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October 14, 2019

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.

 

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.

Fake is Safe: The Dangers of Easter Lilies

03.31.13 Lilies are highly toxic to cats. Every part of the plant is highly toxic, causing kidney failure and usually death. Instead of live lilies, buy artificial ones. Lilies made out of silk are beautiful and safe for cats. And, they don’t need watering!

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

Cat Fix

Last week I took three days off and went on a mini-vacation with my mother, sister and my mother’s dog. We chose to vacation in one of our favorite towns, Carmel, California. I seldom take vacations. Why should I? I love what I do—I have the best job in the world. I meet lots of fabulous cats and their people and help solve cat behavior problems. The downside of taking vacations, even a mini-vacation is that it takes me away from cats—mine and my clients.

Carmel is the perfect place for a vacation, especially if you love dogs. Many restaurants have seating areas for dogs and their people. The Cypress Inn even hosts a Yappy Hour. People and their dogs can congregate every evening at 4:30 for drinks, appetizers, dog biscuits and dog talk. The Carmel City Beach is another perfect gathering place for dogs and their people. Dogs can cavort and run off leash while their people hobnob, mostly about dogs.

Dogs are fine, but they aren’t cats.

Although Carmel is dog centric, many hotels welcome cats as well. My mother chose well. She found the Carmel Country Inn. In addition to being a really nice place to stay, the inn accommodates both cats and dogs.  Even better, they have their own resident cat Tescher who has his own blog . Tescher Cat is the official greeter at the inn. I immediately bonded with him, but I’m not unique. Tescher is the type of cat who bonds with anyone who gently pets him or picks him up. One of Tescher’s jobs is to provide a cat fix for those visitors who miss their cats at home.

Tescher is very good at his job.

Tescher Cat. Carmel Country Inn

Tescher Cat. Carmel Country Inn

Senior Cats & Kittens 180° of Separation

I frequently hear cat people say they are adopting a kitten to keep their older adult cat company. In some cases these older cats have been the king and queen of their households, enjoying the luxury of having their person all to themselves. And there are also situations that involve older, adult cats who have suffered the loss of a bonded or maybe not so bonded resident other.

Some cats enjoy the company of another cat—others prefer a solitary cat-free life. Before bringing home a new kitten for your cat, consider the needs of both your resident cat and the new kitten. Older cats who have lived successfully with other cats may appreciate a new friend—a cat friend who is similar in age. Kittens usually love to roll and frolic excessively with others—preferably another kitten with the same active, crazy life style.

180° of Separation
The activity levels for older adult cats and kittens are on the opposite sides of the spectrum. Older adult cats invented power napping whereas kittens are poster children for Energizer commercials. Senior cats prefer to nap and lounge by the window, entertained by the neighborhood viewed from the comfort of a safe perch. Kittens, by definition, don’t nap the day away—they prefer actively exploring their world instead of observing it. And there is nothing more fun for a kitten then to engage every resident animal and human in persistent, rollicking play. Understandably, senior cats are not on the same page. The constant demands from kittens annoy and can seriously stress them.

It is also unfair for the kitten. Kittens need every opportunity to rough house, play and chase another willing companion—preferably another kitten. It’s an important part of the physical and social development of kittens. Kittens learn vital skills from play—including how to hunt and survive. And play teaches kittens important social boundaries.

Cat Company
Choose wisely when searching for a cat to keep your senior company. If your cat had a friendly relationship with another cat in the past, then seek out a new cat-friend who is similar in age and activity level to your resident cat. The new cat should also have a history of successfully getting along with cats the same age and temperament as your senior kitty.

Avoid adopting a kitten as a friend for your senior cat. Most likely both the kitten and the elderly cat will be unhappy with the pairing. Instead of becoming best buddies, the kitten will be frustrated with not having a friend who can keep up with him. And the older adult cat will become annoyed and stressed by the kitten’s natural need for constant play and attention.

Both cat & kitten have valid points.

Every Month is Senior Cat Month

Maulee helping me write

I love senior cats. OK, I love all cats, but there is something special about senior cats. Maybe it’s their grey-around-the-whiskers-look or their fragility, maybe it’s the purr. I don’t know, there is just something very special about elderly cats.

Maulee is my special senior cat. She is overseeing today’s blog entry about senior cats. This isn’t unusual, because she loves to keep herself warm, napping on the hot modem next to my monitor when I write. Maulee is an 18.5 year old Bengal Cat who is in relatively good health. Although she still loves to play, napping next to me is probably her second favorite activity—eating is her first. She is a food hound.

We share a special bond. Although I am bonded with all of my cats, the bonds Maulee and I have are different. She is constantly at my side, on my lap or napping next to my monitor. She prefers purring, chortling and talking to me over wandering the house and interacting with her younger cat companions.

Like many senior cats, Maulee occasionally has cognitive challenges. Sometimes, late at night she finds herself lost and confused in the house. I know, because she will start howling and screaming for me to help her. I will follow the calls and find her sitting, facing a corner yowling. Other times she’s standing in the middle of a room. Her calls of distress, although heart wrenching, quickly change to purrs and nose kisses when I sweep down, pick her up and carry her into the bedroom.

Maulee’s cognitive challenges have dramatically decreased since I made a few changes. The first two involve changes to the environment, the third increases mental stimulation. I am limiting the areas she and her cat buddies can go at night. Hall doors are closed—keeping the cats in the back of the house. The area they can roam is still large, but now all of the cats are more inclined to sleep in my bedroom. I have also increased the number of night lights around the house. Although, these two simple environmental changes have helped Maulee, I found that using clicker training to mentally stimulate her has vastly improved her cognitive state.

Yes! You can teach an old cat new tricks

At twelve years of age, Maulee was no spring chicken when her clicker training career started. She quickly caught on to the concept and became my clicker star. When Animal Planet’s Cats 101 filmed her for their Bengal and clicker training segment she was 17.5 years of age. Before the show she had never jumped through hoops. It took her only five minutes to learn the new trick. Just because a cat is a senior, doesn’t mean the cat can’t learn new things. Maulee is proof.

Clicker training is more than teaching tricks. Since increasing the frequency of Maulee’s clicker training sessions, I’ve noticed a decrease in cognitive challenges. She hasn’t gotten lost in a corner in many months and our nights haven’t been interrupted by her howls of distress.  I have also observed that Maulee is more alert, interacts and plays a little more with the younger cats. Clicker training is mentally stimulating. Maulee is thinking through problems. She is highly food motivated and likes to figure out what she needs to do in order for me to click that clicker and toss her a coveted treat. Clicker training is one of her favorite activities. I know because she purrs and chortles throughout the sessions. Clicker training is helping to keep her young in mind and spirit.

November is Senior Cat Month. Every month is senior cat month—every day senior cat day. If you are looking for a new cat companion, I urge you to adopt a senior cat. Just because they are old, doesn’t mean they don’t have many fulfilling years ahead of them. Look at my Maulee—18.5 years young.

Maulee sometimes enjoys napping on her back