Integrating Cats and dogs – Dr. David Sands

Socialising cats and dogs – avoiding conflict

Many passionate animal lovers enjoy keeping both cats and dogs in the home. However, life between these two species doesn’t always run as smoothly as some owners would imagine. Unwanted behaviour can develop when pets have formed separate boundaries to territory and aggression or retreat is the options when a ‘fight-flight’, [adrenaline-response] is triggered.

The conflict scenario is most common when an adopted dog is first introduced into a household that already has existing cats or when a cat is brought into a previous dog-only household.

Some conflict issues dealt with through my clinic have coincided with when people move into a home together.

There can be unwanted behaviours between dogs and cats that have been brought up together, including occasional and unexpected spats that are seemingly unexplainable for some owners. When dogs and cats are apprehensive they will display a mutual distrust during initial encounters and it is not uncommon for rehomed dogs to present an aggressive response, fearful or challenging, towards a cat that has already been established in a home by growling. Cats can growl as a warning although they mostly hiss and spit during conflicts or when they are defending territory.

There can also have been a prior ‘learned chase-response’ in a dog that may have had a previous owner that encouraged aggressive chasing-behaviour in order to deter cats from wandering onto their property. There are dog breeds (including terriers and herding dogs) that will naturally chase cats, since this stimulates instinctive canine predator-prey responses.

Significant changes in homes and territory cannot be ‘explained’ to cats and dogs, and in these circumstances any confused boundaries and alliances with owners can result in confrontational aggression between cats and dogs, or simply withdrawal by cats (even to the extent of them leaving).

Alternatively, some puppies and kittens that are brought up together, and managed appropriately and sensibly, will coexist without conflict. Achieving this ideal means correctly training the dog to respond to instructions and directions, and not to put either dog or cat in situations where disagreement or possessive behaviour is likely to occur. This is often toys or food bowls in areas that both inhabit – especially when owners are not around to supervise.

It’s important to accept that, under fur and cute demeanours, companion pets ARE animals and, genetically, one step away from nature.

Allowing kittens or puppies to pester older counterparts may also result in friction, so be mindful that just because an owner wants them to get along and play together doesn’t mean they always will. Competition triggered through attention from the owner given to one or the other pet can also result in friction between cats and dogs.

We advise owners to offer consistency as regards social hierarchy when giving pets attention. For safety, dogs should be already trained to instructions this can be achieved with clicker and Training discs associated with when the owner interacts with them. Any retraining procedure is likely to work successfully and quickly if it is already introduced and established.

It’s important to accept that animals have all their natural instincts and behaviours either innate (genetic/inherited) or learned – which should be understood in order to manage them safely and appropriately.

If a cat is being introduced to a dog that is known to be generally friendly towards cats, I advise the owner to play a distraction strategy in the initial socialising sessions. This usually involves toy-retrieval or food-searching reward games with the dog controlled on a lead while the cat is allowed to explore in the same room. This usually results in the dog learning that it’s rewarding to ignore the cat.

However, if the dog is known to already present aggression or hyperactivity towards cats, it is important to employ a muzzle [for safety] combined with a Tether system (a training lead attached to a sturdy wall-mounted bracket or to a heavy and immovable object such as a table leg).

Use these aids [avoidance] while distracting a dog as described above within the limits of his tether, should be used as a precaution, so that a dog cannot chase and bite at the cat.

A dog that is displaying positive behaviour towards a cat should be immediately signalled with the clicker and rewarded with special food-treats.

It is rarely practical to keep a dog and a kitten or cat separated in the same home. While they are unsocialised – before any initial contact – avoidance is necessary to prevent conflict.

However, there has to come a time when they will be in close proximity and meet and this comes with potential for fearful or aggression responses. Issues can be countered through controlled-socialisation with the use of food rewards for acceptable response behaviour.

Socialisation periods should be undertaken on a regular basis – every few hours if possible – over a settling period of about four to six weeks. If a dog presents an aggressive response towards the cat, attract its attention (squeaky toy or whistle) and then immediately lead-walk the dog away to separate them.

When a dog is aggressive towards a new cat it is important not to react with any sort of emotional attention as this can make the event, albeit unintentionally on your part, more exciting, thereby rewarding thus reinforcing the dog’s behaviour.

Table of Contents

Case study 1

In a case referred to me by a vet, a rehomed, neutered, Japanese Akita bitch aged four was showing predatory behaviour (mouthing, holding and biting), including two instances of attacks on cats within the household. The first attack took place two months after the dog was rehomed, and the second a month into the retraining programme I’d suggested to the client. Both incidents resulted in the cats needing urgent veterinary attention and surgery. During my initial home visit after referral, it became obvious that the five cats were choosing to live upstairs while the Japanese Akita was being confined to a downstairs room.

Treatment

A tailored behaviour modification programme required the owner to introduce and condition her dog to a clicker and whistle (linked to reward) and training discs (linked to the removal of reward) communication system (each to be introduced in a sequence).

Controlled owner interaction, structured walks and play sessions formed part of the programme. The introduction of the tether strategy and dog gates was also recommended to offer the cats freedom to more safely roam around the house.

A month into the three-month programme a second cat was attacked and sustained extensive injuries, necessitating a week’s stay at the veterinary clinic for treatment. This attack occurred even though a tether-system was in place. The cat, perhaps encouraged by the controlled movement of the Japanese Akita during a desensitisation period, walked past and the dog grabbed it. The client was preoccupied on a telephone at the time but insists that in observation there was no prior indication that the dog would attack.

Outcome

The client has since agreed to muzzle the dog when in the home to ensure the cats can avoid injury. This short-term, practical, solution is to be used in the hope that the dog will, in time, become less stimulated by the presence of the cats. The case is on-going, although there is a possibility that the eventual rehoming of the dog to a cat-free household is required

Conclusion

In my experience, once an attack has been presented by a dog towards any animal an instinctive prey-drive, together with any general breed trait, is stimulated, and the chances of a successful behaviour modification programme designed to counter aggression is generally poor. However, some clients are extremely determined – and have the facility – to succeed in changing unwanted behaviour rather than have the dog rehomed or euthanised.

When prey-drive involves chasing livestock, where an immediate solution is required, remote-controlled, citronella spray, collars can be successful in interrupting the response. This is because there can be some prediction of when chase-behaviour is likely to be presented, such as on rural walks, in a situation where owners can be prepared in advance to use interruption methods.

However, when innate prey-drive trigger is unpredictable (such as in the case of a Japanese Akita), it is much more difficult to anticipate the onset of aggression unless owners are prepared to be in a constant state of readiness to act and prevent aggression.

Case study 2

A rehomed Jack Russell Terrier bitch was targeting cats encountered around its home area when being walked on lead.

The owners reported that, on occasions, they were often unaware of a cat being close by until the dog lunged into a hedgerow or pulled at a wall and aggression commenced. In some instances, the dog exhibited continuous vocalisation, including sustained high-pitched yelps and barks.

The owners were keen to be able to counter this unwanted behaviour, not least because it caused them considerable embarrassment during walks.

Treatment

The Jack Russell was put through a rigid programme which again included using dog gates and tethering in the home in order to create boundaries. Alongside training and controlling factors, the dog was denied window access during daylight hours, to prevent target barking and help to reduce her overall hyperactive behaviour.

This particular Jack Russell was highly food-orientated, so proved biddable to retraining. She responded positively to treats associated with the clicker system from an early stage, but was less receptive to ‘non-reward’ training discs in outdoor situations.

This prognosis is found in most dogs, however, when they are exposed to this method and this opposite sound-signal to the clicker can be an option to change unwanted behaviour in cases.

In one of several one-to-one sessions, the owners approached a cat that was sunning itself opposite their home. In a slow process, which required much patience on their behalf, the dog was kept on a lead within a metre of the cat for a 10-minute period.

The dog commenced some unwanted vocalisation in the first few minutes but eventually this reduced to an acceptable level and ceased altogether after five minutes. The cat, in this instance, did not react or display any fearful behaviour towards the Jack Russell.

Outcome

Three months into the programme, the Jack Russell’s usual aggressive reaction to cats and previous acute vocalisation behaviour had reduced to low-level interest and, therefore interruptible before hyperactivity could begin.

The drip-feeding of food treats acted as a mind-set change in the form of distraction. Because the dog was responsive to treats (rewards) the system was successful.

Case study 3

A Chow Chow, neutered bitch

British short-hair, entire Tom [kitten aged 5 months]

The Chow Chow bitch, previously socialised with an adult cat in the home, had immediately targeted a kitten introduced into the home following the loss of that cat. The owners had resorted to crating the kitten to allow the dog visual contact.

The owners reported that, following unexpected behaviour from the Chow Chow (the dog was presenting a hyperactive and potentially aggressive reaction) was alarming the new kitten.

They were keen to be able to counter this unwanted behaviour and hoped that a behaviour programme would successfully lead to socialising the two companion pets.

Treatment

The Chow Chow was initially put through a clicker and reward-whistle programme to be untilised for a period of training through positive reinforcement of calm behaviour.

The owners were instructed to introduce a Gripper Lead (® Dogmatic) to develop a Tether-system in the home in order to create restraint. This offered controlled-safety (without their physical interaction) and appeasement to reduce apprehension from the owners being transmitted to the dog.

Alongside training and controlling factors, the dog [controlled] and kitten [free to explore] were to be fed in close proximity to each other.

The Chow Chow was to be offer nutritious, lasting-chews (previously associated with the clicker system) to create calm episodes when the kitten was in close proximity. Scenario sessions were to be introduced in the evening quiet within two weeks of my home-visit session.

Outcome

Only weeks into the programme, the Chow Chow changed its interaction from hyperactivity to calm interest and socialisation began to develop.

The chews [tripe sticks] acted as a mind-set change in the form of distraction. Because the dog was responsive to treats (rewards) the system was successful.

10-step desensitisation

  1. In desensitising methods, the dog should be first contained in a covered crate or indoor kennel in the room where the controlled introduction can be made. Cats should not be in the room at that time.
  2. Place a number of different treats (on saucers or in small containers) around the room.
  3. Introduce one or more new scratching posts and spray these with catnip.
  4. Then allow the cats to enter and explore the room in their own time. If they use a scratching post and take food it is a significant point of progress.
  5. Following this initial period of exposure, where some cats will investigate the sides and top of the crate, lead the dog from the crate out of the room and into another part of the home.
  6. If there has been little aggression in a 15-minute period of exposure, return with the dog after 15 minutes and repeat the process. Introduce the Tether system.
  7. If there has been much spitting and snarling give the cats an extended period to calm down.
  8. To reduce the triggers for problem behaviours, don’t give attention to and avoid eye contact with the cat and dog.
  9. Eventually, providing the initial introduction was problem-free, replace the crate with the tether system (as described earlier) where closer contact can be made.
  10. In the last step, a member of the family should reward (clicker-treating can be used here if desired) the dog for desired, calm behaviour in ignoring the cat while controlled contact outside of a crate is undertaken.

Aversion techniques

In escalating situations, cat-chasing behaviour in dogs may be reduced with the use of remote-controlled spray-collars that are based on aversion principles. This can prevent unwanted injuries to both parties. However, it is essential that you consult a trainer as to these collars’ appropriate and timely use (which is critical to their effectiveness) and to show you how to use one correctly.

Dr David Sands
Fellow of the CFBA, Canine and Feline Behaviourist

Cat Film Stars by Colin Tennant

Cat Film Stars
This narrative will give some insight into the intriguing world of cats, their behaviour and relationships with their owners and the techniques used to obtain fascinating sequences for the Cat Care Video range and for the recent BBC television series. Cats are the pets we love to love, but only when they allow it, or so it would seem. So what kind of relationship do we have with our cats and why do they, at times, drive their owners mad? What sort of problems do cats exhibit compared with dogs? You can at least tell a dog to sit, come or teach him a set of rules, because they truly are a pack animal, in other words, designed to live with a family.

Cats, on the other hand, are in general, natural born loners and do not take kindly to being treated like a dog, nor do they respond to instructions, however they are given. Issuing commands or forcing a cat to do something provokes an adverse reaction; if you really get uppity with a cat it may simply pack its bags and be off, gone, end of relationship – Goodbye! Dogs, mistreated, will still hang about and take the good with the bad. Now I have made videos on marine and tropical fish, rodents and natural history television series, but cats have to be right at the top when it comes to the patience needed.

Cat Videos
I have produced seven educational videos on cats with Roger Tabor the presenter. But cats still challenged our wishful thinking when the cameras rolled on the latest video Breaking Bad Habits for Cats; unlike the dog educational videos, filming cats was much more difficult. A favourite observation by John Bowe the cameraman, was “ Point the camera at any cat and all I get is a big bum in the viewfinder as the cat turns from the camera and disappears from sight”. Dogs just can’t wait to be a star, slobbering down the camera lens. “Film me!” they yelp, while cats can’t stand or be bothered with the attention from the unfamiliar “luvvies” and all that technology. When we attended the GCC show to do some filming, we went down row after row of cats. The amount of time and tape used was large compared to the amount of usable footage examined later. Yes, true to form, cats seem to turn the other way when a huge bulky camera lens is planted in front of them – often to the consternation of their breeders who wish to show off their most perfect specimen. Nevertheless, you have to realise that you don’t own a cat, it is the cat that owns you and one has to tread gingerly if cats are to be seduced into starring in your next film or television show.

Terrible Twins
My own cats, River and Meadow, were certainly candidates for mischief – they starred in the video as the terrible twins. When they were kittens one of Meadow’s bad behaviours was chasing River about the kitchen work surfaces and in so doing knocked off a brand new Cappuccino machine sending debris and broken bits of it across the floor. I was not impressed! So I began to make the kitchen surfaces somewhat less agreeable for the cats’ adventures. I left small ashtrays filled with several mothballs or orange peel on the surfaces – oranges and mothballs smelt disgusting to the cats. The next day Meadow leapt onto the counter only to be met by the foul smells. She smartly leapt back down to ground level and both cats soon found more pleasant playgrounds for their gymnastics.

Dagger Claws
Biggles, a Burmese cat, often scratched its owner Richard when he tried to tickle its tummy. John, the cameraman, was poised ready for action. Right on cue the claws would immediately embed into Richard’s hand. Naturally he would pull his hand away, because the pain was intense, well, wouldn’t you? He shouted at Biggles, which, of course, exacerbated the confrontation. Any form of aggression towards a cat will normally damage its confidence, but Biggles thought this was fun; after several more takes and a much scratched hand, we all sat down for tea whilst Biggles looked on unconcerned and quite content with his stunt work. I advised Richard to keep his hand still even though it would hurt initially; hurt being the understatement. I wisely did not offer a free demonstration; sometimes it’s preferable not to lead by example where cat’s claws are involved. With Richard keeping his hand motionless, the cat became less stimulated by the touch on the belly. Richard then had to gently move his hand and this seemed to provoke less counter reaction scratching by Biggles. In time the cat became less agitated and more benign and could be stroked. Take 8 marked the end of the filming session for that day.

My House Keep out Cats fighting
Cats by nature are solitary creatures. Tiger, a big male Tabby did not like the new arrival, Snowy, a five-month-old kitten that had been rescued by Tiger’s owner, Andrea. She tried in vain to get the cats to like each other, but as so often is the case, cat war broke out. Tiger relentlessly attacked Snowy at every opportunity. I advised Andrea to purchase a small indoor cage for Snowy to allow the cats to meet in safety. Snowy was placed in the cage when Tiger, the established cat, was present. Tiger eventually approached the cheeky Snowy through the bars and in time got used to his scent. Over a few more weeks Tiger began to accept Snowy on his territory, however, some cats will never accept a new friend and that is why some will even leave home. On one particular day it took John, the cameraman man, five hours just to film Tiger and Snowy sparring, which was then shown in less than seven seconds of the video Breaking Bad Habits for Cats.

Bedroom Wildlife
Getting up in the morning to find a collection of dead voles, rats and mice strewn about your bedroom floor is a sight to quickly open wide those sleepy eyes. Maureen’s cat, Ginger, often left decapitated rodents for her inspection and delectation. Maureen has a phobia about such animals and getting from the bed to the door was frequently a skip and a jump with the odd scream. Even worse – and I have experienced this with my own cats – is live animals brought in that subsequently are released by the cat and then race around the living room with a cat in full pursuit like Sylvester and Tweety Pie. “How can I stop this she asked?” Cats are hunters and their wild side is part of being a normal cat. Ginger was simply bringing back the night’s food shopping in the same way that Maureen does from Tesco’s, only Ginger’s is not so well packaged, less hygienic and sometimes alive; if a live animal is brought in you can resort to the “wellie” technique. Using a wellington boot, place it against the wall where the animal is scooting along. The cat, or you, will get the animal to move and the dark hole of the boot will appear as an escape route. When the prey runs in, hold the top shut and release the lucky creature in the garden. A cardboard cereal box, minus the cereals, or long bag will also work. As for stopping them well that’s not really possible unless you keep the cat in during the night; this can be achieved by feeding early in the evening and then securing the cat flap. Though many people believe cats devastate the local bird population this is, in fact, untrue. Cats have little effect on any of the garden species except in keeping the healthy birds on their toes.

My cat hates me
Sheba was a rescue moggie brought home by Linda as a gesture of kindness; unfortunately, Linda is convinced that Sheba hates her and all humans and feels that whenever she wants to cuddle Sheba she has to chase and catch her. Sheba then cannot wait to get away from its fawning owner. I deal with these types of cats and know, as with dogs, that if the initial socialisation as kitten or puppy normally between 3 and 8 weeks is not managed well the result can be a cat that is not habituated to humans. Advice: Linda should now alter the cat’s entire routine. Manipulate Sheba’s feeding, encourage Sheba to work for tit bits of her meal, trail the food bowl to say, a low chair and as she follows, hungrily, Linda can offer Sheba small amounts from one hand whilst her other hand gently strokes her back. Sheba will, over several weeks, associate food time with touch and become less afraid. In time the tit bit can be placed on Linda’s lap and hopefully Sheba will leap up to receive the reward. The cat will now be following and seeking out Linda instead of the other way round. In conclusion never pursue any unfriendly cat for cuddles; it only reinforces the fear.

I hope that this new video will help many cat owners not only stop bad behaviour, but help understand the cat. Pleasant Pheasant & Scaredy Cat: I do a great deal of filming, movies and still shots, from the Centre. Bowe Tennant Productions, my film company is based in Watford and the Cat Behaviour Centre is in the Chiltern Hills near Berkhamsted. It is neither easy nor practical to bring over a cameraman at a moment’s notice just because my cat Lily is about to practice some extraordinary behaviour, which we may well use in one of our future cat productions. We, therefore, keep a second set of cameras at the centre.

During October I was typing away in my consulting room when I saw through the windows a big cock pheasant slowly making its way along the field of corn, which is still quite short. Suddenly the pheasant halted, froze and this told me something had made it cautious. I got up and then saw Lily stalking the pheasant along a low grass bank with not more than 20 yards distance between the two of them. The classic piece of theatre was set for the supreme predator, the cat and the rather dim pheasant, eyeing each other up. Now Lily often brings back an array of rodents, including rats, for me to film even though I’ve told her that I have seen enough, but this time I thought I would be presented with something different. Back to the drama: I quickly assembled my camera, surreptitiously slid out of the office door and placed my camera on top of a post for balance. The pheasant became quite concerned about my presence, but was so fixated with the approaching cat that I was then ignored. They stared at each other for what seemed like ages then the cat, with her belly pressed low to the ground, began her move forward; the gap closed and I was very excited, but not half as much Lily was. The pheasant, meantime, unexpectedly set off towards the cat. The pheasant did appear very curious as to what this creature was that was stalking it. Now great hunter cats like Lily are not used to the prey walking towards them – the stimulus for prey catching in cats is the prey moving away from them once the cat has been detected. Suddenly the pheasant ran at the cat. Lily legged it with the pheasant in pursuit. Lily ran towards me, the pheasant saw me, halted and slowly ambled away just like that cartoon grouse in the TV Famous Grouse Whisky advert. Quite comical really.

Cats About The House
I had to see a client with eight cats in St Albans, because the house training system had become untenable. Half the cats were kittens and suddenly there was an explosion of spraying and faeces dropped in the wrong places – namely the couch and so on. I filmed the general cat interaction to see if there were any bullying or other related disagreements between these beautiful cats. The cats were all over me demonstrating such intelligent and genial characteristics. They investigated all my behaviour equipment and camera boxes. These cats were, oddly enough, ‘wannabe’ film stars, so I shot as much play and climbing behaviour as possible. I eventually solved the problem and now they are all clean, the owner is happy and the cats all allowed back into the entire house. One of the Ginger Burmese kept posing for me over and over again in the fireplace and just in case I didn’t get a good shot the first time, turned the opposite way for poses 3, 4 and 5. So in conclusion, maybe I’ll take back a little and say not all cats are a cameraman’s nightmare, but like most cats, they just keep us guessing as to what they really think. The cat’s mind is still a mystery.

This article has been reproduced with the kind permission of Colin Tennant for the CFBA.

Cat Spraying by Colin Tennant

Cat Spraying
The most common problem brought to me with cats is toilet training in the home. This may seem strange to most cat owners who believe that cats are not only easily trained but for the most part train themselves when provided with a cat litter tray. Training cats to be clean is certainly on the whole less troublesome than dogs.

Most cats which toilet about the home, to the annoyance of owners, do so because of insecurity, conflict or a more unusual psychological state, which triggers such an action. This is especially true when the cat has previously been clean. Marking territory (spraying) is another area where cats can upset their owners. One cat I knew used the owners’ pillows on their bed for this purpose to the consternation of everyone.

To understand why cats urinate or defecate about the house and not in the desired location, e.g. the litter tray provided, we have to understand a little about their wild, non-domesticated cousins and how the cat evolved. The cat in the wild is a loner, has a large territory and rarely meets the opposite sex except for courting and mating purposes, which is once a year. The European wild cat has a territory of about 150 hectares, the female’s is about a fifth of that area, but the density is generally dictated by food supply. Compare this to an average house and garden.

Natural Marking of Territory
Cats, like most animals, mark territory using faeces, urination and scent glands. In the outside world cats will mark certain favourite areas or specific objects like tree stumps and bushes to help maximise their scent that signs to other cats “keep out this is mine!” The cat is instinctively a clean animal and fortunately for owners, most cats, due to their evolutionary territorial marking behaviour, quickly learn to toilet in cat trays. The proliferation of various substrates, which can be clay, soil, paper based materials to simulate soil and leaf litter, help give choice and can be helpful with certain toilet training problems. When of course, for a plethora of reasons, this system breaks down and the cat is spraying about the house or leaving faeces in places we rather they did not, people quickly call me for help. Some cats simply miss the litter tray, these generally need encouragement and/or larger or different trays.

Spraying
This can be executed by dominant or less dominant cats, depending on their social status within their territory, including pressures that may be real or imagined. A territory is what a cat deems it to be – your house or garden. Spraying can result from conflicts with local cats or cats within the same household.

Non Spraying
Territorial marking of a non-spraying type involves urinating or defecating in the wrong place (only, of course, according to the owner). These actions make the cat feel more confident; it is making a statement to other cats and if your cat is fearful or of the dominant type, spraying behaviours can be triggered. Litter trays with corresponding litter (substrate) are, for the average cat, quite acceptable. For the cats which are causing problems, however, the shape of the box, the type of litter, its positioning within the room or perhaps the room of the house in which it is kept can be a big deterrent to the cat becoming house trained even when up to that point all has been well. The presence of new people, especially children, can affect the cat’s toilet habits. Cats are by nature subtle, sensitive and affected by minor environmental changes.

Is this the problem – Substrate Dislike, Litter Tray?
Cats can either instinctively or learn to take umbrage when presented with certain types of substrate. Texture and smell are primary motivators to this attitude. Very coarse gravel-type material is less likely to attract a cat than fine soft types. The cat tray may be the covered type, because some cats prefer privacy whilst others do not. Even the depth of the litter is encouraging or discouraging to a fussy cat. The types of disinfectants used can also be a deterrent to a cat toileting in a litter tray. Trial and experiment often solves these issues, although not as quickly as many owners would like.
When a cat always avoids direct foot contact with the substrate and stands outside the tray and projects its urine at it (or at least in the general direction) then the litter may be the culprit – try a different brand.

Is this the Problem – Litter Tray Location?
Try moving the tray if the cat toilets outside it consistently or change it for a new one completely; again, a new substrate and/or new location might also solve the problem. Other dissuasive signs to look out for are noises. Cats have an acute sense of hearing. Some high frequency noises from electrical devices can be very off-putting to the discerning cat. More obvious ones like washing and dish washing machines or ‘fridges, loud music or sudden vibration sounds from clanking hot water pipes could also disturb your cat’s toileting behaviour. The animated behaviour of toddlers nearby or the bumptious actions of another pet like a dog or puppy may be the sole cause; again, you can experiment by placing the litter tray in a more peaceful location or remove the trigger/fear from the area (the toddler or dog, etc.). Shy or fearful cats may be affected by the most mild, innocuous change in environmental noise and sometimes one has to ponder what has changed around the time of the cat’s breakdown of using its litter tray. It is like detective work.

Is the Problem Medically Related?
Good health – checking out your cat’s ‘water works’ is not such a bad idea especially if the change is abrupt and unusual. I recently dealt with a lovely 7 year old Persian cat that had never been 100 % clean but, since the arrival of a new baby, had started to defecate on the dining room table and a few other unsuitable places around the home. The obvious was clear – anxiety – however, my modification suggestions proved only partly successful. The cat was very thin, but the owner told me that it always had been and that she had had it checked out by a veterinarian previously for the same reasons. Despite it being unusual that a toilet training problem is medically related (excluding elderly cats) I instinctively requested that the cat be examined again. The owner telephoned me and stated that the cat was perfectly well according to the veterinarian. Three months later it died of cancer and another vet believed this was part of the cause of its toilet training problems. Veterinarians can only make certain physiological health checks, for behaviour/eliminating problems. The behaviour practitioner has to work within this remit.

Marking Territory
The domestic cat does not have to compete for territory like its wild cousins so the constant need to mark out territory is far less. This does not mean that some won’t and when under the following circumstances marking territory can be activated or increased in frequency.

Aggression: When aggression is in the air a dominant or insecure cat that cannot behave will assert itself to protect its territory (inside or outside the home) or its cat group.

Anxiety: Changes in the hierarchy of its social system, other conflict within the same household, environment or area.

Is The problem Spray Marking?
A stream of urine directed at an object or a vertical surface (see previous “Other Causes: Marking Territory”), as opposed to a pool of urine (normal urination) indicates spray marking. It is a calling card to other cats: “This is my patch!”  Bold cats, aggressive cats or an insecure cat that feels threatened may spray-mark often.

Is The Problem Faeces and/ or Urine Marking?
Marking areas of territory using faeces and urine may appear like the earlier described problems, but can and often are triggered by similar reasons as in spray marking above. Feline marking behaviour is probably simple and very understandable to a cat, but it is quite complex to us. The behaviour practitioner, often through a long series of questions, has to identify the causes in such cases before advice can be proffered. Visitors may be the associative cause of spraying behaviour; if so, cats often, but not always, spray the room they have slept in. One of my friend’s Burmese always sprayed in the sink of the guest’s bedroom the following day. This, of course, made the problem identification easy. Filling the sink with water the following morning did help. The solution, however, was not so easy as this was one determined by the cat.

Multi-Cat Households
Spray marking problems occur more often in houses were there is more than one cat. The more cats in one house/area the higher the probability of spraying. Cats are by nature loners and although they amazingly adapt to living in close proximately to their fellow cats, it is not nature’s way for this species. When we make the decision to own a pet, it is generally an education in the ways of another species. Overall, cats make delightful and loving companions and from their point of view, there are no problems.

Summary of Tips
In very complex cases consult a cat behaviour practitioner.

Castrating male cats will prevent spraying in approximately 90% of male cats, spaying prevents about 5 % of females spraying. These are guidelines only.

Consider reducing the number of cats in the household to that prior to the spraying problem.

Close the curtains so that the visual fear/aggressive stimulus is removed, if your cat sprays upon seeing other visiting cats enter your garden.

Place the cat’s litter tray elsewhere and place the food bowl near/on to the area being sprayed, if the cat is spraying in specific locations only. (Cats rarely spray near their food source.) As an alternative, place mothballs or spread tin foil over the area that is spray marked. Cats dislike the smell of mothballs and the feeling under pad of tin foil. You could also place cardboard boxes or large ornaments as obstructions in the cat’s pathway to spraying.

Clean the fouled areas with non-ammonia type cleaners: water, vinegar and biological washing liquids can be very effective.

Cats that only spray in specific rooms (on beds, etc.) should be closed out of the room affected were practical; if caught early enough this should stop the embedding of the problem.

Finally, never punish your cat for any unwanted toileting behaviour, because they will not relate their action to the punishment given. Instead, they need redirection and your understanding – that is cat care.

This article has been reproduced with the kind permission of Colin Tennant for the CFBA.

Cats and Claws by Colin Tennant

Cats & Claws!
Lilly my cat is about one hundred yards from my office window, licking her paw, perched atop a fallen oak branch – all 30 feet of it – that had, unfortunately for the farmer, fallen into the ripened corn recently. Lilly often runs across to this huge branch, dashes up and along its bough then frantically claws the roughened bark. She practices this little routine several times daily and truly looks pleased with her performance. She is a happy cat – partly living in her natural world.

Living with cats not only brings with it numerous pleasures, it can also bring some problems such house training and clambering on surfaces you preferred they didn’t. Once you have successfully trained your cat not to toilet on the floor or in any other part of your home, you may think that all the fuss and bother you went through is finally over. The bad news is that it is probably not. As cats grow they develop their natural skills and tactics for survival in the wild. Cats are still only semi-domesticated creatures and as such still have their natural instincts very much intact, unlike the state of some furniture in many homes!

The house or flat is just another version of the outside world to a cat. Curtain rails, tops of sofa backs, carpets and even hessian wallpaper are just interesting architectural features that need investigation to a cat, as in its outside arboreal wonderland. While such clawing behaviour would in the wild help to ensure the cat’s survival, in the home it can create great distress for the cat’s owners. Sofas are expensive and the cat, unfortunately for us, is not aware of this fact. The good news, however, is that although deeply ingrained, most common cat behavioural ‘problems’ can be redirected (or altered) into less damaging behaviour.

Scratching
Scratching can be one of the most costly of behaviours your cat will exhibit. Far from being just an irritating habit or an act of spite, scratching is actually a vital behaviour that helps satiate three basic needs of your cat:

  1. To keep it’s claws sharp and clean;
  2. Stretch and exercise it’s muscles;
  3. Distribute it’s scent, it’s I.D. (Cats have scent glands in the pads of their front paws).

In the wild a cat would use a tree or other similar object like Libby does, but in the home there aren’t usually many trees to hand so other, less suitable objects are used – like the back of your sofa! Scratching, unfortunately, cannot be stopped, no more than humans can stop their own natural behaviour like crying, laughing or scratching. What you need to do, therefore, is provide a suitable object for her to scratch. So here is my first suggestion: purchase a scratching post. This can either be bought from a pet shop ready made or you can construct your own by using wood and rope.

Once you have your brand new scratching post set up in your living room (or wherever you keep it) your cat will probably give it the obligatory sniff and scent mark it, then simply walk away in total ignorance of all of your efforts. Now you need to teach her what it’s for. This may sound strange, but what that consists of is demonstration. Without hurting your cat hold her paws firmly, then scratch them down the post yourself. When she finally does this for herself reward her with praise and maybe a food treat. You can also try rubbing some cat nip into the post or placing the post near/next to an area that the cat is already scratching, say the end of the sofa (a favourite spot for many cats). By doing this your cat will soon learn to associate this action (and pleasure) with the post and, coupled with her strong drive to scratch in the first place, should result in it using the post instead of your furniture. In addition, one or two food treats can be pressed into the post fabric to encourage more interest and therefore more use of it. It is also worth noting that sometimes a couple of scratching posts do the trick better than just one.

Where more than one cat is kept in the same house you may find that the more dominant cat will refuse to use the post, preferring instead to use your home. In these cases the best method to use is the water pistol. Quite simply this involves squirting a jet of clean, fresh water at the cat only whilst she is scratching the wrong thing. This will give her a mild shock, enough to stop her from scratching and if repeated often and accurately (timing wise) enough the unpleasantness should become associated with, not the scratching action, but the location. I call this location the “no go area”. One very important point to bear in mind here is that your cat must not associate you with the unpleasantness, because this can lead to a lack of trust in you, so always try to keep yourself out of view when squirting her. Then simply pretend that you have no idea what is going on and it’s the cat’s business not yours.

Houseplants: Digging Them Up or Eating
It is wonderful the way that cats seem to believe that they can re-pot our houseplants better than us. Re-arranging the foliage can be another time passing interest for the cat. Strangely enough, cats don’t seem to understand that we don’t like soil spread over the floor, nor do we like dozens of half chewed leaves dangling like limp hurricane victims. Equally, cats sometimes eat plants and again this is a distorted instinctive behaviour. Cats in the wild will munch away on various safe plants and do obtain various vitamin compounds, which help with their nutritional needs, moreover, it helps to remove the fur balls that they accumulate from their prolific grooming sessions. Many houseplants are in fact poisonous, but that I will leave for another article.

My friend’s cat, Tiger, is very adept at destroying potted plants in the house. She does, however, rarely touch the garden plants (although this may be more difficult to discern in a well planted garden). Generally, houseplants are meant to be pleasing for us and I believe it is the human’s way of bringing a little piece of the outside world into our home. It is comforting and pleasing to the eye. Its also comforting and pleasing for the cat who no longer has to make the effort to pop outside for a chew or scratch – we’ve saved him the leg work. Now if that’s not kindness from the cat’s point of view I don’t know what is!

What we have here is a conflict of interests and somehow the cat has to learn that there are some things that are simply not acceptable; this can be done by making her realise that certain actions can have unpleasant consequences and is the basis of the ‘operation’ to save the plants.

In the wild a cat learns by trial and error – if she were to pop her nose in the wrong hole and bugs or bees were to appear and sting her, her drive to survive would associate that action or place with the unpleasantness and the chance of repeating the same action in the same place in the future would be less. In the home we need to create a natural teaching deterrent. Mothballs spread about the base of a plant do nicely, because cats find the smell rather foul. Several companies produce Bitter Bite, which when sprayed on the low plant leaves (check for compatibility), makes the experience of chewing the leaves less enjoyable to say the least. You will need to offer some alternatives of course; cat ropes, toys and the like are plentiful on the pet shop shelves. The ubiquitous water pistol can be used again, but when you’re not present it is rather useless, because cats will only learn by an immediate association. Cats dislike strange crinkly uneven surfaces so tinfoil sheets crinkled on the floor underneath the plant is another harmless deterrent for the cat.

As mentioned earlier redirecting unwanted behaviour is a safe and non-stressful way of preventing plant tasting sessions, so you may like to provide your cat with a small indoor pot of seedlings of her own to nibble on. Again, pet shops often sell these in convenient containers, or you can simply dig up a small clump of lawn, which has not been treated with any garden chemicals and place it on a tray daily or once or twice week for her to chew. For the very determined cat or the cat that ignores all manner of persuasion then the “Aboi Master Plus” from “The Company of Animals” does work wonders. This device emits a 2 second spray of harmless citronella from a little plastic box, up to about 50 yards from you the operator (it is operated by a small remote control device). When the cat attempts to bite a leaf or dig the soil out of a plant pot you can trigger the collar remotely so that the cat receives an unpleasant spray of citronella. I do believe the sound of the spray working has just as good an effect in deterring the cat from that area as the citronella does; of course, if you have many houseplants spread about the home this system is not so practical. It is important to note, however, that this product must never be used with a sensitive or neurotic cat as it can create much more serious problems than it will solve.

All in all cats are creatures of their evolution and that includes, like all other pets, behaviours that don’t always suit our view of the world. Try to remember that whether you own a cat, dog or any other pet, the key to solving any behaviour problem is to understand what the species is designed for in it’s wild state. Understanding your pet and being very patient is the way to alter it’s behaviour without a divorce.

Lilly my cat still brings an endless supply of dead rodents into my home each week. A mangled vole placed inside my shoe is not my idea of a present, but it is Lilliy’s, and that’s the point.

This article has been reproduced with the kind permission of Colin Tennant for the CFBA.

Cats Behaving Badly by Colin Tennant

Cats Behaving Badly!
Cats are the pets we love to love, but only when they allow it. So what kind of relationship do we have with our cats and why do they at times drive their owners mad? What sorts of problems do cats bring compared with dogs? You can at least tell a dog to sit, come or teach him a set of rules, because he truly is a group animal – in other words designed to live with a family; cats, conversely, are natural born loners and do not take kindly to being treated like a dog. Shouting or forcing a cat to do something provokes an adverse reaction, if you really get uptight with a cat it may simply pack its bags and be off, gone, end of relationship. Dogs mistreated will still hang about and take the good with the bad, not unlike some people.

Cat Videos
Colin has made seven educational videos on cats, which are presented by Roger Tabor. Cats still challenge their wishful thinking when the camera rolled on the latest video BREAKING BAD HABITS FOR CATS. Unlike Colin’s dog educational videos, filming cats was much more difficult, a favourite joke by John Bowe the camera man was “point the camera at any cat and a big bum is the view I get as the cat disappears from sight; dogs can’t wait to be a star, slobbering down the camera lens. “Film me“ they yelp, while cats can’t stand the attention from the unfamiliar. Crew patience is important for success. Colin Tennant, the director and producer of Cats On Film videos series, describes the mischief that our pet moggies get up to whilst he filmed the series.

Terrible Twins
Colin’s own cats, River and Meadow, were certainly candidates for mischief – they starred in the video as the terrible twins. When they were kittens one of Meadow’s bad behaviours was chasing River about the kitchen surfaces and in so doing knocked off a brand new Cappuccino machine damaging it badly. Colin was not impressed, so began to make the kitchen surface a disagreeable area for the cats’ adventures. He left small ashtrays filled with several mothballs or orange peel on the surfaces; oranges and mothballs smelt disgusting to the cats. On day one Meadow leapt onto the counter only to be met by the foul smells; she leapt back down to ground level and both cats soon found more pleasant playgrounds for their gymnastics.

Dagger Claws
Marcie, a Burmese cat, often scratched its owner Charles when he tried to tickle its tummy. The claws would immediately embed into his hand and Charles would naturally pull his hand away, because the pain was intense and he shouted at Marcie thereby exacerbating the confrontation. Any form of aggression to a cat damages its confidence.

Colin’s advice to Charles was to keep his hand still even though it would hurt initially – hurt being the understatement – Colin wisely did not offer a free demonstration, he does not necessarily lead by example where cats’ claws are involved! By Charles keeping his hand motionless, the cat became less stimulated by the touch on the belly, Charles then had to gently move his hand, this seemed to provoke less counter reaction than scratching. In time Marcie became less agitated and benign and could be stroked.

My House Keep out
Cats fighting. Cats by nature are solitary creatures. Tiger, a big male, tabby did not like the new arrival of Snowy, a 5 month old kitten, that had been rescued by Tiger’s owner Andrea. She tried in vain to get the cats to like each other, but as so often is the case, war broke out. Tiger relentlessly attacked Snowy at every opportunity. Colin advised Andrea to purchase a small indoor cage for Snowy and allow the cats to meet in safety. Snowy was placed in the cage when Tiger, the established cat, was present. Tiger eventually approached the cheeky Snowy through the bars and in time got used to his scent; over a period of a few more weeks Tiger began to accept Snowy on his territory. Some cats, however, will never accept a new friend and that is why some will leave home.

Bedroom Wildlife
Getting up in the morning to find a plethora of dead voles, rats and mice strewn about your bedroom floor is a sight to open wide those sleepy eyes. Maureen’s cat, Ginger, often left decapitated rodents for her inspection. Maureen is phobic about such animals and getting from the bed to the door was a skip and jump with the odd scream. Even worse – and Colin has experienced this with his own cats – is live animals brought in, which subsequently are released by cats and they then race around the living room with a cat in full pursuit. How can I stop this she asked?

Cats are hunters and their wild side is part of being a normal cat. Ginger was simply bringing back the night’s food shopping in the same way as Maureen does from Tesco’s, only Ginger’s is less packaged and sometimes alive. If a live animal is brought in, use a wellington to catch it, place it beside the wall where the animal is scooting along, the cat or you can get the animal to move and the dark hole of the boot will appear to be an escape. When the prey runs in, hold the top shut and release the lucky creature in the garden. A cardboard cereal box or long bag will also work. As for stopping them well that’s not really possible unless you keep the cat in during the night; this can be achieved by feeding in early evening and then securing the cat flap. Many people believe cats devastate the local bird populations, but this is untrue. Cats have little effect on any of the garden species except in keeping the healthy birds on their toes.

My Cat Hates Me
Sheba, a rescue moggie, was brought home by Linda as a gesture of kindness. Linda is convinced that Sheba hates her and all humans; she feels that whenever she wants to cuddle Sheba she has to chase and catch her. Sheba then cannot wait to get away from her fawning owner. Colin deals with these types of cats and knows that as with dogs, if the initial socialisation as a kitten or puppy normally between 3 and 8 weeks is not managed well the result can be a cat that is not habituated to humans. Advice: Linda should now alter the cat’s entire routine, manipulate Sheba’s feeding, encourage Sheba to work for tit bits of her meal, trail the food bowl to say a low chair and as Sheba follows hungrily Linda can offer Sheba small amounts from one hand, whilst her other hand gently strokes her back. Sheba will, over several weeks, associate food time with touch and become less fearful. In time the tit bit can be placed on Linda’s lap and hopefully Sheba will leap up to receive the reward. The cat will now be following and seeking out Linda. In conclusion, never pursue any unfriendly cat for cuddles, because it only re-enforces the fear. I hope that this new video will help many cat owners not only stop bad behaviour, but help understand the cat.

This article has been reproduced with the kind permission of Colin Tennant for the CFBA.

Grooming Aggressive Cats by Anita Kelsey

The difficulties involved and how to move forward
I have been a mobile cat groomer for three years now and can honestly say that 95% of semi/long haired cats either dislike but tolerate the grooming process, are indifferent to it and let the groomer do what is necessary, or are nice and relaxed, used to being combed and bathed and generally seem to outwardly enjoy their time on the grooming table.

Cat grooming typically involves nails being clipped, fur being combed through, maybe some matts shaved out, trimming around problem areas such as around the bottom, and occasionally a bath. A groomer can expect hissing and grumbling from some cats that dislike being handled. However, there are a minority of cats that are extremely aggressive towards their owner and groomer when approached with a view to combing their fur and these are the ones I’d like to talk about now.

This aggressive reaction can stem from fear, a bad grooming experience in the past, dislike of being handled, fear of pain from a badly matted coat, through to phobias of the grooming process, or even fear of the groomer’s table, some which can resemble a vet’s table as does mine.

The way forward is a very difficult path for the groomer and one I find myself treading very carefully whenever presented with the scenario of an aggressive cat, especially one that needs to be de-matted.

On the one hand, the cat must not get the upper hand and control the situation, especially when it’s coat is matted and the job needs to get done. On the other hand, having to muzzle a cat and hold it down on a grooming table when it’s in ‘fight or flight’ mode doesn’t bode well for future positive grooming sessions . A cat has a good memory and may associate firm grooming with a negative experience. It will react aggressively again when meeting the groomer or when the owner approaches it with a comb in hand.

Sedating a cat every time it needs to be combed isn’t realistic either. So, you can see how difficult each case is when having to groom the coat of a cat that doesn’t want it!

I am going to talk through some situations I have been through with various cats, the path I took during the groom, and the advice given to the owners. Each cat and situation is different and decisions have to be made step by step. It’s upsetting seeing an owner at their wit’s end because they cannot see a way forward with the upkeep of their cat’s coat, especially when it hates being handled. It’s also very unsettling as well as upsetting seeing a cat so aggressive and agitated, lashing out at whoever it can reach, including the owner!

The vocal warnings in themselves can send shivers down one’s spine. Chinchilla Persians are masters at this. Some Chinchillas howl even when my hands are just resting on their bodies to reassure them. It’s quite bizarre!

For difficult cats the lion cut (shaved all over apart from the head, paws and feet) is an option, but this can cause major distress for an aggressive cat and has to be done either under sedation on a regular basis, or at the very least under stress from the groomer. Both solutions are likely to leave the cat quite traumatised. Removing most of the fur from a cat is not a natural state but it could be seen as the only way to move forward with difficult cats. A vicious circle! As a cat behaviourist who does mobile cat grooms, I walk a very fine line as to the right decision to make for the cat, as well as the owner.

Murphy watching me pack up after the groom
A typical lion cut

So…let me introduce you to to our first case – A beautiful Maine Coon called Murphy.
I received an email from the owner who was clearly concerned with the matting on Murphy’s coat. She explained that Murphy didn’t like to be groomed and had several large matts on his tummy and around his private parts. By the time a coat gets to matting like this, very tight to the skin, it is useless to try combing out. Try to put a comb to a coat like this and the cat will react badly. As usual on grooms like this, I arrive expecting to shave out the matts and the cat to be a tad unhappy and a little intolerant.

Clients never really know how aggressive their cat is going to be. Either that, or they never tell you honestly!! The owner told me Murphy doesn’t much like being combed. That was putting it mildly!! From the start Murphy was out to have me for lunch. His nails were extremely long and trying to cut them down, mainly so that I didn’t get scratched, was hard enough. Within seconds I knew that Murphy would bite me the moment he had the chance too. I don’t like to use muzzles and 99% of the time I use a towel as a barrier to protect me and this is usually sufficient, but Murphy made it clear that lunch was my hands or arms and no towel was going to stop him! I put on my dog handling gaiters as a precaution.

A typical Elizabethan collar that I use on grooms to protect me and the client from a cat bite.

No one likes seeing their cat muzzled and neither do I. I believe that face muzzles panic a cat further. An already frightened cat thrust into darkness by way of a hood would be frightening for a human let alone a cat. That kind of heightened fear is dangerous and will make a cat forever frightened of the grooming process. Wearing a muzzle means the practitioner cannot monitor the cats breathing or see if any panting is occurring which is a sign of severe stress.

Instead, if I feel a cat is going to bite then I use two things: an Elizabethan collar (pictured above) or a towel placed around the neck. The Elizabethan collar means that a cat can see and breath with ease. Wearing protective gloves will further protect me from any bites or scratches.

The battle to get Murphy calm enough to shave safely was extremely difficult. He hated the table, was obviously reacting badly to me and the comb as well as being handled or held against his will. This is why his fur had ended up matted in the first place. The way forward in this scenario is very difficult and at one stage I advised the client that the only kindest way to do this was to actually have Murphy sedated to remove the matting and then we could start with a clean slate. I never say this lightly because an owner cannot keep sedating their cat for the whole of its lifetime just to keep the fur in good condition and clearly Murphy’s owner was very upset with the thought of that. Upon seeing the client’s eyes well up with tears I decided to think out of the box to get the job done with the least possible trauma. I had to shave this cat no matter what.

To remove the matts on Murphy’s tummy I decided to remove him from the table and have the owner hold Murphy in her lap. She held Murphy on his back against her stomach and held his two front paws together so he couldn’t lash out at me. His tail was gently tucked between her legs so away from my clippers and I managed to quickly shave the worst matt out before Murphy became unmanageable again. We took lots of 5 minute rests to give Murphy a break. It also gives me time to think of my next move 😉 . Each time we stopped, Murphy was absolutely fine but as soon as the comb or the clippers got anywhere near his body he totally freaked and turned into a feral monster. Shaving out 4 matts took a couple of hours and it was traumatic for him as well as us. The matts were finally removed and the groom was stopped. Murphy didn’t get a comb through. The rest of his fur wasn’t too bad. My main goal was to remove the terrible matting and then just leave him be to recover from the ordeal.

My methods are always geared towards the least possible stress for all concerned.

So – what about the future for Murphy?
In a situation like this, steps have to be taken to get the cat tolerating the combing. In the meantime rather than ignore what’s happening with the cat’s coat the owner was advised to feel EVERY DAY for little knots appearing. The main areas for matting are the arm pits, chest, tummy, bottom, back legs and inner legs. Feel a knot and tease or cut it out. When I say cut it out I mean with scissors BUT with strict safety steps put into place.

How To Remove A Matt Safely With Scissors
NEVER under any circumstances pull up a matt and cut across. Pull up a matt on a cats’ coat and you will be pulling up skin with it too. Cut across and you can cut the skin. Simple as that. Cats skin is like tissue paper and it moves easily and cuts easily. My advice is ALWAYS slide a comb beneath the matt. Once you have the teeth of the comb between the skin and the matt you can then safely cut the mat out. With cats that don’t get any form of regular grooming, owners generally see small matts forming and don’t think anything of it. Leave it for a few days or a week and more fur will form around the matt. Leave it for longer and the matt begins to turn into a tight pelt. Once it has formed into a pelt and is tight to the skin a comb CANNOT slide under it and you then have a problem on your hands. Only shaving can remove a pelt or tight matt.

Look at the photo below. Your comb should slide between the skin and the root of the mat. NEVER EVER use scissors without the comb in place.

The comb should always slide between the skin and the matt

So, now the client is faced with a cat that is going to remember the fight with me during the grooming and react badly when she tries to groom him. So, what’s the answer?

As well as trying not to let the cat ever get matted (checking every day for matts and removing them by gently teasing them out, or cutting out with scissors – NB: best time to do this is when a cat is sleeping or in a nice relaxed state), the next step would be to try and gently get Murphy used to the comb on his body.

Here’s some tips below: I mention the grooming tool ‘brush’ and by this I mean a soft brush or plastic tipped slicker brush as this would be the safest first step and more comfortable for the cat to nuzzle into. You will eventually be moving onto a comb which is the correct grooming tool for semi/long haired breeds.

Teaching a Cat To Tolerate or Enjoy Being Combed
Behaviourists Sarah Ellis and Chriag Patel suggested the following method in the Feb 2013 issue of Your Cat Magazine:

  1. Begin by creating a positive association with your brush. Place near your cat and reward with a treat when he/she starts to investigate it.
  2. Build to holding the brush in your hand, when you are interacting with your cat in a calm way, and allow your cat to sniff and rub against it when they wish.
  3. After a few days doing so, or when you think your cat is ready, stroke your cat with the brush in your hand, so that the brush is not touching the cat but your hand, holding the brush, is. Then hold the brush out for your cat to sniff again. If they rub against it reward with a treat and praise them with more physical attention.
  4. Once your cat is actively seeking the brush you can gently move it against your cats face. Gently and slowly stroke in the direction of the cats coat for 2 minutes a session.
  5. If your cat is relaxed and enjoying the experience try grooming different areas. Cats love the neck and head region and also the back and base of the tail.
  6. Tips: Try rubbing the scent of your cat onto the brush first. For nervous cats link the brush with a reward. Let the cat SEE the brush first and then follow with a treat. Never the other way around. You can even make it into a game. If your cat walks towards the brush then reward him/her!
  7. Never rush any of these steps. Always observe your cat and pick up on what they are telling you. If they appear uncomfortable them take a step back and slowly try again.

The future for Murphy is a tricky one. The absolute key here is to not let Murphys coat get into a state again and to slowly introduce the above steps so that his coat can eventually be combed through a small section at a time. Positive association is the absolute key as well as perseverance from the owner.

I hope Murphy forgives me like I have forgiven him scratching me 😉

Herbie gives up the fight

Herbie gives up the fight
Herbie hissed and growled at his owners whenever they tried to comb him which made them very nervous about any attempts to comb him. I was called when Herbie became extremely matted and the clients did not want him sedated again. I was already warned of Herbie’s aggression so turned up to the groom with my leather gaiters and expected a huge fight on my hands. Instead it was interesting to note that Herbie didn’t like the fact he had met his match. His hissing and growling became louder and louder as he tried to intimidate me into stopping. BUT, I always note when a cat is only hissing and growling, but not attempting to seriously bite or scratch. This meant I had a good chance to complete the groom without too much trauma on both sides.

When a cat is trying to intimidate vocally, the best course of action for a groomer is to not be intimidated and act with confidence and firmness. I positioned a towel at the side of Herbies face so that if he should turn around to bite me he would get a mouthful of towel instead of my flesh!! I didn’t need to use an Elizabethan Collar on Herbie. He soon realised I wasn’t going to stop and that it would be quicker if he just settled down and let me get on with my job. I asked the clients to stay, so that they could talk reassuringly to him and stroke his head whilst I shaved out his pelts. By the end of the groom Herbie lay still and exhausted. This is when I took the above photo. At one stage he seemed to fall asleep – probably from the exhaustion of so much hissing! I checked the clients grooming tools and like 90% of my clients, they had the wrong tools to begin with. The awful ‘furminator’ was put back on Amazon for re-sale and links sent to the correct combs for the long coat Herbie had.

In this situation it was basically down to two hard heads battling for control and I had to win if Herbie was going to regain his lovely coat without having painful knots tight to his skin. Once this control was established, Herbie quietened down. I advised the client to keep Herbie’s problem areas shaved (tummy, arm-pits) and his ‘nethers’ to be kept trimmed with scissors. Once these problem areas are no longer a major hassle for the client, they can start on gentle re-conditioning of the combing process, steps for which I noted above in Murphy’s write up.

As a cat behaviourist who is also a groomer, I have to decide early on what type of reaction I am dealing with. Herbie’s reaction was caused by his dislike of being combed, joined with his ability to always get away with a simple grumble to stop his owner! His learned behaviour meant he could control the situation and get away with never being groomed. This type of behaviour needs to be turned on its head. He didn’t bite and didn’t act in an aggressive or defensive manner out of fear. His body language was not defensive like some cats (ears flattened on the head, body stiff, body positioning so that all weapons are showing). I would never suggest sedation with a cat like Herbie. His feeble attempts to scratch me were minor ones. His bites were mere nibbles. Only his vocalisations were loud and threatening, luckily for me!! The clients were more than happy to see, at least for Herbie, that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

Most Chinchilla Persians HATE being groomed and will be very vocal during the process

Last but not least please, say hello to SPARKLE. A beautiful, petite Chinchilla Persian with a loud roar!
Sparkle has an extreme reaction to being combed and to being put on a grooming table (same goes when she is taken to the vets).

Her manner is extremely fearful. She pants wildly, gets very hot, almost goes into a fit with dilated pupils. I was quite concerned with how she was behaving and asked the owner to tell me when this started. Once I knew the background it wasn’t too hard to understand.

Sparkle had experienced a badly handled groom in her own home. Already a timid frightened cat, the groomer muzzled her from the start, held her down, didn’t take their time to work with and understand a frightened shy cat and just roughly and quickly completed the groom with a screaming cat who couldn’t see a thing. The cat would have viewed this as an attack on her within her own territory. It’s no wonder I was seeing this reaction to me and this has made the forward journey very very difficult. One which needed a well thought out plan.

On the one hand we have a cat terrified of grooming and on the other hand we have a long haired coat that needs grooming. Luckily Sparkle had no matts, because shaving would have been out of the question on my first visit.

My solution was to find her favourite food and have her associate my table with the food. Sparkle’s grooming sessions were to be split over time, so a groom every three weeks was booked in. Sparkle started her sessions placed on the grooming table, were she was offered her favourite treats as the comb touched her body. I was able to comb through small sections at a time whilst she was preoccupied with eating. I also allowed her to move about the table as she pleased (not ideal, but . When she went into panic mode I let her move about and lie on her back and wriggle around and would just talk to her gently not allowing her to fall or jump off of the table. Then when she sat up again I would gently start combing a section and her owner would offer her more tasty morsels. The owner would have to hold her in her arms for me to complete the tail, which most cats hate to have combed, but I did this as gently as possible. I also cut the under fur of the tail short and her nether regions short so that we didn’t have to worry about any matts forming in these areas.

We took lots of breaks where Sparkle could play with some toys. The photo above is Sparkle playing with a mouse on one of my grooming sessions. Small steps. I couldn’t imagine muzzling Sparkle and roughly holding her down on the table. It would have destroyed any trust and made it near impossible to reach any form of tolerance to the whole process. It doesn’t really matter how Sparkle looks. She is an in-door cat. It doesn’t matter that part of her bushy tail is short. What does matter is that her coat is kept tangle free and the grooming sessions are kept short, simple and with an element of fun on her side and patience on mine. Sparkle’s eyes still bulge with fear when she sees a comb but there’s no question of me thinking I need to win a battle. Kindness, understanding and patience is the key to gaining Sparkles trust again.

Well, there you have it. Three different kinds of situations in a multitude of aggressive/defensive behaviours that I deal with on a regular basis.

I still love my job though and will always be there for owners who have nowhere else to turn and for cats who need to be freed from terrible pelts.

If you have any questions please feel free to contact info@catbehaviourist.com

This article has been reproduced with the kind permission of Anita Kelsey for the CFBA. www.catbehaviourist.com

Keeping Your Indoor Cat Happy by Anita Kelsey

Keeping Your Indoor Cat Happy
Not everyone is lucky enough to have a garden for their cat to play in or easy access to the great outdoors from a window or ledge, especially in large cities. It’s a well known fact that most people with pedigree cats keep them exclusively indoors, which many cats can find frustrating.

For cats that are kept indoors, or ones that used to roam but have since been moved into a place with no outside access, it’s essential that they’re given lots of stimulation within their own homes. You and I are able to go outside everyday and be stimulated by hundreds of different sensations: sound, visual candy, smells etc., but it’s a different story for the indoor cat who only has its owner’s home as its ‘life’. It is extremely important for the well being and happiness of your cat that you understand its basic needs. When confining a cat indoors, owners commonly make the mistake of providing no stimulation and this in turn can lead to your cat sleeping for most of its life through boredom and becoming obese. It’s important to remember that cats are animals and the natural state of a cat is to hunt, kill, eat and sleep.

Below is a few main pointers to encourage cat owners to think about their cats and improve the environment they live in.

Perches
To create the illusion of the outdoors you should provide a ‘tree’ or two and when I say ‘tree’, I really mean an elevated place for a cat to climb and perch. Cats feel more secure off the ground and like to sit up high and look down on their domain. The elevated space can be a cat tower/climber or even a space on a high shelf – with the ornaments removed of course!

Scratching Posts
Cats usually keep their claws in good shape by scratching tree trunks or fence posts. As well as keeping their claws trim, cats naturally scratch to exercise the muscles in their paws and to leave their scent, so it’s a basic and natural need. The indoor cat will scratch your furniture and carpets if a scratching post is not provided. Most cat trees have numerous scratch posts within their design and there are designs of every shape and size that can fit discretely into any décor. A large scratch post for an adult cat will also ensure they get to stretch fully.

A Room With A View
Next we come to windows. An indoor cat loves to look out of the window to watch birds go by and keep an eye on its ‘territory’. This is a great way to stimulate your cat and to relieve long hours of boredom. Window perches can be found online in many varieties. If you have property where it’s difficult to make any alterations to the walls (i.e. with screws, nails etc), there are window perches specially designed to combat this problem. These types of window perches use suckers to connect to the actual glass of the window, but are still strong enough to hold most cats’ body weight.

Toys And Boredom
If your cat sleeps all the time you will need to provide stimulation. You may think that your cat doesn’t need to play or doesn’t like playing, but you will be surprised once you have found the ‘right’ toy to suit your cat’s personality. Play time is imperative to relieve boredom, frustration; it also improves the bond between you both. Once you have found the correct toys for your cat they should be rotated to keep the cat interested. Leave out some fun little toys for your cat to enjoy on its own, such as ping-pong balls, open paper bags, cardboard boxes, furry catnip mice, etc. Most people get the wrong kind of toys and then wonder why their cat is disinterested. Here are some ideas for the best kind of toys to try out on your cat.

DA Bird Feather Teaser
Cats are natural hunters and their natural instinct is to kill things, so any toys that stimulate this type of behaviour are highly stimulating for the indoor cat. Toy mice, bugs, spiders or feathers on a wire or string make excellent toys. The ‘Da Bird’ range has a variety of add-ons with different critters such as bugs, spiders and mice. Play with them by half hiding them under a newspaper, rugs, boxes, etc., and watch as your cat enjoys the hunting process. Reward it with a treat afterwards or a little piece of meat (their ‘catch’).

Catnip
I’m constantly surprised at how many owners never supply catnip for their cats. Catnip is a fun treat, which harmlessly ‘intoxicates’ your cat between 5 and 15 minutes and is completely safe. The main constituent of catnip is nepetalactone, which is an oil contained in leaves. It is believed cats react to the nepetalactone, because it resembles a chemical in tomcat urine. This is a much needed experience for an indoor cat and is a wonderful way to get overweight cats to kick up their heels a little!

Grass
Grass is essential and your cats will love having the opportunity to eat it as a normal outdoor cat would. They also love to rub against grass too. It’s easy to grow and you can buy special grass cubes for cats from any pet or Internet stores.

Laser
This toy is a wonderful addition to the hunting toy collection. Play with your cat for short bursts of 5-10 minutes and they will go nuts trying to catch the light. Because it’s frustrating for the cat that the light can never be caught it should not be played with for long periods of time. Never shine the light directly into the cats eyes. Sessions should be finished off with a hunting type game where your cat can actually catch something.

Cat Dreams DVD
Check out this wonderful cat DVD that I’ve recently discovered. Especially designed for the indoor cat, this DVD features singing birds, fish swimming back and forth as well as various other critters that your cat would love to get hold of and eat! Check out www.catdreams.co.uk. It may seem crazy but hey, we are cat people!

Food
Cats are true carnivores and must get their supply of vitamin A from animal tissue. The indoor cat should be fed a ‘good’ quality brand of complete wet food (making sure you buy a variety of flavours). Check on the cat food for the words Complementary or complete. Complete means the food contains all of the nutrients a cat needs whilst complementary means it needs to be fed with another food source that has all of the nutrients or makes up the ones that the complementary meal lacks. I am not an advocate of dry kibble as I don’t believe a cat was designed to eat dry biscuits. it’s not a natural food source and can cause many health problems in the future. I won’t go into too much detail on this page but anyone interested in learning more facts about feeding your cat dry food may wish to check out the following web site: http://www.catnutrition.org/open-letter-to-vets.html

Of course I am aware that vets opinions, on the subject of kibble, vary greatly depending on who you speak to but Cat Nutrition.org gives you plenty of links to start investigating the facts yourself.

Make sure the food dish is wide enough for your cat’s face and is shallow. A lot of people buy dishes that are more appropriate for dogs (too deep) or too small in diameter (rabbits!). Just look at your cat’s whiskers to get an idea of the best width for your cat’s food dish. The best dish I have come across is called The Wetnoz Studio Scoop 5 cup. It’s a dogs bowl ;-)… The large size suits most cats’  faces especially large breeds such as Persians, Norwegian Forest and Maine Coons. Food should be placed away from water and definitely as far away as possible from the litter tray. You can make drinking water fun for your cat by buying it a water fountain.

If you have a multi-cat household then set up separate feeding stations, as cats like space away from other cats to eat and it will also stop unwanted behaviour such as food bullying.

Feeding times should be structured, e.g. breakfast in the morning, before you go to work and an evening meal when you return home. If you are not in until late, use a feeding timer.

Food in the wild isn’t available all day and your cat’s digestive system needs time to rest! Without a proper feeding schedule many cats WILL eat all day, even when full, which can lead to obesity. A feeding schedule also breaks up the day for an indoor cat and you will begin to notice your cat getting much more excited at meal times when scheduled feeding times are introduced. If you wish your cat to eat regular but small amounts of wet food through-out the day then consider a food timer which has ice trays.

Treats like Frieze dry chicken or beef are great 100% meat snacks and can be fun in a treat puzzle ball or given as a small bedtime snack to see your cat through the night.

Litter Tray
A lot of people buy litter trays that are too small or too gimmicky. Ensure you have a large enough tray for your cat to move around in and dig properly. They should also be able to collect litter from another area of the tray to cover their toilet. Large plastic ‘under the bed’ storage trays are great for this. Don’t line the tray with plastic bin bags or paper. This makes digging harder for the cat, is a totally unnatural material for them to have in their toilet area; bags and paper collect urine, which will turn rancid quickly and be very unpleasant for a cat, whose sense of smell is second to none. For this reason, most cats who have litter trays lined with bags or paper do not cover their toilet. One litter tray per cat is the general rule, plus an extra one in separate areas of multi-cat households, in case one cat blocks a litter tray site entrance (to stop the other resident cat using it easily). Cats do not need lids over their trays. These are mainly for humans. Although a very shy, timid cat may feel more secure with a hooded tray, most cats do very well without them. If you do need to get a tray with a cover make sure the litter tray is XXX large so that the hood does not restrict movement.

Last, but not least, don’t come home and get straight on your computer or crash in front of the TV without giving kitty some attention. The days can be very long and boring for an indoor cat, so they will be very excited to see you when you get home from work.

Time put aside for play is absolutely essential for your cat’s well-being. To be honest it’s also good for owners to wind down after a hard day with some good wholesome kitty love! Spend some time showing your cat just how special she is to you, after all, your cat isn’t just there for your entertainment or to look pretty sitting in your home.

Understanding your cat, its origins and basic natural behaviour, will help you to see what needs to be done inside its home environment and will enable your cat to have the happiest and most fulfilling life it can, especially if it’s confined for the rest of its natural life.

This article has been reproduced with the kind permission of Anita Kelsey for the CFBA. www.catbehaviourist.com

Perches
Scratching Posts
A Room With A View
Toys
DA Bird Feather Teaser
Catnip
Grass
Laser
Cat Dreams DVD
Food
Litter Tray
Cat Tree
Window Ledge
Happy Cat

Spoiled Sofas and Boxing Gloves by Lara Forster

Spoiled sofas and boxing gloves
Helping owners with cat behaviour problems is very new to us, indeed new to Northern Ireland. Heather Siribor and me were unsure what sort of problems we would encounter. Our work in cat rescue and welfare brings us into daily contact with cats given up for re-homing. The reasons owners give for parting with their cats are varied, but there are two common issues: Not using the litter tray and aggressive or timid cats. The poor cats do not fit the criteria their owners have for a family pet and are needlessly given up for adoption. These are the cats (and owners) we want to help in our work as Behaviour Practitioners and these two issues being the most common we come across.

When Ian and his wife got in touch they were at their wits end. The young couple had a one-year-old tabby female cat called Tilly. During the initial phone call Ian told us that the problem was with Tilly’s toileting; although she had a litter tray she had taken to using the settee as a toilet. It had got so bad that the item of furniture was being steam cleaned every day. The problem was causing friction with the couple and Tilly was on the verge of being re-homed. She had become a nervous cat who was wary of visitors to the house; previously she was a sociable friendly cat.

The young cat had also destroyed the legs of a coffee table in the living room, so Ian and Joanne turned to their vet for help. A urine sample was taken and any urinary infection was quickly ruled out; the problem was indeed behavioural. So they contacted Heather and myself for help. A home consultation was decided on as the first step, so we arrived to meet Tilly and her family.

We were able to glean valuable information about Tilly’s history. She had come to Ian and Joanne as a little rescue kitten aged only six weeks. For the first six months she was there Ian was not working and had been at home with her all day. She was a house cat who enjoyed little trips into the back garden, asking to be let out via the back door. After a quick wander around outside she would ask to come indoors again and the back door would be opened for her. When Ian began full time work Tilly was at home alone all day, quite a change for her. Around the same time a visiting cat appeared in the garden from time to time. Ian told us the new cat had even got into their kitchen when the back door was open. Tilly was having difficulty with the intruder and now when she went out she would not explore, she just hid under the oil tank.

The settee was in an open plan living room/kitchen area and the problem was so bad that the couple no longer sat on the settee, but left the cushions on it stacked sideways to try and deter Tilly from urinating on it. We could see that the large kitchen window and glass paned back door offered a visiting cat a clear view of poor Tilly’s litter tray. Her tray was a large open tray near the back door. This was the point of access to the garden and also where the new cat had come in. The visitor also spent a lot of time on the couple’s kitchen windowsill.

Tilly was feeling vulnerable and exposed at that most private moment for cats and was too stressed to use her tray in that area at all. She was slipping round the corner to the settee, which was hidden from view from the kitchen window and door. We asked Ian how they reacted to the mistakes, what they did when Tilly urinated on the sofa cushions and it turned out that he often shouted at Tilly or put her out of the room. This is a big no-no for any animal. He was advised to totally ignore Tilly when she did this and that disciplining his cat would seriously damage the bond he had with her, adding to the problem. We also observed that Tilly had no toys, scratch posts or climbing frames. Stimulation and hiding places are vital to a cat spending most of their time indoors. All this was contributing to the problem of scratching the furniture.

Ian and Joanne were asked to relocate Tilly’s tray, to an upstairs room. We recommended that she be kept out of the living room for a while and that a blind or curtain be put up on both the window and the door. We felt Tilly would benefit from a hooded litter tray, a few scratch posts and a climbing frame with different levels. A Feliway diffuser was placed in the living room near the sofa. This would help Tilly feel calmer in an area previously under threat from the observer on the windowsill.

Two weeks later and Tilly was a much happier, relaxed little cat. She had been using her tray without any problem and was back to her usual friendly little self. She still didn’t want to go out much, but the new curtains had stopped the intimidation from the visitor outside. Ian and Joanne had their sofa back again too!

Inappropriate toileting is the most common problem we are contacted about by far, especially in homes with more than one cat. It is distressing for the owners, to the point that the cat is often on the verge of being taken to a shelter for re-homing. We were delighted this was not Tilly’s fate and she is still a cherished member of the family.

Another common problem we come across in multi cat homes is aggression between the cats. When Gail contacted us for help she was very distressed. She had two cats. Tiger is a large 3-year-old male and Marble is a little 8-month-old female. Gail felt that Tiger was terrorising little Marble, chasing and attacking her, causing her to spend most of her time hiding away from him. Quite often play between cats is seen as aggression, but in this case Marble really was being victimised and bullied. When we asked about how the new arrival had been introduced to Tiger we learnt that Marble had been brought straight into the home, set down in front of Tiger and the pair were left to get on with it. The problems caused by incorrect introductions are something we come across frequently. Tiger had the new arrival thrust in his face, deposited right into his territory and he was expected to be fine with it all! We realised that both cats needed to be separated straight away. Gail was asked to set up a secure area for Marble in a room with her litter tray, food and bed. Tiger was not to be allowed into the room. We were basically going to reintroduce the pair, as if Marble had just arrived. Tiger was going to need help to feel secure and not threatened in his territory by the younger cat.

For the first week, while Marble was separate, Tiger was made a real fuss of, had lots of new games and treats and began to settle. As his aggression had also led him to bite Gail, we were pleased to hear that by the second week Tiger was much more relaxed, playful and had not bitten Gail since Marble was secluded. This second week was also the time to begin short supervised introductions. Play and games were used to distract Tiger if he started to get angry and gradually the two cats began to share a common interest – toys! We suggested that Marble’s safe area should stay set up as a refuge for her and that the introductions be increased gradually. By the third week the cats had free access to each other. It continues to be a gradual process and Tiger still has his moments. We helped Gail understand how important Tiger’s territory was to him, especially as he is an indoor cat and how the dynamics of the pair works. Marble is now a lot more confident, is able to cope with Tiger better and is not such a fearful cat.

New cats always need to be introduced gradually; if not, there can be all sorts of behavioural problems. Gail was fortunate that Tiger had not begun to spray around the house, because this is what usually happens; if a new cat is not integrated gradually over time, the problems caused can damage the relationship between the cats and they will probably never be best buddies. Owners often expect miracles from their cats, but a thorough understanding of how the cats see their own territory and how important it is to them should help anyone thinking of bringing home a new cat or kitten.

This article has been reproduced with the kind permission of Lara Forster for the CFBA

Understanding Cats on Amazon Prime Video

Colin Tennant and John Bowe were at Barker Brown’s ‘The Pet Show’ in Earl’s Court, this is where we met cat behaviourist Roger Tabor. Following discussions about working on a project to make various videos about cats, we went on to make five titles, The Cat Indoors, Understanding Cats, The Cat Outdoors, The Mystery of the Cat and Breaking Bad Habits for Cats.

Further to this Roger Tabor was asked to make eight short programmes on various cat topics for the BBC. So the three of us with the help of many others started work on the series and all eight programmes were completed in the Autumn of 1995.

We are pleased to say this series is now available to watch for free if you’re an Amazon Prime Customer, you can also purchase the series. Click on the image below to take you to the listing on Amazon. You can also search on Amazon Prime for ‘Roger Tabor’ or ‘Colin Tennant’ Your feedback of the series is welcome.

The Understanding Cats TV series now available on Amazon Prime Video