker train cats. Two essential tools are needed—the first is something that the cats love. In clicker-speak, this is called a primary reinforcer. Both Pillow and Sudan are very food motivated, they live for treats. The second tool is a device that always does the same thing whenever it is activated. This will become the secondary reinforcer. I use an iClick clicker. If one of the cats had hearing challenges, I would have used a quick flash from a flashlight as the secondary reinforcer.

iClick clicker

iClick clicker

After assembling the tools, my next step was to pair the treat with the click so that Pillow would have a positive association with the sound. After the click is paired with the treat, it will become a powerful communication tool that will let the cat know when he is doing a desired behavior. Since Sudan was already a pro with the clicker, I focused on training Pillow.

Pillow was a fast learner. It was easy to pair the click with a treat. I started by clicking once and then immediately giving him a treat. After he inhaled the treat, he looked up at me and I repeated the process, clicking and treating him again. It took ten repetitions until Pillow made the connection between the click and the treat. Years ago, when Sudan was introduced to clicker training, he made the connection between the click and the treat after the fifth repetition. The sound of the clicker is now a powerful communication tool for both cats—alerting them the instance they are doing a desired behavior.

The three of us are ready to start phase I of the introductions.

Help for cat behavior problems is available

For help introducing cats to each other, as well as other cat behavior challenges, contact Marilyn to discuss scheduling a consultation.

 

My New Caricature

Ask a Behaviorist

Ask a Behaviorist: Caricature of Marilyn Krieger, CCBC

Guess who this is! This is a caricature of yours truly and I love it! I’ve been writing two articles a month for Catster (Ask the Behaviorist) since February. Starting with my May 23rd article, this is my new visual identity in Catster. The artist is the talented Nigel Sussman. Although, I think he did an exceptional job on the whole image, his depiction of the Bengal rocks. The first of my articles that displayed the new identity is my piece about clicker training: Can You Actually Train a Cat? Sure — Here’s How.

Helping a Grieving, Elderly Cat Adjust to a New Home

My mom's shoes

My mom’s shoes

I recently inherited Pillow when my mom died. He’s a large, declawed* Maine Coon Cat who spent 13 of his 16 years either decorating a chair in my mom’s kitchen or sleeping in the dog’s bed in the art studio. Pillow, a lovely cat, was always a source of comfort for my mom by just being near her—especially during the last month of her life. Pillow is one of those cats who through the art of non-action, elicits quiet smiles from everyone who meets him. My mom chose right when she named him Pillow.

Before my mom died, we spent hours searching for a perfect home for Pillow’s buddy, Abby the dog. Lynn, A family friend, who adores Abby was thrilled to be chosen as her new mother. Abby and Lynn are a great match—they go everywhere together. We could not have found a better home for Abby.

My mom thought that even though I have my own menagerie of felines, Pillow would be best off with me. I eagerly agreed. My mom left us, knowing that her two beloved companions will always be loved and well cared for.

My resident cats

My cats’ activity levels are 180 degrees away from Pillow’s. I live with four active Bengals and a busy Savannah. Stillness and the Zen of Inaction are not part of their life styles. My cats are always on the move, talkative and active.

Integrating them with Pillow will be interesting.

Grieving cat

Pillow misses my mother. He also misses the kitchen and the art studio where my mom spent most of her waking hours painting. He had grown accustomed to the smells of the paint, the radio tuned to my mom’s favorite talk program, the sound of her footsteps, her voice and smell. He knew where the sun’s rays hit the floor of the studio and where to catch the summer breeze as it wafted through the screen door. Pillow spent 13 happy, comfortable years with my mom, living in her art studio and kitchen.

Pillow is grieving for my mom

Pillow is grieving for my mom

Generally, cats do not easily adjust to change. It is common for cats to stress when they are relocated and when there are changes to their household. Older cats often have more problems than younger ones adjusting to new situations. In addition to a change in venue, Pillow had lost his favorite person. This is a lot for a cat to adapt to in a short time.

Cats display grief in different ways. Pillow became more lethargic than usual. Normally a foodie, he did not show much interest in eating. He ate, but just not as enthusiastically or as much. Some cats walk from room to room yowling, others won’t eat when they are grieving. Pillow showed his feelings by sleeping more and eating less.

Preparing the home for Pillow

Before bringing Pillow home, I prepared an area for him that would help him transition with a minimum of stress to his new digs. His area had to be inaccessible to the other cats while simultaneously located where I spend a lot of time.  Because Pillow had spent 13 years as a kitchen cat, I chose the sunroom and the kitchen as his private suite.

To help Pillow adjust, I outfitted both rooms with the objects he had grown accustomed too. I brought over his favorite dog beds, blankets and chairs and his scratching posts. I bought him a new, large cat carrier and placed a towel in it that had my mom’s scent on it. I kept it at my mom’s house, open for him to go in and out of as he wished. It quickly became his favorite sleeping place.  I placed a few items with my mom’s scent on them in zip lock bags and brought them home. When it is time for Pillow to come to my house, an item with my mom’s scent will be placed where he naps. It will be replaced every day with other scented items from the zip lock bags.

In addition, familiar sounds can help reduce anxieties. Since Pillow had spent 13 years relaxing to my mother’s favorite talk radio show, I made sure the sunroom had a radio, tuned to the Ronn Owen’s show on KGO Radio.

I hoped to make the transition to my home as stress free as possible by bringing in the objects, scents and sounds that he had grown accustomed to in my mom’s house.

One small detail

Baby gates

Baby gates used to keep the cat within specific areas

The kitchen and sunroom were perfect locations for him—but there was one problem. The kitchen has a doorway without a door and it opens into the dining room. Although the other cats don’t hang out in the dining room, I still needed to limit Pillow to a couple of rooms for awhile.

Baby gates are a wonderful invention—especially when used to keep cats in specific areas. I ordered two inexpensive baby gates, placed them on top of each other and wired them together and to a couple of nails I hammered in the door frame. Perfect!

It was time to bring Pillow home.

*He came that way.

“My Cat’s Story” Video Contest Winner Announced!

The wait is over!

We loved checking out all of the videos that were submitted for our contest. It truly was heart-warming to see the bonds people have with their cats.

We are excited to announce the winner of the “My Cat’s Story” video contest. It was a tough decision because the judges had some wonderful submissions. It was so heartwarming to see the relationships the entrants had with their cats and how lives have changed with love.

The judges, Pam Johnson-Bennett , Marilyn Krieger and Steve Dale, all certified cat behavior consultants, felt the winner best showcased the relationship she has with her cat and the change in the cat’s behavior. The judges also wanted to highlight the two runners-up because they also did an awesome job of presenting their cats’ stories.

The winner will receive a $150 pre-paid VISA gift card, an autographed copy of THINK LIKE A CAT by Pam Johnson-Bennett, an autographed copy of NAUGHTY NO MORE by Marilyn Krieger, and the e-book GOOD CAT by Steve Dale. Additionally, the winner will appear in the TICA Trend magazine and also be featured in Bengals Illustrated.

The “My Cat’s Story” Winner is Lana Lingan and her cat, Handsome. Congratulations, Lana!

Judges’ Comments: We liked the story about Lana and Handsome because it clearly showed how Lana was able to transform a scared cat who was abandoned into a sweet, affectionate cat. Lana let the cat progress at his own pace, never forcing him, always encouraging him. We loved seeing the bonds that the two share. Clearly they enhance each others lives.

We had two runners-up who also shared their wonderful stories of how love, patience and understanding were rewarded with a strengthened bond with their cats and positive changes in behavior. Congratulations to both runners-up. We hope you enjoy their stories.

Runner-up Andrea Dorn and her cat, Mewdy Blue. Congratulations, Andrea.

Judges’ Comments: We like this video because not only did it showcase how an outdoor-loving cat can be transitioned to a fulfilled and enriched indoor life, it also shows how cats are very trainable. It was also heartwarming to see the strong bond Andrea and Mewdy Blue clearly have.

Runner-up Jason Girouard and his cat, Millie. Congratulations, Jason!

Judges’ Comments:
We were impressed with the dedication and patience that Jason and his family showed toward saving and socializing this young kitten who grew into a very loved member of the family.

A big thank you to everyone who spent the time and effort to enter our contest. We are very pleased!

 

Myths about Cats and Cat Behavior

Myths and misconceptions have been spun about cats ever since people started sharing their world with them. Some paint cats as mysterious, others put them in league with the devil. Different factors shaped these inaccurate beliefs—one of the strongest contributors to these myths is that people have found cats and their behaviors puzzling. Many of these erroneous beliefs persist today. Unfortunately, some are harmful and life threatening for cats.

Four of these misconceptions I frequently encounter are:

Cat behaviors can’t be changed

“I used to have a cat, but he peed on the furniture so he had to go”.

Many people believe that once a cat is repeatedly displaying an unwanted behavior, the behavior can’t be stopped. This is a dangerous myth because the consequences include surrendering cats to shelters, abandoning and euthanizing them for fixable behavior problems.

Although some behavior challenges are unpleasant to live with, they can be resolved through a combination of addressing the reasons for the behavior, behavior modification and by making changes to the environment. This is what I do.

Cats can’t be trained

 “No way can cats be trained like we trained our dog!”

The concept that a cat can open his carrier door, go in and close it behind him is often met with eye rolls and heads shaken in disbelief. Many people usually stare in blank befuddlement when told that cats can be trained to do tricks such as shaking hands and jumping through hoops—tricks acceptable and expected from dogs. These folks mistakenly think cats do whatever they want, only when they want and that they cannot be trained. Popular quotes support their misguided beliefs. “Dogs have owners, cats have staff”. “Cats take a message and get back to you”. Although, these idioms may sound catchy and cute, they perpetuate the stereotype that cats are un-trainable.


Cats, like all animals, are trainable. Clicker training, a scientific and force-free method is a popular and effective training technique. Felines can be easily trained to do many of the same tricks dogs are taught to do, such as sitting, shaking hands, playing dead and jumping through hoops. An added benefit is that clicker training is fun for both the learner and the teacher. It’s also a great tool for helping to resolve behavior challenges such as fearful behaviors, furniture scratching, counter surfing as well as many other troublesome behaviors. My book, Naughty No More! details how to use clicker training in conjunction with other force-free methods to solve behavior problems and teach tricks.

Cats are independent and self-contained

“My cat can be alone for a couple of days. I’ll leave enough food for him to eat while I’m gone”. 

There is a widely held belief that cats are self-sufficient and can fend for themselves. The results of this fallacious assumption include cats left to fend for themselves while their people enjoy a holiday away from home as well as being left alone for hours every day without the benefit of a companion or environmental enrichment.

Often cats are chosen as companions over dogs because they are said to be more self-contained and require less maintenance then dogs. To a small degree that is correct. Cats don’t need to be walked and they spend a good portion of their day napping. They are also proficient litter box users.  Regardless of the differences, they still need fresh food and water every day and their litter boxes need to be scooped minimally once a day. Additionally, cats need companionship and mental stimulation. Leaving them alone while on holiday or for hours every day with nothing to do and no one to socialize with can lead to depression, obesity and destructive behaviors.

Cats need privacy

“I spent $500 on a painted designer litter box cabinet. It functions beautifully as a side table and hides the cat box!”

Myths about cats and cat behavior

Litter box hidden in a cabinet

Litter boxes are often placed in cabinets, closets and other out-of-sight areas because people are under the impression that cats need privacy when they go to the bathroom. These may seem like ideal locations for litter boxes because they are out of the way, hidden from view and private. Although this might be a perfect solution for people, it’s not for cats. They have a different perspective on ideal places to eliminate. Often what is perfect from a cat’s viewpoint clashes with their people’s preferences for litter box placements.

Survival and safety take priority over privacy any day. Cats prefer eliminating in areas where they can’t be potentially trapped or ambushed by another animal. Cabinets and closets are perfect set ups for ambush. The types of boxes make a difference too. In addition to the trap potential, covered boxes retain unappealing odors.

An ideal location for a litter box is against the wall in a large room—not in a cabinet or enclosed in a closet. The view from the litter box should be expansive. The cat needs to see the whole room, out the door and down the hall (if there is one). A box with a view is perfect for identifying any potential threat which can then easily be escape from. Litter boxes should not be placed in high traffic areas or areas with lots of noise and activity. Although cats aren’t into privacy like people are, they do not want to do their business in high traffic areas either.

Help for Cat Behavior Challenges is Available

For help with cat behavior challenges, contact Marilyn to discuss scheduling a consultation.

 

Cats and Redirected Aggression

Aggression is a universal animal behavior. Cats, like all animals can become aggressive depending on the circumstances. One common aggressive behavior cats and other animals sometimes display is called redirected aggression.

cat behavior redirected aggressionThere are many flavors of aggression, all triggered by a variety of circumstances and expressed in a number of ways. Aggressive displays usually start with vocalizations, though cats sometimes initially broadcast their agitation through spraying and other marking behaviors. If the problem isn’t resolved or contained the agitation can escalate to the point of becoming physically harmful. It is terrible to witness aggression—worse to become the recipient of the behavior.

Definition and causes of redirected aggression

Redirected aggression is an alarming behavior that animals, including cats display under specific circumstances. This behavior makes victims out of innocent by-standers. Anyone, cat, dog or person who happens to be nearby or attempts to intervene can become the unfortunate recipient. Redirected aggression occurs when cats cannot respond directly to perceived threats and subsequently vent their frustrations on to the nearest animal. Other unexpected and startling stimuli in the environment can also cause this frightening reaction. The most common causes of redirected aggression in cats are other animals. Cat parents sometimes witness neighborhood animals hanging out around their homes—in full view of their indoor resident cats. The agitated insiders respond fractiously to the unwelcome visitors, doing everything within their power to reach the instigators, but without success. Being highly agitated, they turn their frustrations on whoever is nearest to them.

The fall out of redirected aggression

This aggression can lead to serious consequences. If the behavior is not immediately addressed, cats who were bonded buddies can become sworn life-time enemies. The experience can be so traumatic, that a once sweet relationship becomes fearful and vicious. Although the cats probably do not remember the initial trigger, they have formed negative and fearful associations with each other.

Addressing redirected aggression

Take steps to keep redirected aggression from destroying relationships. In addition to immediately separating fractious cats from each other, remove them from the source of the aggression. Ideally, it is best to separate them before they start brawling, but that is not always possible. Never use hands, other body parts or stand between fighting animals. Doing so pretty much guarantees becoming a casualty of war.

Depending on the circumstances and the intensity of the interaction, a flat piece of cardboard, slipped between the cats can create an instance of distraction and separation—an opportunity for one cat to flee. Sometimes a loud noise can briefly interrupt the fighting, long enough for one of the cats to escape. Every situation is different, what works to separate cats in one may not work in another.

Can we be friends again?

Warring animals, once separated should be herded into their own quiet rooms for a cool off period away from each other. Darken the rooms by pulling shades and turning lights off and then leave them alone. Cool down periods may last a few hours or a day.

Because the fall out of redirected aggression can be serious and long lasting, cats may need to remain in separate areas for awhile and then gradually re-introduced to each other.

More help

For further help with redirected aggression or other behavior challenges, contact Marilyn to discuss scheduling a consultation.

Creative Meal Times for Cats: Part II

In addition to feeding cats with the creative food containers described in last weeks’ blog-article,  meal times can be spiced up with food games and increased feeding times.

Treasure hunts and treat rolls

Cat Behavior-Feeding Cats. Jinniyha on a treasure hunt

Jinniyha on a treasure hunt

Treasure hunts are fun for everyone—cats and their humans. The goal of a treasure hunt is for cats to seek and find their food. In the process of tracking down tasty morsels of food, they burn calories and exercise—perfect for those kitties living a sedentary life.

Strategically place treats and small pieces of food on shelves, cat trees, sofas, in puzzle boxes and in toys. The game starts simple, becoming increasingly more challenging as the participants understand their roles. Start by putting small pieces of food near the cat. A widely spaced trail of food then leads to low shelves. The next step is planting the treats and food in harder-to-access locations such as high shelves, tunnels, paper bags, boxes and toys.

After the cat effortlessly finds the food, make the game slightly more difficult. Instead of letting her observe the food placement, temporarily put her in another room and close the door while placing food in other areas. Then open the door. The kitty will have to rely more on her nose then her eyes for locating the food.

Add an occasional treat roll for diversity. Although treat rolls work well in homes with stairs, they are also effective on flat surfaces. Treat rolls are exactly as described. Roll treats on the floor or down the stairs and the cat will chase, catch and munch down on them.

Because these food games should stimulate and not frustrate, they need to be tailored to each individual. Every cat is different. Those who are older or have physical limitations cannot climb as high or move as fast as young, healthier cats.

An example of treasure hunts for kitties with limitations is positioning a smattering of treats in circle patterns around them. In order to access the food morsels, they will have to locate and walk to each treat.  Energetic attention seekers benefit from more challenging games—climbing higher for prizes and seeking food in harder to reach areas. Monitor cats—treasure hunts should be stimulating and fun, not unpleasant and aggravating. Additionally, they need to eat their allotted portions of food every day.

Multiple small meals

Cats are not designed to graze. In the wild, they do not meander over to a food bowls for snacks when they are hungry. Instead of free feeding or feeding only two meals a day, divide the food up into smaller portions and increase the number of meals fed each day. Auto feeders are perfect for this task. They can be adjusted to automatically open at specific times throughout the day and night. Some have ice packs, designed for keeping canned food fresh.

Diversity

Make it fun for everyone involved. Alternating between feeding cats through treasure hunts, treat rolls and creative food containers keeps meal times from becoming mundane and boring. Additionally, these creative feeding solutions burn calories and provide stimulation.

More help

For further help with cat behavior challenges, contact Marilyn to discuss scheduling a consultation.

Cat Behavior Feeding Cats Asia

Asia