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Common Cat Behavior Issues in the Home Kathryn Wrubel, Ph.D. Animal Behavior Services InTown Veterinary Group Something to Keep in Mind About Companion Animal Behavior Behavior issues are not a problem unless they are a problem for the owner Something to Keep In Mind About Cat Behavior Cats are creatures of habit Something to Keep In Mind About Cat Behavior Cats never seem to forget Something to Keep In Mind About Cat Behavior Forcing a cat to do something always backfires Something to Keep In Mind About Cat Behavior The more cats a person has, the more behavior problems they may have Something to Keep In Mind About Cat Behavior Many cat behavior “problems” are natural behaviors that become an issue: When a cat’s basic needs are not being met In the confines of a household In multiple cat households Something to Keep In Mind About Cat Behavior: Punishment Creates Conflict with the Owners and Anxiety Behavior Problems Can Develop if Your Cats’ Basic Needs Are Not Met! Health Diet Exercise Enrichment Individual Attention Enrichment: Giving Cats a Reason to Get Up in the Morning Compared to dogs cats often get the short end of the stick A mentally unstimulated cat may spend time focused on things that make them anxious Set up daily exercise/play periods (5-10 min) for each cat Exercise increases serotonin levels in the brain Enrichment: Giving Cats a Reason to Get Up in the Morning 3-D Spaces: Climbing Frames & Shelves Hide n' Play: Tunnels, Boxes & Bags Bird Feeders & Fish Tanks Non-Toxic Herbs & Grasses Scratching Posts Water Favorite Cat Toys Cat Dancer® Da Bird® wand toys Dr. Noy’s® catnip toys Cat Crazy Playrings® Krinkly Cosmic Mylar Balls® Kitty Babble Ball®: makes real animal sounds Genuine sheepskin mice Panic Mouse® line: interactive electronic toys Turbo Scratcher® Play-n-Squeak® mouse Bouncy ball or ice cube Play & Treat® balls Peek-A-Prize® box Favorite Cat Toys Clicker Training More effective than traditional training methods & more interesting for cats Clicking sound “marks” desired behavior at the moment it occurs Click is followed by a reward (e.g. Flint River Ranch Bonita Flakes®, Trim Treats®) What People With A Lot of Time On Their Hands Can Do with Clicker Training Solving Furniture Scratching Furniture Scratching Scratching behavior is normal in cats Owner’s lack of understanding this or believing the cat is being vindictive or destructive often results in declawing Why Do Cats Scratch Furniture? Visual marking of territory Sweat glands in paw pads produce odors for scent marking Removes outer dead sheaths from the nail Form of “displacement behavior” (when cat is conflicted between two competing drives) Stretching Make Old Scratching Area Unappealing Sticky Paws® Boundary Spray® Cover area with sheet Plastic carpet runners or X-Mat® knobby side up What a Cat Is Looking for in a Scratching Post Vertical or horizontal posts will do Vertical posts should be taller than cat is stretched out fully & sturdy with a good heavy base Rough materials such as sisal are preferred over carpet Some cats like corrugated cardboard TopCat® Sisal Scratching Posts Make New Scratching Area Appealing Place post near area cat scratches now Play with toy around the post Place post near eating & sleeping areas Sprinkle some catnip on the post Solving Feline Aggression Issues There are Many Types of Cat Aggression Fear Aggression Inter-Cat Household Aggression Redirected Aggression Play Aggression Territorial Aggression Inter-Male Aggression Status Aggression Sexual Aggression Predatory Aggression Pain-Induced Aggression Maternal Aggression Inter-Cat Household Aggression Sensitive Period for Socialization 2-7 weeks of age During this time, attachments are formed easily and rapidly If kitten is not exposed to certain stimuli they may not develop appropriate responses After this period, socialization can be tedious & involve intensive exposure Sensitive Period for Socialization Ties established during sensitive period for socialization are likely to endure throughout life if cats remain in each other’s company Feline Social Behavior Cats may live solitary or in groups if resources are abundant Cats form matrilineal groups of related adult females & their offspring Communal kitten care by females is common Outdoor female cats show more affiliate behavior Feline Social Behavior Adult males are not socially tied to a particular lineage but prefer the company of related cats Males leave colony after adolescence (6-36 months) Males have a larger territorial range than females Feline Social Behavior Colonies are typically hostile to outsiders Acceptance begins with life in the periphery & is a slow process Cat Friends Cats have “preferred associates” Kittens significantly prefer littermates to half-siblings or older siblings Close bonds can form Longer cats together, the stronger the bond Feline Social Behavior in the Household Some cats have friends Some cats are solitary- “living apart together” Overall, cats spend much of their time alone Home Territories Cats establish territories within the confines of a home House cats engage in time-sharing of preferred areas The house can be divided into zones, so the addition or removal of a cat can be disruptive as cats redistribute space Tips for Adoptees to Prevent Inter-Cat Household Aggression Figure out what feline temperament or personality would fit best in the home prior to adopting Select a kitten between 6-8 weeks of age Select an adult cat that has lived harmoniously with other cats Where It All Goes Wrong: Introducing a New Cat Cats need to be introduced slowly & on an individual basis Familiarity (scent, sight, sound) should be established before the cats are allowed to directly interact with each other Half of all owners put cats together immediately Acclimating a New Cat Provide a comfortable room with: Food and water dishes Comfortable resting spots New litter box Scratching post Toys Several hiding locations If cat has a blanket or other item that smells like them, put in room for comfort Acclimating a New Cat Allows cat time to explore his new environment without the stress & interruption of the other cats When cat arrives, take directly to room in carrier Rub clean socks on cats’ cheeks or find object that smells like them & put in areas of the house where they can be investigated by the other cats Switching Territories If cats are not acting upset or unusual owner can begin switching territories This spreads smells of all cats throughout home & allows them to explore without interference of the other cat/s Can be done a couple of times a day Making Positive Associations Feed cats simultaneously near door to the room your new cat resides in Gradually move bowls closer & start to open door a crack or use tall gate/screen Making Positive Associations Introduce cats one at a time to new cat (in order of suspected difficulty) Introductions should be brief & end on a positive note every time if possible Gradually extend the time for exposure Common Causes of Intercat Household Aggression Typically due to territorial aggression, fear, or anxiety Cats introduced too quickly One cat boarded or hospitalized & reintroduced May be fueled by defensive behavior Limited resources or space Cats intact Redirected aggression Medical issues causing irritability or pain Breaking Up Cat Fights Don’t get your hands in the mix! Separate carefully with a broom Direct Stop® citronella spray PET-AGREE® ultrasonic device Heavy blanket Turn on vacuum cleaner Separate cats & leave them alone for a couple of hours or until they both calm down Not Recommended Punishing the cats for fighting Letting cats “fight it out” Holding both cats near or next to each other Rewarding a cat instigating fights with food or treats to calm them down Distribute the Resources! Prevents guarding of resources & bullying Resources include food & water dishes, litter boxes, scratching posts, toys, resting spots, hiding spots, climbing frames, & owner attention 1-2 stations per cat is ideal Distribute the Resources! Make environment 3-dimensional & provide hiding places Put best resources in rooms with multiple exits Provide electronic cat door to private room for nervous cats Time Management Separate cats at times aggression is likely to occur The Reintroduction Process Reintroduction- separate and reintroduce the cats Systematic Desensitization- gradually get cats comfortable with each other with low levels of exposure Counterconditioning- reward cats for calm and non-reactive behavior (incompatible response) Take Kitten Steps Process can take months Work at each individual cat’s pace If anxiety (not eating, eating quickly, avoiding eye contact) or aggression (staring, stiff body posture, hissing) must go back a few steps Owner should be calm and upbeat Reintroduction Separate house into 2 parts by door or use a room Feed the cats on opposite sides of the door while rewarding them for calm & non-reactive behavior Give cats treats & playtime while other cat is on other side of door Move bowls closer to door over time Reintroduction Start with door closed & build up to screen or gate Switch territories- cats they like can switch back and forth Reward cats with treats while brushing with mutual brush Be careful cats don’t get in physical contact- a fight will set them back Reintroduction Once the cats can eat together across the screen they can be reintroduced Cats should be on harnesses with one person for each cat or in carriers & feeding process should be repeated Over time the distance can be decreased & time extended The goal is to eventually have them eat side-by-side peacefully Reintroduction Eventually cats can be left together for progressively longer periods of time Owners should praise or reward them when they are together & interacting nicely Mood-Stabilizing Medication Prozac® (fluoxetine) helps to stabilize mood, decrease reactivity, & has some anti-aggressive properties Medication for Scaredy Cats Buspirone (Buspar®) can make cats more confident & alter their body language around other household pets reducing the probability of attacks When All Else Fails Some cats may never learn to get along The cats may need to live separately in the home One cat may need to be rehomed Useful Tip: Make Aggressor Wear a Bell Useful Tip: When Scaredy Cats Elicit Aggression Buspirone (Buspar®) can make cats more confident & alter their body language around other household pets Useful Tip: Solving Household Sexual Aggression Put a dab of Boarmate® on Female’s Back Redirected Aggression: Watch Out! Redirected Aggression Usually triggered by loud noises or interactions with other cats Often directed towards owner or another household cat Usually evoked by fear Preventing Redirected Aggression Eliminate triggers: Prevent or eliminate loud noises Close windows & doors and keep the cat away with deterrents (Sticky Paws®, X-Mat® knobby side up, Sscat® cat repellent, Snappy Trainers®) If due to cats outside of the home, use deterrents (Scarecrow® motion activated sprinkler, CatStop Automatic Outdoor Cat Repellent®) Redirected Aggression: Safety Do not interact with cat until they calm down Separate cats Put cat in darkened quiet room Keep cat on harness & leash Status Aggression a.k.a “Alpha Cat Syndrome” Status Aggression Cat uses aggression to control situations in which they have conflict with the owner Cat is pushy & willful Often engage in rough play & attention- seeking behaviors Petting-Induced Aggression Cats with status aggression often bite during petting (if you pet them in certain ways or for “too long”), if they are lifted up, or if they are removed from somewhere Resolving Petting-Induced Aggression If petting in certain areas or certain ways has elicited aggression in the past, don't pet in these ways anymore Ears down/back, furtive sideways glances, or a twitching tail mean its time to quit Keep petting sessions short & never try to pet your way out of an aggressive moment Resolving Status Aggression Use a non-confrontational approach! Avoiding triggers for aggression Ignore pushy & attention-seeking behavior Provide enrichment & mental stimulation Leadership Program Cat will need to learn one or two commands for the program- clicker training works best! Cat needs to follow command for some resources (meals, treats, favorite toys, possibly petting) If cat doesn’t comply, they need to wait to earn the resource Owner should initiate & terminate interactions with the cat Medication If behavior modification alone is not resolving the cat’s aggression & they are very reactive, mood-stabilizing medication could help as an adjunct to treatment Take Home Message Many behavior “problems” are normal cat behaviors Behavior issues can be improved or resolved with behavior modification Questions?? Thanks for Coming!
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