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March 23, 2017

Do Not Punish Cats

03.22.2015 Do not punish cats when they do unwanted behaviors. When cats act out they’re not being bad. They’re responding to an event or circumstances in their environment. Because punishing cats can make them more stressed and feel insecure, it can escalate problems and cause others. Punishment also ruins relationships. Kitties associate the punishment with the punisher—it breaks the bonds between them and their people.

Instead of punishment, identify and then address the causes of the behaviors. Behavior does not happen in a vacuum. Once the reasons are pinpointed they can be addressed—cats taken to vets, litter box situations improved, neighborhood cats managed, etc.
For lively discussions about cat behavior, please check out The Cat Coach on Facebook.

Don’t punish cats. Instead, identify and address the causes of the behavior.

Don’t punish cats. Instead, identify and address the causes of the behavior. by Shutterstock.

Redirected Aggression

03.08.2015 Redirected aggression is frightening. It makes enemies out of bonded friends. It happens when animals of any species, unable to respond directly to a threat, vent their frustrations on the nearest animal. Common causes of redirected aggression in cats are neighborhood cats. The inside cats can see and sometimes smell the outsiders but are unable to reach them. Frustrated, they turn their angst onto whoever is nearby. Immediate action needs to be taken. Without risking becoming a victim of the aggression, herd the reactive cat into a room where there are no other animals, including people, and close the door. The room should have a litter box, food, water and a place to sleep. It may take a few hours, over night or longer for the cat to calm down.

Cat looking out of a window.

Cat looking out of a window. by Fotolia.

For lively discussions about cat behavior, please check out The Cat Coach on Facebook

 

Cats Scratch Objects When Stressed

02.01.15 Cats will do a number of behaviors when they feel stressed or conflicted. In addition to self-soothing, many of these behaviors help change or eliminate the causes of the stress. Scratching objects is one of these. Cats scratch for a variety of reasons, including when they are anxious and conflicted. While helping them cope with their feelings, they are marking their territories when scratching.

Cats will scratch objects when they are stressed.

Cats will scratch objects when they are stressed. by Marilyn Krieger, CCBC.

For lively discussions about cat behavior, please check out The Cat Coach on Facebook.

Train Cats to Scratch the Right Furniture

Set up for success: cat scratching info-graphic

Many cats are unnecessarily declawed because they scratch household furniture. Although cats have to scratch, they can be easily trained to scratch appropriate objects and avoid scratching couches and carpets.

This info-graphic describes why cats have to scratch and how you can train cats to scratch the right furniture. It is my hope that it will help keep cats from becoming declawed. It first appeared in an article I wrote titled How to Train Cats to Scratch Only Where They Should for Catster.com

You are welcome to use and distribute it as is, without alteration.

Cats can be trained to scratch the right furniture by Marilyn Krieger, CCBC

For lively discussions about cats and behavior, please check out The Cat Coach on Facebook.

Make Cat Carriers Fun for Cats

Cats can be persuaded without being stressed or traumatized to willingly go into their carriers. Start by keeping the carrier out at all times—your cat will become used to it. Than encourage her to hang out in it by giving her treats and playing with her in it. Place an article of clothing with your scent on it in the carrier to help reassure her that it is not a scary place. Make cat carriers fun for cats.

Leave cat carriers out.

Leave cat carriers out. by Marilyn Krieger, CCBC.

For lively discussions about cats and behavior, please check out The Cat Coach on Facebook.

Prepare Two Emergency Pet Supply Kits

09.14.14 Prepare 2 emergency pet supply kits—one to keep at home if an emergency such as an earthquake occurs and the other to take with you. Kits should include: 3 day supply of food and water, medications and medical records in a water-proof container, pet first aid kit, collars with ID tags, walking jackets for cats, harness and leash, cat box and litter, pet carriers, non-toxic cleaning solutions, important documents.

Cat behaviorist cat sporting her walking jacket

Jenniyha sporting her walking jacket

 

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

Older Cat Adjust to New Home

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.

Shy Cat Tip: The Power of Food

05.26.13 Encourage the shy cat to overcome shyness by ensuring that fun, positive things always happen when you are around him. Armed with treats the cat adores, give him a small treat whenever you see him. Instead of free-feeding, feed multiple meals a day.