Cat Behavior

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!

How Do I Get My Cat to Play?

Cat personalities differ considerably, but most felines enjoy a good play session on a regular basis. So what do you do if your cat won't play with you? Gloria A. writes:

Muffy is ten years old and my only cat. She hardly ever plays. I have tried all kinds of toys. She just stares at then 90% of the time. I do play with her some. But she likes to sleep most of day. I am a senior. She is in excellent health. She follows me around when she is awake. When l first got her she was the third cat. My vet said all she needs is me. I do not know what to get her to play by herself.

Gloria, at the age of ten, Muffy is now considered to be a senior kitty. As such, she'll have a little less energy to devote to playtime, so it's not uncommon to see a general slowdown.

As to how to play with her, most cats do not respond to toys, but to human interaction USING toys. Very few adult cats will play on their own. Yes, kittens will play with virtually anything on their own, but once they reach adulthood, their energy is devoted to hunting, not playing. Playtime for adults has to emulate the process they'd experience hunting prey in the wild.

In order to coax a cat to play, even a senior cat, you have to do a little trial and error to see what she responds to. Check out our toy recommendations here:

http://kittyhelpdesk.com/help-desk/cat-toy-recommendations . 

Most cats love wand toys like the one we show on our list, so that's where we usually start. You want to tease her with it, dragging it around corners so she has to get up and move to see where it went. Cats are very curious, so moving a toy in such a way almost always piques their interest.

The key really is your own attention and interaction. A toy is only fun when it's powered by a human to emulate how a cat's prey might move. We want to lure them into the hunt. Once you see playing as hunting, it can help you to understand how to play.

This still doesn't guarantee that Muffy will engage in play. You have to be patient and offer it before mealtimes. If she turns away, don't give up. Just offer it regularly and see if she'll come around. You may find that you actually have to teach her to play more. Of course, she should always have the choice to refuse. You don't want to force it on her or she'll associate negative feelings with her toys. Just patiently and kindly offer to play with her at about the same time each day.

Wishing both of you all the best!

Crime & Punishment & Cats

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When a cat feels threatened, they often urinate outside the litter box and scratch things in order to feel better. Nicole F. writes:

My cat, Ghost, pees on my dog’s bed and in front of his litter box. We have three cats and three litter boxes. He does it sometimes out of spite. He was told “no” the other day and was pushed off something and then he went over to my dog’s bed and peed. He pushes the screens out on the patio and gets out all the time no matter how many times we fix it and I don’t want my cats outside. He shredded the carpet to the point it looked like spaghetti. Aside from Ghost’s disaster qualities, he is actually a pretty cool cat. How can I stop him from peeing everywhere?

It sounds like Ghost is feeling insecure. That can be difficult when a cat is as smart as Ghost is. He's going to find a way to make himself feel better, even if that means getting outside. He will also feel better if he spreads his scent around by urinating and scratching improper areas.

It's important to remember that cats don't act out of spite, ever. They simply don't have the capacity for that. It can be easy to interpret their behaviors that way because we're so used to looking at them as if they were small humans. They aren't, so the first step is to try and imagine the situation from Ghost's point of view.  He's clearly agitated, so what's upsetting him? 

Many times, there's a less visible aggressor in a multi-cat household and Ghost may be getting bullied. He may even feel bullied by you. You should never, ever shout at or push a cat off of anything. That's physical aggression in cat terms and most cats will respond negatively to it, just as Ghost has. When you get physical with him in any way, especially when you're upset, he will see you as a predator. All he will learn from those interactions is to fear you. He will not connect your aggressive responses to his own behavior. Cats do not have a pack mentality. They look upon us as equals, not as masters to be obeyed.

It will help if you offer more positive reinforcement. Instead of chastising him when he does something you don't like, treat him when he's behaving. When he uses the litter box appropriately, offer him a small treat. When he lounges in a spot you like him in, offer him a small treat. If he does something you don't like, overwhelm him with love and gently move him away. He may not enjoy being handled in this way, but he won't see it as aggressive, especially if you do it in a happy way. Be consistent in this behavior and you'll see change.

Think about altering your own behavior toward Ghost. You obviously care about him enough to reach out to us. Just take some time to consider how you might make him feel more secure. It will take time, but he will respond to your efforts.

There are even more good ideas in this previous post about helping a shy cat feel more secure: http://kittyhelpdesk.com/help-desk/helping-your-cat-feel-secure

Best wishes to you and Ghost!