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September 22, 2017

Cat Behavior and Medical Issues

03.01.15 Cats need to be examined by veterinarians whenever their behavior changes or they have behavior issues. Felines are subtle—sometimes the only indications of medical problems or injuries are changes in behavior. Elimination issues, aggression as well as other behavior challenges can be caused by painful and sometimes serious diseases, injuries and chronic conditions. Even subtle changes in behavior need to be checked out.

Cats need to be examined by a veterinarian when they display changes in behavior.

Cats need to be examined by a veterinarian when they display changes in behavior. by Shutterstock.

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

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.

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.

Cat Byte: Redirected Aggression

11.18.12 Cats can become aggressive when they see unwelcome animals they cannot access. The cats may be indoors, viewing the outsiders through windows. Because they are unable to reach the unwelcome visitors, the cats become agitated and may vent their frustrations on another nearby animal.

Bite Byte

11.11.12 Avoid becoming the victim of redirected aggression. Do not pick up, pet or use hands to separate cats who are agitated or fighting

Petting Induced Aggression

11.04.12 Cats always give warnings when they want the petting to stop. These include fast tail thrashings, ear turning, skin rippling, whiskers flattened against face. When those signals are ignored, cats turn and look at the hand that’s petting them and sometimes bite.

Being high is good. Vertical Territory Matters

When I do consultations I ask to see the high places (vertical territory) my client’s cats like to hang out. If I’m on-site, I politely request a tour, if I’m doing a phone or Skype consultation, I require pictures or videos. The locations, heights and configuration of these high places matter. Sometimes clients show me couches, counters, refrigerators—other times I’m treated to images of elaborate shelving systems and cat trees.

Vertical territory matters for a number of reasons.
Vertical territory helps keep the peace. Cats show their position in their flexible hierarchy by where they sit or stand when they are in the same vicinity. The hierarchy is not static. In multi-cat households the cats take turns. For example: one cat may be relaxing on the highest shelf while another cat sits on a lower shelf. A few hours later they might switch places. Cats are very good with time and room sharing as well. It’s common to find one cat occupying a high shelf in one room while another resident cat enjoys a high shelf in another room. Vertical territory helps keep the peace between cats. It lets cat demonstrate their relationships to each other without going to battle.

Vertical territory helps keep cats entertained. Cats need mental and physical stimulation. Although cats are safer and healthier living indoors, they can become bored when left alone without anything to do or anyone to play with. Along with other enrichment solutions, high shelves, cat trees, things to climb and jump on will help keep cats stimulated and exercised.

Vertical territory helps keep cats safe. Cats can sleep and relax on high cat shelves and cat condos—out of the reach of dogs and children. The higher the better—minimally vertical territory should be five feet in height. Vertical territory also lets cats observe what’s happening around them. From up high they can easily identify possible dangers as well as spot their friends. Cats can also see potential morsels of food as they accidentally fall off people’s plates. Vertical territory is good.

Vertical territory comes in many flavors.
Vertical territory includes cat trees, shelves, window perches, book cases, refrigerators, architectural elements as well as other high spots and objects. Some cat trees are really ugly, others are pieces of art. Many are made out of real trees.

There are a variety of shelving solutions as well. Some are cat themed others stylish and utilitarian. Many of you are familiar with The Cats’ House in California.  This home is exclusively designed for cats—equipped with shelves, stairs and tunnels. Not only are the shelves perfect for cats to climb and explore, but they are decorative to look at.  Another solution, but with a contemporary feel was designed into a home in Japan.

In the eyes of a cat—small homes and apartments become expansive when shelves are installed and tall cat trees provided. Check out a couple of solutions that two of my clients built. Stephanie lives in a small condo with cats, dogs and snakes. She more than doubled her space by building shelves.  Her cats love it.

Stephanie's vertical territory solution--shelves for small spaces

Paige’s space is bigger. She shares her home with Savannahs. Paige’s vertical territory solution includes designing a system of shelves that runs the perimeter of all of the rooms. There is also lumber wrapped in sisal rope that reach from the floor to the shelves—perfect for Paige’s cats to climb up to the shelves on.  Check out her video, you’ll see the cats in action.

Paige H: Vertical territory

Paige's vertical territory--including sisal wrapped pieces of wood for the cats to climb

Vertical territory can be artful or it can be standard carpet covered cat trees. Both work. No matter what solution is settled on, it needs to be safe for cats. Solidly anchor shelves into walls and choose cat trees that have solid, sturdy bases. Shelves should be wide enough for cats to comfortably lounge on and they need to be at different heights so that cats can safely navigate without mishap.

Cat Aggression

Petting induced aggression

There are many flavors of aggression, caused by a variety of triggers. One common aggression that seems to come out of left field is petting induced aggression. It usually occurs when devoted cat people are having special moments with their cats, petting, stroking and cuddling. Suddenly “out of nowhere” their beloved cats turns, bites and sometimes scratches. The physical and emotional damage can be painful. Along with bites and scratches, the victims often take the aggression personally. It just doesn’t make sense to cat-parents why their cats, who they are so bonded to, suddenly hurt them.

The cat isn’t being bad, nor does the cat have a sudden vendetta against her person. Petting induced aggression usually occurs when being stroked and touched becomes unpleasant for the cat. The cat may have a sensitive spot or the stroking may become too intense for her. Or, she may be falling asleep and suddenly is startled awake. In the majority of cases, the cat does try to communicate through her body language that she’s had enough. Unfortunately, most people don’t catch on to her subtle hints. When all other endeavors at communication fail, the cat uses a direct approach that is immediately understood—she bites or scratches.

Avoid being a victim of petting induced aggression by first learning to recognize the warnings. Cats communicate through body language and sometimes through vocalizations when they’ve had enough handling and petting. When cats have had their fill they often communicate their wishes by thrashing their tails, positioning their ears back, flattening whiskers against their face, tenseness and fur rippling. If these subtle messages are ignored, cats will look quickly at the hand that is petting them and then will bite it.

The next step to avoid being a victim of petting induced aggression is simple. As soon as the cat communicates her discomfort at being handled, stop interacting with her. After a time out you may be able to carefully pet her again, avoiding the sensitive areas and varying how she is petted.

Just Say No to Laser Pointers

Many of you know that I’m dead set against using laser pointers to play with cats. Besides the potential harm from accidentally shining it in a cat’s eyes, laser pointer play is frustrating and unproductive for a cat.  In other words… laser pointers drive cats’ nuts.

Play is an extension of hunting. Play helps cats practice their essential hunting skills. Kittens learn the fine art of hunting through play. Part of the process of play and hunting is the final reward of capturing the prey. The capture is a very important component of play and of the hunt. Cats love the feel of freshly caught prey or a toy under their paws.

Laser pointers can never provide that quintessential feeling of satisfaction that comes with the capture. Instead cats become frustrated and drive themselves crazy trying to catch the elusive laser dot. No matter how hard they try, they will never catch it.

People argue that their cats love chasing the ever-elusive dot. Indeed, cats do love the chase, but the pleasure of the chase is quickly replaced with frustration and anxiety since they can never have the satisfaction of capturing their prey.

I Get No Respect!

Poor Kingsley is facing some challenges right now. Kingsley, a Norwegian Forest Cat was very bonded to Bok Choi, the Bengal who crossed over a few weeks ago. Kingsley and Bok Choi were never more then a few feet away from each other. Where one went, the other followed. These two kitties were in love with each other. I knew that Bok Choi’s passing would have an affect on Kingsley. I just didn’t know how it would affect him.

All of the cats in my household are either Bengals or Savannahs. Kingsley is the only domestic cat without any recent wild blood in him. He doesn’t quite fit in. He’s a very smart boy but he doesn’t always get the joke. Bengals and Savannahs are like finely-tuned, high speed race cars, Norwegian Forest Cats are content to stick to the speed limit.

The Bengals and the Savannah have an established, yet dynamic hierarchy. The colony is established and it works. They are very bonded to each other and hang out with each other. The dynamic social structure they’ve established works very well. When Sudan, the large Savannah, decides he’s unhappy with someone, he simply sits on them. Very easy to do when you are twice the weight and height of everyone else. Kingsley has always mingled with the other cats, but he always preferred to keep company with Bok Choi. When Bok Choi lived with us, it was common to see Kingsley and him in the same room with the rest of the gang, sitting together, but apart from the others.

It’s taken Kingsley a couple of weeks to adjust to life without his buddy. Now he wants to find his place in the existing Cat Club.  Kingsley has never felt he should have second seating. He has always sat at the head of the table. That place is already taken.

His biggest challenges are at night and before meal times. He first challenged Sudan, the very large Savannah. Sudan demobilized him by sitting on him.  Now he’s chasing two of my Bengal girls. There’s lots of vocalizing and stalking, no injuries except hurt feelings.

I am putting Kingsley on a tight activity schedule. He loves to be groomed, so he’s being groomed everyday on the bed. He loves the bed and is very happy sleeping and snuggling in faux leopard fur covers.  I’m adding another cat tree in the bedroom, one that is easy for him to climb. Doors are also a necessity. When it looks like Kingsley has his panties in a knot, I herd him into his room and close the door.

Poor Kingsley, I hope he finds his place in The Cat Club and that he settles down and stops trying to throw his weight around.

 

Kingsley
Kingsley