Cat Behavior

Help, My Cat is Pooping on the Floor!

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Luna will be two years old in October and has never had any litter problems. We got a puppy last week. She is obviously upset. I’ve tried to let them interact at her pace. Of course, the puppy is all over her. For the last three days, Luna has been pooping on the dining room floor once a day. I’m sure it’s stress related, but I’m not sure what to do about it. Thanks so much!
— Karen R.

Karen, the issue is one of security. Luna clearly feels threatened by the puppy. To a cat, a new dog in their territory is a bit of a conundrum. Even if the dog isn't physically threatening, he could still be seen as a territorial intruder. The whole house was Luna's domain and now there's this smelly, excited being in her space. Imagine that you went to work one day only to come home to a slob who introduced herself as your new roommate. She hardly ever bathes so she smells bad, eats stinky food, and absolutely wants to spend every waking minute with you, touching you and talking to you nonstop. How would you feel?

When a cat is middening (pooping outside the box to mark territory), she's sending a very serious message about her feelings of distress. Luna's basically trying to make herself feel more secure in her territory. Cats are usually fastidious about covering their poop because they don't want predators to pick up their scent. When a cat poops out in the open on purpose, it's basically a last resort.

There are several things you can do to help Luna.

1. You need to be the police officer who decides how much contact the dog gets to have with Luna. If you see the puppy overstepping boundaries with Luna, you need to step in gently and reassure Luna while placing yourself between her and the puppy. Show her that you're on her side. Training the puppy to sit and wait are good ways to have him stand down when he's becoming too aggressive in his play. To dogs, this is just good fun, but to cats it can be overwhelming. It's especially bad when a dog doesn't pick up on the subtle signals cats send out telling them to stop.

2. You need to provide Luna with a safe zone that she can access but the puppy cannot. A tall cat tree can serve this purpose well, especially if it has enclosures where Luna can hide if she wants to. You want to think about the vertical space in your home and see if you can arrange things so that Luna can access tops of bookcases and other furniture that the puppy can't get to. This is all to provide Luna with an escape route and a vantage point if the puppy gets too physical for her comfort.

3. Never scold Luna for middening. Cats react poorly to negative reinforcement across the board. Praise her when you see her using her litter box.

4. Make sure the puppy isn't intruding on Luna when she's using her litter box. Sometimes dogs like to eat cat poop and will eagerly intrude on a cat doing her business. This would be enough to drive any cat mad. If possible, put the litter box in an area that the puppy can't access. A toddler security gate can help if Luna will jump over it and the dog can't.

5. Make special time to spend just with Luna each day to reinforce her place in the household. Make sure she gets her fair share of lap time and play time exclusively with you.

6. Be sure to clean the area where she poops with a good enzymatic cleaner. With regular household cleaners, she will still be able to smell her poop on the floor after you've cleaned it. That will reinforce her desire to continue to mark that same area.

Cats and dogs can co-habitate fairly well but sometimes they never overcome bad introductions. It isn't a relationship where you can just put them together and hope for the best. Worst case scenario would be to separate them completely and reintroduce them more slowly. Good luck!

Help, My Kitten Won't Sleep Through the Night!

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My kitten is three months old and she wakes at 4AM and eats my hair, hits me in the face, and scratches and nibbles my face and hands. I try to ignore her but she just carries on. I have started taking her to the living room and shutting the door which she seems fine with, no scratching or meowing. My question is, is it okay to shut her in the living room when I go to bed or will she be on her own too long? Any other suggest welcome!
— Lisa C.

Lisa, most cats engage in this sort of behavior, but its especially prevalent in kittens. In most cases, they simply have a hyper kinetic rhythm and need contact like they'd have with their mom or siblings just before dawn. The easiest method of dealing with this is to adopt a second kitten. Two kittens are actually easier to care for than one, but there are also expenses to consider. Honestly, two kittens are much better for their own health and mental well being long term if you can afford it.

You're doing the right thing in ignoring Maisie. If you get up or interact with her in any way, she's training you, not the other way around. We encourage you to stick it out even though that can be difficult. If you need a break, we understand. Yes, she'll be fine in the other room alone, but she'll bond more closely to you if she's allowed to sleep with you. If you choose to put her out of the bedroom at night, it's imperative that she has her pick of warm comfy places to sleep. This is also where that second kitten can come in handy.

You see, the bed is the scent center of the household to cats. It's the one place that smells most like you. Maisie will feel very comfortable there. Excluding her from the bedroom at night can send a message that she isn't a part of the family. Of course, a lot depends on the individual cat. Some cats need more contact than others. Some will prefer to sleep in other rooms or near windows during summer months, but dive right back into the bed at the first hint of a chilly evening.

You can help to minimize the early morning “wake up and play with me” behavior by creating a nighttime routine for Maisie. A cat's natural rhythm in life is hunt-eat-sleep. You can use this to get her to sleep when you're ready. 30-60 minutes before bedtime, give Maisie an intense play session. Really work her out and get her running around the room for at least 20-30 minutes. Then feed her a big meal - as much as she can eat. When she's done, tell her it's time for bed and go through your evening routine. By the time you develop this into a daily routine, you should see Maisie begin to anticipate what will happen next. She may even prompt you to do what she expects. When she gets in bed to sleep, she should fall asleep after the play and feeding. That doesn't insure she'll sleep through the night, but it's a good start. Also remember to put away all of Maisie's toys before bedtime.

If you can afford it, you can also get her her own bed or blanket. The softer the better. You want something that feels like Maisie's mother's belly. She may find comfort in kneading her paws against it and give you a break. She may not use it at first, but don't get discouraged. Give her some time to be curious about it. Cats love to make choices and most rotate their sleeping locations frequently.

Of course, she's a kitten so she's going to wake you up during the night sometimes. Even adults do this sometimes, but you can minimize the behavior by following the steps I've outlined. Good luck!


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!