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October 20, 2017

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 for a Busy Life Style

Life styles are changing. People are spending more time away from home—working longer, harder hours. Some, out of necessity, are working two or more jobs.  Understandably, cat-parents are concerned that their grueling schedules are adversely affecting their cats.  They wonder if there are specific breeds they can adopt who do well when left alone. Recently I was interviewed for two different publications, both interviewers asked me the same question “What breeds of cats are best for people who spend long hours away from home?

Although some breeds are sedate and seem more self reliant then others, no cat does well when left alone for long hours every day without companionship or stimulation. They can become depressed, bored and lethargic. Some develop behavior challenges such as over-grooming, litter box avoidance or other destructive behaviors.

Busy cat parents with active life-styles do not have to forgo cat companionship. They can take steps to keep their felines stimulated while working those long hours away from home.

A buddy

© Konstantin Kovtun - Fotolia.com

Two cats are better than one © Konstantin Kovtun – Fotolia.com

People who do not spend much time at home should seek out and adopt cats who are bonded to each other. Bonded friends keep each other entertained while their favorite people are away. Adopting a new friend for the resident cat is also an option. It is essential that both cats have histories of getting along well with other felines.  Adopters should be aware that successful introductions could take weeks, sometimes months.

Environmental enrichment

Creating cat-centric home environments will help mentally stimulate cats. Although homes do not have to become Cat Disneylands, they do need to be equipped with cat furniture and toys.  Toys cats can interact with by themselves will keep them engaged and active. Puzzle boxes, Turbo Scratchers, puzzle feeders as well as ping-pong balls are good toy choices. Boxes and paper bags without handles become intriguing places to explore and hide in.

Homes need to be furnished with vertical territory such as shelving, window perches and tall cat trees. Cat trees put in front of windows are perfect places for cats to relax and watch the daily happenings in the neighborhood.

Activities

Cats are predators—their feral counterparts hunt for a living. Meal and treat times should become mentally and physically stimulating. Instead of placing cat food in bowls or tossing treats directly to them, encourage cats to work a little for their food. Treasure hunts are the perfect solution.  Before leaving for the day, busy cat parents can hide treats and dry food throughout the home—on cat trees, shelves, in tunnels, paper bags, cardboard boxes, puzzle boxes, Turbo Scratchers and in other toys.

Don’t forget clicker training and play! Clicker training is a fun activity for everyone—cats and their people alike. It helps keep cats mentally challenged, physically active and strengthens relationships between cats and their people.

Daily play sessions using pole-type toys will also help keep cats from becoming bored. The toy is pulled away from the cat in a way that imitates hunting. These types of toys should always be placed out of cat reach when no one is around to supervise.

Quality time

In addition to activities and creating a cat-centric environment, cat people need to spend quality one-on-one time with their cats every day. Special times together include cuddle and lap times and active play and clicker training sessions. Quality time benefits all participants—cats and their favorite people alike.

More help

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

What an Honor! Nominee for Best Cat Behavior Book

Readers Choice Awards Nominee

Nominee for Best Cat Behavior Book

Thank you everyone who nominated my book Naughty No More! for the About.com Readers Choice Awards for the best book on cat behavior. Not only did I not expect it, I never knew about the contest until I got a wonderful letter a couple of nights ago informing me that my book was one of the nominees. I am truly honored, especially since I am in the company of two other highly respected authors who have written excellent books.

The voting is opened through March 21st. You can vote every day on the About.com site. In order to vote, you need to be logged in either to your Facebook account or your About.com account.

Naturally, I want to win—and I would love your vote. But, I truly consider it an honor just to be nominated.

Thank you everyone who nominated me! One cool thing… is that I can now proudly wear the about.com nominee badge on the home page of my site!