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January 24, 2021

Cat Carrier Trauma! Trips to the Veterinarian

Many cats and their favorite people view cat carriers with trepidation. As soon as the carrier looms into view the cats hastily retreat as far away as possible, usually securing themselves in hard to reach places. A typical scenario is one where stressed cat parents risk injury while chasing, cornering and then depositing their cat kicking and screaming into the carrier. Because of traumatic carrier experiences, many cats do not benefit from being examined by their veterinarians on a regular basis.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Instead of a place to avoid, the carrier can become fun for your cat—a place where the cat enjoys playing, napping and eating favorite treats.

Plan ahead!

Start changing your cat’s fearful feelings about her carrier several weeks before the visit to her veterinarian. The best carrier for the job is a hard carrier because it can be easily taken apart both at home and at the vet clinic.

Typically carriers are stashed out of the way in between the dreaded visits to the vet. This isn’t the best tactic since it doesn’t take long for the cat to figure out that when the carrier appears something bad is about to happen. A less stressful approach is to permanently place the carrier in an area the cat hangs out in. That way the carrier becomes a fixture in the environment and with encouragement, a place to sleep, play and eat treats.

Influence your cat to change her fearful association of the carrier through activities she enjoys. If she loves playing, drag her favorite toys over the carrier or toss them in for her to chase. If she adores treats, place them in the carrier.

Scent can also help her view the carrier as a non-threatening place to hang out. Pet her with a soft towel and then place the towel in the carrier. Placing a towel or article of clothing that is saturated with the cat’s favorite person’s scent will also help change her perception of the carrier.

Whenever the cat chooses to go into the carrier on her own she should be reinforced with something that she loves. If she loves treats, then give her a favorite treat. If she enjoys a little loving, then pet and stroke her when she is relaxing in the carrier.

Cats are individuals—some change their feelings about cat carriers in about a week. Others require a few weeks or a couple of months until they do not have a fearful association with their carriers.  Clicker training also helps speed up the process. There is a chapter in my book Naughty No More! that focuses on using clicker training along with other force-free methods to help cats improve their relationship with their carriers and veterinarians.

Maulee enjoys napping in her carrier

Another Litter Box Tip: Choice

08.11.12 Litter boxes should not be placed together in one location. They need to be in different areas of your home so that your cat has a choice of which box to use.

Animals Repeat Behaviors…

There is a short video posted on my site of sweet, little Olivia, one of my Bengals, closing the door. This behavior has earned her a little publicity. Animal Planet’s Cats 101 filmed her shutting the door for the Bengal segment that aired for the first time last fall. People are curious about how I trained her to do this behavior. Although clicker training was used to capture and shape shutting the door, it originated as a natural behavior.

Years ago Olivia did a less refined version of the behavior before meal times. It started with a simple headbutt on the door of the bathroom where she and two of her siblings enjoy their meals. Her headbutt always moved the door a couple of inches. Because she always headbutted the door right before being fed, I consistently reinforced the behavior by feeding her immediately after. When I realized this was a step toward learning other fun behaviors, I decided to use clicker training to capture, shape and build this into a cued behavior.

It was easy. Olivia was already being reinforced for the abridged version of the behavior, and she was also fluent in “Clicker Speak”. I stocked my bathroom with her favorite dehydrated chicken treats and a couple of clickers. I was ready. With the aid of the clicker, I captured the natural headbutting movement and then gradually  changed it (called shaping in Clicker Speak)  to the desired behavior of standing on her back legs and pushing the door closed with her front paws. Every step was marked with a click and reinforced with a treat. After she performed the behavior correctly a number of times upon request, I added the verbal cue “door” as I gave her a visual cue.

Sessions were short as it had to be fun for Olivia. If it wasn’t fun for her; it wasn’t fun for me. She started adding her own special touches. One of my favorites is a chirp. She always chirps when she closes the door. Her chirps are always reinforced. I love her chirps; her chirps reinforce me.

As a Bengal, Olivia is highly motivated by attention. She is what I call in my book Naughty No More! an “Attention Seeker”. She will do just about anything for praise and attention. Since I take advantage of bragging rights, I show my cats and their neat behaviors off whenever the opportunity presents itself. My cats love an audience and will happily repeat behaviors for a little praise and attention. Olivia thrives on admiration. People come over to visit Olivia. They call me on the phone and ask if Olivia is in the mood for visitors. Then they come over just to see her close the bathroom door.

Olivia is trying out new variations of the behavior. She rushes into the bathroom when she sees anyone entering and closes the door behind them. Yesterday she followed me into the kitchen. When I opened the refrigerator, she stood on her back legs, chirped at me and closed the door. Of course Olivia is always reinforced for her new, creative approaches to her old standard door behavior.

Enriching the Lives of Inside Cats

Most of you know that I’m big on never letting cats outside. I know it’s a controversial subject, but in addition to healthier cats who live longer, I’ve noticed that people develop stronger bonds with their cats when they are inside 24/7. I think part of this is due to cat parents seeing more of their cat’s personality and individuality.

I am segueing away from the initial reason for this blog entry. Cats can be very happy living indoors 24/7.  All it takes is a little entertainment and enrichment. You can read more about it in USA Today and on page 6D of the printed version of USA Today.

Introducing the New Cat to the Resident Cat

I’m inspired to write a blog about how to properly introduce cats to each other since so many people do the introductions too fast and in a way that results in stress and aggression.

Introductions can be done with a minimum of stress. They need to be done slowly, it can take a month or longer to properly introduce cats to each other. Cats are territorial. It’s too much to ask any cat to accept a stranger into her house without proper introductions. People are the same way. We don’t react well when an uninvited stranger walks into our home. Neither do cats.

The newcomer needs her own room where she can be safe, away from any other animals. This will be her safe room, her sanctuary. It needs to be comfortable for her, with food, water, bed, cat boxes, a window to look out of and toys. The other reason she needs to be confined away from your resident cat is safety. Whenever bringing in a new cat, ALWAYS keep it completely separate from the other animals. There are diseases that can easily be transmitted to your other cats. In fact, I highly recommend keeping water hand cleaner handy. Use it after you interact with the newcomer. Too many diseases are so easily transmittable.

So… to those of you who think it’s an OK thing to put a cat in a carrier in the center of the room so that the cat “safely” meet the other cats… it is not OK, it is not safe. It also very scary for cats to be in a carrier for hours or days and it’s inhumane… I’m segueing again. Sorry…

Back to introducing cats. The goal is to encourage the cats to have positive associations through mutual activities while they are separated from each other. I’m posting some excerpts from a page that I give my clients on how to introduce cats to each other. I’m being slightly lazy because I need to post next about the 35 Bengals in need… now 45…

Judge by the cat’s responses in each phase to determine the length of each of the phases detailed below. There is no typical time frame. Every cat is different. If there is howling or hissing or any other signs of aggression, prolong the phases. Cats should remain separated from each other throughout the introduction process described below:

1. Twice a day: Use two clean socks or rags. Gently pet the new cat’s cheek with one sock, transferring pheromones onto the sock. Repeat, using the second sock on the resident cat’s cheek. Place each sock where the other cat hangs out, but not under their food, near litter boxes or in their sleeping area.

Socks must always be clean.

2. Continue pheromone exchanges. Also, 2-3 times a day, feed the cats delicious treats or regular meals simultaneously, separated by the closed door. Try feeding close to the closed door. If, at first they either won’t eat or display aggression towards each other, back the food away from the closed door to a comfortable eating distance. When comfortable with the distance, move the feeding stations closer to the door until they are eating next to each other (separated by the closed door) without displaying aggression.

3. Continue the activities in Phase 2.

Twice a day: Continue to pet cheeks with socks. Instead of putting the socks where the other cats sleep, inch socks towards feeding stations. Use clean socks or rags each time.

Twice a day: encourage non-threatening interaction between the cats. Use a toy with something cat-intriguing on both ends. Position the double-ended toy under the door so the cats can play tug of war. Before play sessions spray Feliway spray on the bottom of the door. Don’t leave this toy out if you can’t supervise the play.

4. Continue the activities in Phase 3, separated by the closed door.

Change locations for a few hours every day, putting the resident cat in the newcomer’s room, allowing the newcomer to explore another area of the house.

Twice a day: Continue to pet cheeks with socks. Instead of putting the socks where the other cats sleep, pet their cheeks with the socks that have the other cat’s cheek pheromones on it.

5. Continue the activities in Phase 4, separated by the closed door.

Introduce cats to each other without the benefit of a closed door: Open the door to the confinement room. When door is opened, feed one cat at a distance from the room at the same time the other cat is being fed in the confinement room. The cats should be able to smell and hear each other and if possible, see each other. Gradually increase time the door is open by one second at every feeding time. Supervise! At any sign of aggression, divert the cats attention and close the door.

Watch the body and eye language and the locations the cats choose to occupy. Check for fur rippling, ear positions, fixed stares, pupils dilating, pounce postures, etc. If all OK, gradually extend their times together, supervising them

Once a day: Use clean towels. Pet the resident cat’s back and sides with a towel. Pet the new cat with another towel. Then exchange towels, petting each cat with the other’s towel.

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.

The Enigmatic Purr

Part Three:  The Anatomy of a Purr

The anatomy of a purr is shrouded in controversy. There are many diverse theories about how a purr is created. One theory is that purring is produced through a combination of the laryngeal, diaphragmatic muscles and a neural oscillator.  This theory probably makes the most sense because when a cat suffers from laryngeal paralysis, he can’t purr. Another theory claims that the vibrations come from the hyoid bone, a small bone located between the skull and the larynx. Still another veterinarian argues that purrs are initiated from the central nervous system. A long time ago people believed purrs were the result of blood rushing through the vena cava (large vein that carries blood to the heart).

Domestic cats don’t have the monopoly on purring, though they are one of the only animals who purr both while inhaling and exhaling. Servals, Cheetahs and Ocelots purr. Not all members of the Felidae Family purr though. Big cats that are members of the sub family Pantherinae are supposed to not purr. These include Lions, Tigers, Jaguars and Snow Leopards, along with other big cats. Though it has been reported that lions make a noise that may be kind of purr like. Other residents in the animal kingdom also purr. I read that Hyenas, Civet Cats and even Elephants purr.  I wonder if an Elephant really purrs. I would like to know in what circumstances these other animals purr. Does an Elephant purr when he’s feeling contented and safe? Does a Hyena purr when he’s stressed out? Is the mechanism behind these purrs the same as in our domestic cats?

I conclude my musings on purrs with more questions then answers…

Cat: The Masterpiece

Cats are nature’s masterpiece. They are perfectly designed. They are compact and streamlined hunting machines. Every part of a cat has multiple jobs to perform. From the tips of sensitive whiskers to the bottom of silent paws, every part of a cat multi-tasks. Every part of a cat is perfect.

A cat’s claws and paws are good examples of this. Cats use their claws for many reasons. Defending themselves is one, catching prey is another.  Cats also need to scratch. When cat’s scratch, they are telling the world about themselves, broadcasting information, marking their territory. Cats have scent glands on the bottom of their paw pads that leave vital information about themselves. Additionally they are marking visually.

Cats give themselves manicures when they scratch. When we get manicures and pedicures, we spend lots of money and time in order to have perfectly shaped finger nails and toe nails. Cats have it made. All they have to do to maintain the health of their claws is scratch on a surface that has a certain texture and resistance.

When cats scratch they are stretching. Every morning my cats go to their favorite scratching posts and reach up as high as they can and scratch and stretch. They stretch every muscle with these daily stretches. We can learn a lot about how to properly stretch just by watching our cats scratch and stretch.

Cats do have to scratch. They don’t have to scratch the antique sofa or the Persian rug. They can be taught through methods that include positive reinforcement and modeling to scratch the right cat-centric furniture.  Declawing a cat is not a good solution to stop a cat from scratching furniture. Besides being painful and inhumane, it can lead to other behavior problems such as biting and inappropriate elimination.

Bengal Cats Use Their Litter Boxes!

Bok Choi, a Bengal

Bengal Cats do not have more inappropriate elimination issues then any other breed of cat.

Unfortunately there are many people who believe or want to believe that Bengal Cats have more inappropriate elimination challenges then other breeds of cats. Many of these people have a biased against Bengals, or I should say, the idea of Bengals, since Bengals have an Asian Leopard Cat as an ancestor. Additionally, through the years, there has been a lot of false information out on the internet about Bengals, information that if you have common sense, makes no sense…

This false information is very harmful. This is the type of myth that gets Bengals euthanized and discarded. Yes, they can have inappropriate elimination challenges, but so does every other breed of cat., some more then Bengals.

The number one behavior problem that cats are surrendered to shelters for is inappropriate elimination. All breeds of cats, including moggies… it doesn’t matter. This is not a breed specific problem. As a certified cat behavior consultant, the number one problem people come to me for consultations about is inappropriate elimination. I see all breeds that have this challenge, including moggie kitties, and, I will add, the majority of the time the triggers are related to something either in the environment or actions that the cat’s human companions are doing, or not doing. But that’s a future blog…

Bengal Cats are not prone to peeing outside of the litter box. I keep a record of the cats I see in my practice and what their challenges are. There is one breed of cat that hands down rightfully has earned the title and it is not the Bengal Cat, but yet people still perpetuate the myth that Bengals have litter box issues.