Cat Behavior

Help, My Son's Afraid of Our Cat!

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While most of the questions we’re asked are about cat behavior, sometimes we get a question about humans. In this case, a child’s reaction to the family’s new kitten. Kristen S. writes:

I just rescued a seven week old, beautiful male kitten that was trapped in a fence. Luca is now an amazing, affectionate, trusting little kitten. He loves and trusts me so much but I have a 12 year old son who is nervous about him. How can I help my son to like Luca. He sees the kitten bite and scratch me but I try to let him know he’s a baby and doesn’t know better and is just playing. I also let him know it doesn’t hurt. I really want my two babies to love each other

Kristen, our expertise is with cats, not children, but the general training concepts are the same. :) Children are not logical. You can't always reason with them. They learn by association, so you have to associate good things with the kitten. This method is often used in cases with fearful children much more fearful than your son. There's a good overview at the following link: https://www.tagteach.com/What_is_TAGteach . 

Here's a video that illustrates tag teaching with a child who was deathly afraid of the water. Each time he achieved the tag point the teacher gave him, he was rewarded with an immediate click followed by a Skittles candy. The timing of the click is the critical point of reinforcement.

It doesn't have to be a click. It could be the word "good" stated in the same tone each time, but it needs to be an audible reinforcement that indicates that the child has done what was asked of him or her correctly.

I know this sounds a bit odd. It's a teaching method most people only think of using with animals (referred to as “clicker training”), but it works with people too. Try asking your son to pet Luca while he's on your lap. Make it casual. If he so much as touches the kitten, say "good" and offer him a candy from a bowl he can't reach unless you offer. He'll have no idea that you're training him but he'll slowly begin to associate success and joy with the kitten.

The second thing is to begin conditioning Luca to not bite and scratch you. When playing with him, redirect any aggressive tendencies toward his toys and away from your hands. Many people train their kittens to think of their hands as toys. It's cute, right? Well, it turns out to not be so cute when they're full grown and biting your hand because you've basically taught them it's okay. Then they become confused because what was once acceptable is now creating a negative reaction. Begin now and all three of you will have a much happier time together.

Help, My Cat's Afraid Of Her Bed!

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Cats tend to move their sleeping locations around from time to time. It’s believed that their instincts tell them to do so in order to make them less vulnerable to predators. But what if a cat starts avoiding her favorite sleeping spots? Roy D. writes:

Two months ago, our cat Esmeralda, aged 18, was getting up off her cushion when her back leg seized up badly. She couldn’t put any weight on it , was almost falling over, and it was obvious she was in a lot of pain and distress. We took her to the emergency vet who said she has arthritis. In the next couple of days she responded well to the medication she was given. What is puzzling us is since the incident happened she will only walk around the lounge ( where the incident happened ) but she will not settle at all, she won’t lie down on any of her beds , covers, or cushions, the only thing she will go on is a little cover in the hallway! It’s upsetting to see her there when she has numerous beds , covers, e.t.c. indeed she needs to be warm for her joints! How can we get her to settle with us in the lounge? I wondered if she is afraid in some way because she was taken poorly in the lounge, but it’s not like she won’t come in at all, - she still has a walk around it . I would be grateful for any advice. Thank you.

Roy, it's not uncommon for a cat to associate pain with a particular location or even a type of place. We once helped a cat with dental issues accept her food in a bowl again. She had associated the bowl with her dental pain and would no longer eat unless her food was put on the floor in another room. It sounds like Esmeralda is experiencing something similar with her former sleeping spots. Her pain was so severe that it looms large in her memory and springs back to mind every time she's near one of her comfy beds.

The first step is to wash the beds and remove any odor they might have. I'd suggest washing them at least twice in an enzymatic detergent. Nature's Miracle makes a product called Laundry Boost for the purpose of adding enzymatic cleaning to an existing detergent. Any similar product would help to remove any odors that Esmeralda might associate with her painful incident. 

 
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If she still won't accept any of the beds or cushions, ditch them altogether and get her something new. We particularly like the AmazonBasics 20" pet bed (see our full review HERE). Make a big fuss over it when you present it to her and put it in one of Esmeralda's favorite sleeping locations. Be sure to rub it generously with your hands to get your scent all over it too. 

You may also see some success by choosing a bed with a microwavable heating pad. The one we've used is from a company called Snuggle Safe. The pads are solid but they come with a cover and can easily be placed underneath an existing bed. The warmth may attract Esmeralda more than the bed itself. It may also sooth her more.

 
 

One other method is to offer Esmeralda treats when she gets into the bed you’d like her to use. Start by treating her when she gets near the bed or rubs against it. Then offer the treats by placing them in the bed. Esmeralda will slowly begin to associate the pleasure of the treats with the bed.

It may take her some time to accept that not every cushy surface will hurt her. If she continues to walk away, don't fret. She may well come back and use the new bed on her own terms when she's good and ready. Remember, cats generally like to relocate their prime sleeping spots every so often. She'll do what's most comfortable for her in the long run. Good luck!

Help, My Cat's Not Sleeping Enough!

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Cats are usually most active around dawn and dusk while sleeping the rest of the day. This means that the majority of adult cats sleep between 16 and 20 hours per day. But what if your feline friend sleeps less than that? Meg H. writes:

About three months ago, we adopted a one year old calico female, Mimi, from a shelter. She is an absolute delight. We are wondering why she just doesn’t sleep much. We are retired, home most of the time, and are realizing her sleep is about seven to nine hours total each day. My husband has insomnia so he only sleeps about five hours a night. If we assume she sleeps those five hours, and add the two to four hours she gets during the day, it doesn’t seem like enough. She is in good health otherwise, but a tad overweight. She gets lots of exercise and stimulation, but we also give her uninterrupted down time. Mimi and my husband are extremely close. Is his insomnia somehow affecting her?

Meg, it does sound like Mimi isn't sleeping enough, but it's difficult to know what might be going on with her. Our first suggestion in a case like this is to have her thoroughly checked by a good veterinarian - someone who will be your partner in figuring out what's going on with her even though there may not be much to go on. While it’s possible that she could be experiencing some sort of pain which is keeping her up, it isn’t the most likely scenario. Once she has a clean bill of health, you can move on to behavioral and environmental factors.

Most cats sleep more in the winter months than in the summer. They also like it when the household adheres to a clear and predictable schedule. The trick with Mimi may be to establish a regular schedule and then leave it to her to adjust once you've ruled out larger issues. Cats are highly adaptable and three months really isn't enough time for her to settle in completely. Just make sure you schedule some lap time for her in the evening while you watch TV or are on the computer. 

You also want to spend 15-30 minutes each evening playing with her before bedtime. A cat's natural rhythm is to hunt, eat, and sleep. If you mimic that series of events before bedtime by playing vigorously and then feeding her just before bed, she should sleep better and longer. It will also be good to develop some signals for her to know where she is in the daily routine. Telling her, "time to play" or "time to sleep" will help her to know what to expect next. Cats generally love schedules and respond well to them.

The schedule is also where your husband's insomnia could be having an effect. Cats are curious creatures because their survival depends on it. If they hear a rustle, they'd better go explore it because it might be the only prey they find that day. When your husband gets up and moves about the house during the night, it's a safe bet that Mimi becomes curious and wants to know what he’s doing. Since this doesn't happen on a particular schedule, it could definitely make her uneasy and unwilling to sleep until she knows that he’s settled. Being active can be very distracting to her.

Overall, I don't think you need to worry too much about her not getting enough sleep. As she settles into your household and feels her ownership of her territory, she'll naturally relax more. We wish you and Mimi all the best!

How to Maximize a Small Living Space for Cats

Indoor-only cats can become bored with their surroundings if those surroundings aren’t enriched in some way. Cats are naturally curious and they thrive on novelty as long as it’s not too overwhelming. So what do you do if your living space is especially small?

Molly H. writes:

Otis, Isis, and I are in a tiny studio (like, really tiny). They’re both indoor cats. Do you have any suggestions for keeping a cat entertained in the confines of a small apartment?

Molly, cats are highly adaptable. Most will make do with the area they have available. But to thrive, they might need a helping hand. The first thing to do is to evaluate the vertical space in your apartment. Can the cats get up to high places? We humans tend to think in two-dimensional space, or square footage, but most cats love to get up high and survey their territory. It makes them feel more secure.

 
 

You can maximize vertical space by adding at least one tall cat tree with multiple lounging levels. This doesn’t have to take up a ton of square footage. This floor-to-ceiling cat tree takes up very little real estate while giving maximum vertical space. It isn’t the most durable cat tree out there. In fact, it can be a little wobbly, but it has one of the smallest footprints available and its also inexpensive. We’ve had several of these over the years and our only issue was with the coverings getting shredded by one of our heavy scratchers.

 
 

If you can afford the space (and the price) this cat tree is recommended. It’s a lot more durable, but it also takes up more space.

Once you have a cat tree, position it so that the cats can use it as a ladder to other high spaces like the tops of bookcases or other furniture.

Other environmental enrichment possibilities include making windows available to the cats at all times. Window space can become a prime resource in a small place so you want to make sure there are lounging areas by all the windows and that the cats have access to them 24/7. If you feel exposed having window coverings open all the time, just put up a baffle of some sort that the cats can go behind. This can be as simple as propping one end of the blinds open so the cats can get to the window but no one can see inside.

Another suggestion is boxes. Lots and lots of boxes. not all at once, but whenever you have a box or a paper bag from a purchase, share those with the cats and let them explore the new sights and smells in those items. Keep them around a few days and then recycle them and exchange them for newer ones. A cat’s world is largely made up of scents and every new item will tell them a story of sorts. When you come home, don’t forget to let them smell your hands and learn about where you’ve been!

 
 

If your cats will tolerate a harness, going outdoors on a leash may be helpful. It really depends on where you live. If there’s lots of traffic noise outside, many indoor cats will be too frightened to enjoy the experience, but it’s worth a try if you’re in a quiet neighborhood. Just take it slowly, allowing the cats to smell the harness and then to wear it for brief periods inside your home. If they get comfortable with that, you can try taking them out on a leash one at a time. Just be aware that this may expose them to parasites, so you’ll need to have a good flea treatment plan in place first, if you don’t already.

 
 
 
 

Finally, every cat needs premium playtime every single day. With two cats, it’s easier because they will probably play with one another, but they still need time with you. Schedule a couple of regular play times every day during which you use interactive toys. Wand toys are great and we’ve had good luck with all of the Yeowww catnip toys.

We hope this helps, Molly. All our best to you and Otis and Isis!

Help, My Cat's Licking Grout!

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Cats can become obsessed with some odd things. You’ve probably heard of pica, but when a cat is ingesting cat litter or licking grout, something else could be going on. Nick T. writes:

My 15 year old cat Peyton licks the fireplace grout. The grout between the bricks. Why does he do that? The vet doesn’t seem to have a clue.

Nick, you should take a look at Peyton’s gums. If they’re pale and Peyton is acting lethargic, he may be anemic. Cats often ingest cat litter and lick grout when they are anemic. You’ll need to have your vet do a complete blood count to find out for sure. This very specific form of pica has been linked to anemia. Treatments vary depending on the cause which we can't know without consulting a veterinarian.

Anemia is a symptom of a deeper problem, so it may take some veterinary detective work to root out the cause if that’s the case. This will include various blood tests and possibly bone marrow tests. There are two classes of anemia, regenerative and non-regenerative.

Regenerative anemia occurs when there is acute blood loss, not only to injury but also potentially from a parasite or an illness. Non-regenerative anemia is usually tied to a chronic condition, which in cats is often kidney failure. Both types of anemia are treatable, but they can have very different treatments. These should always be advised and administered by a qualified veterinarian.

If it isn't anemia, it could be stress related. Have there been significant changes in your household of late? If so, those could be driving Peyton to develop some unusual behaviors. We have a previous post on pica here. Though it doesn't cover the grout-licking variety, it may give you some insight into other possible causes.

We wish you and Peyton all the best!