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January 27, 2021

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.

Tall Tails

Cats have evolved a complex and effective communication system. Every part of a cat is a perfect little communication device, broadcasting messages to their world about their intentions and their emotional and physical states. A cat can communicate more effectively then an iPhone with just a simple movement of the head, a flattening of a whisker or a shift in body position. Sometimes their communications are subtle with slight nuances, other times it’s loud and wakes the neighbors.

Cat body language is complex. A series of books dedicated to it would still only scratch the surface. With that in mind, this blog entry will address one complex communication signal that is transmitted by the tail. I am calling this signal the “Happy Tail Dance”. Most of you have seen this. Sometimes it’s confused with the signals a cat gives when she sprays. Usually the cat half closes her eyes. Her tail is held high, with a slight curve at the top and it starts quivering. It can be somewhat alarming at first. The Happy Tail Dance is never accompanied by spraying and is broadcasting a different message to the world.

The language difference is subtle. Check out the base of the tail when a cat does a Happy Tail Dance. Usually the fur at the base of the tail is fluffed up. Just the fur at the base, closest to the cat’s back. Usually cats vocalize and have conversations during the Happy Tail Dance. And, the big difference… no spraying…

I can count on my cats to do happy tail dances on a daily schedule. Sudan, my Savannah always runs ahead of me and does the Happy Tail Dance on doors I’m about to open (inside, of course). He especially loves closets and likes to help me pick out my clothes every day. He shows me this with a happy tail dance. Maulee rushes to meet me when I come home, doing a happy tail dance on the cabinet. Olivia jumps on my lap and does a happy tail dance when she wants me to play fetch. The way she fluffs her tail, makes her tail look like a little pyramid. All of my cats do the Happy Tail Dance just as I’m about to do a clicker training session with them.

Check it out next time… look at the subtle tail language. Next time you see the Happy Tail Dance, don’t put your cat in the bathroom because you think she’s about to spray.

Oh… if she sprays, it’s not the Happy Tail Dance… you didn’t quite get what she was saying…

 

The Negatives of Positive Punishment

Recently, I had a consultation with a client whose cat decided to not urinate consistently in her litter box. As soon as the client filled out my history form and after I saw the litter box situation, I knew immediately why her cat wasn’t using the box. An easy fix… But this blog entry isn’t about the triggers and the solutions, this is about punishment and why cats should not be punished…

Unfortunately my client, in her frustration, was punishing the cat for not using the box. She both rubbed the cat’s nose in the urine and swatted her on the rear for her accidents. After awhile, the client noticed that the cat’s behavior escalated and the cat no longer enjoyed sitting on her lap. She finally was alarmed when her kitty started avoiding her most of the time, with the exception of meal times. (This case has a happy ending, client is no longer punishing her cat and the cat is now consistently using the box)

Besides being inhumane and cruel, punishing a cat will not stop a cat from doing an unwanted behavior. Cats do not associate the punishment with the unappreciated activity. Instead, cats will commonly associate the punishment with the punisher. I find this sad and tragic. The person that the cat has loved and trusted is now perceived by the cat as scary and hurtful. Understandably, this usually results in the cat becoming fearful of her person. Essentially, the cat/human bond is broken. Other common responses are; the behavior escalates, other unappreciated behaviors develop.

Cats usually have a legitimate reason for not using the litter box or doing other behaviors we don’t approve of. It’s up to us to figure out what these reasons are. We need to find what is triggering the behavior, then eliminate or modify the triggers. Usually environmental changes (ie, add more litter boxes, scoop, etc.) are needed along with behavior modification of both the cat and the human companion.

So, please, don’t punish a cat when she acts out. Punishment doesn’t work. It’s inhumane and it breaks the cat/human bond. Instead use positive methods. They are more effective, they build bonds and can last forever.

A Magic Cat

I don’t usually talk about my clients. I might share cases and talk about interesting cases, but naming the client is something I normally don’t do.

I’m breaking my rule… with permission from Lorraine, the new mom of a lovely F1 Bengal. I’ve posted a picture of this lovely boy at the end of this post. Additionally, you can see more and hear more about him in The Fabulous Lorraine blog.

Bengal cats were originally developed by pairing an Asian Leopard Cat with a domestic cat. The offspring of this match are early generation (EG) Bengals. The first generation is called “F1”. Grandchildren from the original pairing are “F2”. They are considered domestic cats by TICA, the entity that registers and shows them when they are “F4” and further out. They are wonderful cats to have as companions.

Lorraine has just opened her heart to a male F1 Bengal. Originally she was going to foster and socialize him for adoption. We do not want this little guy to go to a sanctuary. The poor little guy had been in 3 different homes before Lorraine took him in. He unfortunately had suffered abuse in one of these homes. The story was that he has litter box issues and does not do well with other cats.  

It took about 5 minutes for Lorraine to fall in love and decide that the little one will stay with her forever. Lorraine is providing him a wonderful home. She has the right attitude about him, believing that he is perfect just as he is, even if he never truly trusts a human again.

I am helping Lorraine socialize him and help him feel secure in his new home. The goal is to help him feel safe and to bond with Lorraine.  Right now he is terrified and only wants to hide.  If he does have litter box issues, I will help Lorraine through behavior modification and some management.

Currenty, he is eating and he is using the litter boxes. For the next week, Lorraine will simply go into his room, put his food down and sit in a chair and read or sing to him. We want him to see Lorraine as the provider of everything good… translation… yummy food… and to become familiarized with the sound of her voice.

She is making progress. The little guy is now starting to feel comfortable enough to put his play mice into the water dish at night. When Lorraine inadvertently steps over his comfort boundary, he’s letting her know with a hiss or a growl. With a little time and patience that will stop.

From time-to-time I will post little snippets about this new little one and how he’s progressing. Lorraine will also be posting on her blog about him.

And… maybe soon, he’ll have a name. … we are leaning towards “Magic”

 

Lorraine's new friend

Lorraine's new friend

 

Demystifying The Cat

  • Dogs have owners, cats have staff.
  • Cats do what they want.
  • Dogs come when they’re called. Cats take a message and get back to you.
  • Cats are mysterious.

These are a few of the misconceptions and cutisms that feed a false myth about cats. Cute as some of these sayings may sound, they have perpetuated a false stereotype about cats that has harmed and in many instances, killed cats. Unfortunately, many people believe that cats do whatever they want, and that their behaviors can’t be changed. They think that unappreciated cat behaviors such as inappropriate elimination, scratching the furniture and aggression can not be modified or stopped. Unfortunately, since so many people have bought into the myth, cats are regularly surrendered to shelters and or euthanized for these very fixable problems.

One of my goals as a certified cat behavior consultant is to bust this myth and to demystify the cat. Educating people about cats is very important, will help save lives and also help people appreciate how wonderful and special cats are. Cats are very trainable and behaviors that we don’t appreciate can be modified. Many times the reasons the cats are engaging in these behaviors is because of human error. Usually it takes some management and behavior modification, both of the cat and her human companion. Sometimes the fixes are simple, the result immediate, other times it takes more work, including environmental management, positive reinforcement and an understanding of the triggers. In the majority of cases, the behaviors can be modified and stopped.

Please, if you have a cat that is engaging in a behavior you don’t like, don’t give up on the cat. Chances are, the behavior can be modified. Instead call either a certified cat behavior consultant or a veterinary behaviorist. If you have economic challenges, then call your local humane society for behavior help. Many humane societies offer free phone consultations both for cats and dogs.