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September 22, 2017

Covered litter boxes

03.29.15  The best litter boxes for cats are large and uncovered. Covered litter boxes can be unpleasant for cats—they keep the odors in and cats feel they can be trapped and ambushed in them. Instead of covered litter boxes, get your cats large, uncovered, transparent plastic storage containers. These boxes have high sides, keeping litter in, but at the same time allowing cats to easily escape. If your cat has difficulty jumping into them, cut a “U” into one side.

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

Large, uncovered storage boxes make perfect litter boxes for cats.

Large, uncovered storage boxes make perfect litter boxes for cats. by Marilyn Krieger.

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.

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

Help Feral Cats Survive the Winter

02.22.15 Help feral cats survive the winter by building simple shelters for them. Take two large, but different sized plastic storage bins that fit inside each other—with about 3-6 inch clearance on all sides. The smallest box needs to be large enough to comfortably house at least two cats. After measuring and creating a template, cut “U” or “O” shaped entrances in one side of both bins, making sure they align. Put insulating material on the bottom of the large bin and then place the smaller one inside it. Stick straw, egg cartons or other insulating materials between the two boxes to help keep them warm. Straw on the bottom will also help with warmth and make the make-shift shelters more comfortable. Put the lid on the smaller box, put insulating material on top and then snap the cover on the large box. Face them away from the wind and against walls or other structures so that they do not blow away.

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

Jacobson Organ

01.11.15 Cats have a couple of organs that allow them to smell odors. One is the nose. The other is the Jacobson organ, also referred to as the vomeronasal organ, located in the hard palates of mouths. It is used for primarily smelling pheromones as well as other odors. Your cat isn’t just making a funny face when she is grimacing, wrinkling her muzzle and opening her mouth—she is flehmening, opening the passage that leads to the organ in order to sample specific odors.

Cat flehmening

Cat Flehmening by Shutterstock.

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

Set Up For Success: Avoid Litter Box Problems

Litter box info-graphic

Litter box issues are the number one reasons people seek me out for a cat behavior consultation. Because of that, I created this info-graphic. Hopefully it will help stop litter box problems before they begin.

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

MKriegerLitterBoxInfoGraphicE

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!

 

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 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.