Help, My New Cat is Afraid of Noises in My House!

We sometimes forget that our homes are unfamiliar places to a newly adopted cat. There are new sights, sounds, and smells that may overwhelm some kitties. Margaret H. writes:

I have a new adult cat named Jack who seems to be terrified of the sound my furnace makes. What can I do?

Margaret, your problem isn't uncommon, especially for new adoptions. Cats simply aren't prepared for a lot of the human things they experience in a new home. The more tentative a cat is to begin with, the more sensitive they are to unexpected sounds, sights, and smells. Sounds such as the one your furnace makes are sporadic and unpredictable, making them even more difficult to accept, but most cats will eventually come to accept them.

In most cases, it just takes time for a cat like Jack to become accustomed to the strange sound. As they hear it more and more frequently, they slowly come to realize that nothing bad happens to them after they hear it. There are a couple of things you can do to help speed along this acceptance.

First, you need to remain calm when Jack reacts to the sound. Nothing will reassure him more than your own casual acceptance of this horrifying noise. Don't even react to his reaction. Don't chase after him or even frown. If you choose to do anything, an offhanded statement of "It's okay - you're safe" will be enough. Then go back to whatever you were doing and allow Jack the time he needs to feel safe again. He has the hard work of realizing there's nothing to be afraid of. You need to allow him the time and space to do it. Just make sure you aren't adding to his stress. Give him an enclosed space in a place where he feels safe. That can be a place he retreats to and where you NEVER encroach upon him. Not even to pull him out to go to the vet. He needs to feel that he has a place where nothing can touch him, not even you. Then let him come out on his own.

If he faces the terrifying noise and chooses not to run away, or even not to run so far, reward him. One or two treats will help him to feel better about his courageous decision to face the horrifying noise. 

Given enough time, Jack will probably learn to be less afraid of your furnace, but he may never shed the fear entirely. Allow him that. I know you want him to feel safe and happy in his new home. Rest assured, even with the noises, you're home may be the safest place he's ever been. He needs time and patience in order to learn how to feel safe again.

Wishing you and Jack all of the best!

Help, My Cat's Afraid of the Vet!

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It's not uncommon for cats to dislike a trip to the veterinarian's office. In fact, it's so common that some cat caregivers give up on checkups altogether. All cats should see a veterinarian at least once a year. Senior kitties need biannual checkups. But what if your feline friend is so terrified by the vet that they go into fight or flight mode? Jen J. writes:

Tigger is a three year old male tabby. He was found on our porch when he was two months old. He is an indoor-only cat. We had him neutered & chipped. He is terrified of the vet. I’ve taken him to several vets and they can’t examine him, as he hisses, cries, growls, bites and defecates in his carrier. He’s VERY scared. Is there something I can request them to give him to calm him down enough to be examined? I’ve tried the pheromone sprays, putting his favorite blanket in the carrier, giving treats.....nothing works. He needs to see a vet about his eye health and general check-up. Any ideas?

Jen, it's important for all of us with feline friends to understand just how terrifying a general veterinarian's office can be for them. With their heightened senses of hearing and smell, they can perceive all manner of things - even other animals' illnesses and, sadly, even their deaths. Add to that a bunch of strange humans, barking dogs, blaring TVs in waiting rooms, etc. and it can be a genuine nightmare for a cat.

You've already approached this from the perspective of trying to associate good things with the vet trip. That's always the best place to start, but as you know, it doesn't always work. The vet's office is just too scary for a handful of treats to overcome. The same goes for pheromone sprays and other nerve-calming solutions. They're like an umbrella in a hurricane.

While they do work, we generally advise against the use of sedatives unless it's a last resort. You just never know how a cat's body will react to a particular sedative if they've never had it administered before. If the cat has a heart murmur or similar condition, sedatives can create more problems than they solve.

Jen, Our best advice for Tigger is not the easiest, but we feel it's the best choice for him if you can manage it. We suggest you find another veterinarian. Not that there's anything inherently wrong with the one you have, but there are now vets who cater specifically to cats. Even if they treat other species, many vets have created quiet exam rooms specifically for nervous animals. If one is available in your area, a vet who makes house calls is even better. Cats derive more comfort from their home territory than they do from treats, other friendly cats, or even us humans. Treating a cat like Tigger on his home turf could be just the thing he needs.

We wish you and Tigger all the best!

Help, My Cat is Bow-Legged!

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Whenever you notice a change in your cat, be it behavioral or physical, it's a safe bet that there's an underlying issue that needs to be addressed. Claudia K. writes:

Sully is a five year old cat who I believe is healthy, however, for the past few days he has been walking bow-legged with his paws facing out. I can’t figure out why. I felt his legs and joints and nothing seems out of place. What could cause this? He has been losing weight and drinking and peeing a lot lately.

Claudia, cats can sometimes have a sudden onset of leg weakness (usually the hind legs) due to diabetes, a blood clot, epilepsy, or physical injury. Arthritis is also a possibility and some breeds are prone to hip dysplasia.

When you add in the facts that he's losing weight and drinking more than usual, the signs indicate diabetes. Diabetes is easily treatable and Sully can live a long and healthy life with the disease, but he needs to see a veterinarian ASAP.

If Sully's vet diagnoses him with the disease, your first order of business is to make sure he's on a low-carbohydrate diet. We have a post on this very subject here:

 http://kittyhelpdesk.com/help-desk/food-recommendations-for-cats-with-diabetes 

Diabetes has become a feline epidemic because of all of the high-carb foods in the marketplace these days. Many of the most popular brands of cat food, especially dry foods, are mostly carbs. Pet food manufacturers are literally getting away with murder by pushing these awful products on an unsuspecting public. The only way we can combat them is to educate ourselves on products that deliver a healthy, species-appropriate diet.

Be careful not to fall into the trap of prescription diets for diabetes. Many veterinarians prescribe them and cats seem to get better, but most of those diets are high-carb as well. Feline diabetes can actually go into remission if the cat is fed a species-appropriate diet.

You also want to make sure that Sully is getting plenty of exercise every day. At the age of five, he should have at least two thirty minute play times daily, during which he gets a vigorous workout. If you're having difficulty transitioning him to new food, it can help to have these play times right before meal times.

We wish you and Sully all the best!

How to Get Cats to Tolerate One Another

A lot of us humans live in a comfortable fantasy world when it comes to our feline friends. We think of them as children and we imagine we can just throw them together and they'll get along. This isn't usually the case. Michele S. writes:

Precious is a feral I’ve had for 11 years. Abigail and Alice are rescues I’ve had for 3 years. Mr. Snuggles is a dump that we have had for only a few months. We have had them all spayed/neutered. We have not been able to get them not to hiss, growl and stalk each other so they are in separate rooms and taken out in shifts to play and be with us. We love them all but this situation has taken over our schedule completely. The shifts begin at 6 AM and don’t end until 10 PM. How do we get all of these cats to at least tolerate each other as we are truly exhausted and have no time for us anymore. Thank you.

Michele, it sounds like you're really trying hard to make things work. Hopefully, we can help you get out of your current routine so you can spend more time enjoying your feline friends and less time managing them.

Since you're currently separating them, the best way to start the process of integrating your household is to treat them as new introductions. Yes, some bad feelings have already developed between them but the process of bringing in a newcomer can be effective in an instance such as yours. See our post on new introductions here: http://kittyhelpdesk.com/help-desk/introducing-a-new-cat . 

Resources are key as you begin the integration process. Cats will time-share limited resources and they feel most comfortable when there's plenty to go around. Make sure each has a feeding station that's not viewable from the others' stations. Make sure you have one more litter box than you have cats, so you'd need five boxes placed in different locations for four felines. Also make sure there is plenty of vertical space for the cats to share. They need to be able to get away from one another when need be.

We answered one reader's question about bullying behavior, but it goes into great depth about the interactions between cats. You may find it helpful, especially the part about different cat personalities and the valiance levels of different cats. You can find that post here: http://kittyhelpdesk.com/help-desk/cat-bully .

Michele, with some planning and perseverance, you can at least get your cats to tolerate one another. Don't expect them to become best friends overnight. There will certainly be setbacks and all hisses aren't bad. They're just a way a cat communicates that his or her perceived boundaries have been crossed. With plenty of resources, there should certainly be less hissiness, but it will take time. You also have to calm yourself in those situations and not inflate them with too much emotional intensity. At a certain point, the cats need to be allowed to work it out for themselves.

We wish you and your kitty friends all the best!

Should I Give My Cat a Bath?

Cats are usually meticulously clean. In fact, their saliva contains lysozyme, lactoferrin and nitric oxide that act as inhibitors to bacterial growth. Cindy C. writes:

I plan on bathing a long-hair cat named Sassifrass. Could you give me some shampoo recommendations please? Is conditioner necessary? She has a LOT of floof!

Cindy, it's fairly common for cat caregivers to think that their feline friends might need a bath. This is especially true when the cat, like Sassifrass, has long hair. But we recommend that cats not be bathed at all.

First off, cats do a very good job of cleaning themselves. Even long haired cats can handle the task with great aplomb. The only time a cat should need a bath is if they've gotten into something terrible that we don't want them licking off or if they are very old and no longer have the flexibility to reach every spot on their bodies. In the course of a normal day to day life, a cat like Sassi should be fully capable of bathing herself.

The following video was posted by a very caring lady who helps her elderly cat get clean. If you must bathe your cat, this is the way we recommend you do it:

The second concern is for the health of Sassifrass. If her coat is in much need of maintenance, the problem may not be one of cleaning but rather one of nutrition. The better the nourishment a cat receives, the healthier, shinier, and cleaner her coat will be without intervention from us humans. Cats need high-protein, low-carb diets like the ones we outline in THIS POST. We recommend you feed the best food you can afford.

One thing you can do to see immediate results is to brush and "furminate" Sassi every day. We even do this to our short haired cats and we've seen a great increase in the luster of their coats. Begin with a short brushing session with a soft brush, followed by a few minutes with a furminator-style cutting brush. This "brush" has hard metal teeth, so you have to be very gentle with it so as not to hurt Sassifrass. If she dislikes the grooming, make the initial sessions very short and begin and end each session with her favorite treat. Slowly lengthen the sessions until you're able to get her fully groomed in one or two. Don't worry about her belly, though, as contact there is usually a trigger for prey behavior and she won't appreciate it. 

Lastly, we'd be remiss if we didn't mention the harm that bathing Sassi could do to your relationship with her. Cats don't look at us as their masters. They see us as equals and we should give them the same latitude to make their own choices when we can. Grooming behaviors are a complex part of the feline world and cats like feeling self-sufficient when it comes to these sorts of chores. They use these times to mingle our scents with their own in order to create a communal scent that means "home" to them. Using a smelly product that washes all that away can be very stressful to a cat. In fact, we know of one instance where a cat was bathed and her siblings hissed and growled at her because they didn't recognize her without the communal scent. It's VERY important that Sassi be allowed to tend to her own bathing needs.

I'm sure that you can tame the floof without any shampoos or conditioners. Sassifrass will certainly appreciate it! We wish both of you all the best!