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August 15, 2020

Shy Cat Tip: The Power of Food

05.26.13 Encourage the shy cat to overcome shyness by ensuring that fun, positive things always happen when you are around him. Armed with treats the cat adores, give him a small treat whenever you see him. Instead of free-feeding, feed multiple meals a day.

Biting the Hand that Pets: Petting Induced Aggression

04.07.13 Cats usually give warnings when they do not want to be petted any more. Learn the signs: tail swishing, skin twitching or rolling, ears back, whiskers flattened against cheeks, vocalizations. When these signs are ignored, cats will typically look at the hand petting them and then in an extreme effort to communicate their wishes–bite.

Apologies from the Cat Coach

03.17.13 Due to a recent death in my immediate family, I have not been able to update my Cat Bits. I will resume posting my Cat Bits and Bytes next Sunday.

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.

 

Say No to Used Cat furniture

01.20.13 Cat posts, cat trees and other cat furniture should always be new and never used by a cat outside the household. Some infectious diseases are transmitted through pathogens on objects. In addition, cats mark territory through scratching and rubbing. Used cat furniture marked by other cats can stress cats and cause behavior problems.

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.

Change Unwanted Cat Behaviors

12.30.12 Too many cats are surrendered to shelters and euthanized for fixable behavior problems. Behaviors can be changed through environmental and behavior modifications along with other force-free methods. A certified cat behavior consultant can identify the behavior triggers and develop an effective plan.

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 Litter Changes

12.09.12. Most cats do not adjust well to abrupt changes. When transitioning to a new type of cat litter, do it gradually, mixing one cup of new litter in the old litter every day. Changing over to a new kind of litter takes between 7-10 days.

Moving Litter Boxes

12.02.12 Abruptly moving litter boxes to other locations can be stressful for cats and cause them to eliminate outside the litter box. Instead of immediately placing the litter box in another spot, move it gradually, a few inches a day to its new destination. Another solution is to leave the litter box in its original position and place another box in the new location.