Behavior & Training
AND DIAGNOSIS OF PROBLEMS
What makes a pet misbehave?
Behavior problems can be due to medical or behavioral causes, or both. A clinical history, physical examination, and diagnostic testing will determine if there are underlying medical conditions contributing to the problem. Although there may be a single cause for a behavior problem it is often the combined effect of the environment and learning on the cats mental and physical health that determines behavior.
For example, the cat that is fearful of children, may begin to become more reactive, irritable, and aggressive as diseases such as dental problems or arthritis make it more uncomfortable, painful or less mobile.
Another example is the cat that had been exposed to other cats roaming across its territory, but only began to mark when it developed an overactive thyroid at 10 years of age. Correcting the thyroid problem as well as behavior modification techniques resolved the problem.
What are some behavioral causes of behavior problems?
Any change in the environment may contribute to the emergence of behavior problems. For example, schedule changes, a new member of the household (baby, spouse), moving, loss of a family member or pet, or the addition of a new pet can have a dramatic impact on behavior. Any medical or degenerative changes associated with aging may cause the cat to be even more sensitive to these environmental changes.
Learning (e.g. reinforcement, punishment) also plays a role in most behavior problems. When a cats actions result in unpleasant consequences (discomfort, lack of attention) i.e. punishment, the chances of repeating the behavior will decrease. If the behavior is followed by pleasant consequences such as obtaining food, attention, or affection (rewards), the behavior is likely to be repeated. These consequences could occur unintentionally as when the cat gets into the garbage and finds some appealing leftovers, or could be administered by the owners, as when a reward is given following a behavior. It can be difficult to determine what might be reinforcing a behavior, but reinforcement maintains behavior problems.
What tests can be done to determine a behavioral cause?
A good history is one of the most important means of determining the cause of a behavioral problem. This involves an in depth analysis of the cats medical and behavioral past including any training, as well as the circumstances surrounding the problem itself. Daily interactions with the cat and any changes in schedule need to be explored. Often the event that precipitated the behavioral change may be different from that which maintains it.
Based on the behavioral problem, the pets age, and a physical examination, the veterinarian first determines if there are any medical causes or contributing factors. Diagnosis of a behavioral cause can only be made after all medical factors have been ruled out.
What medical conditions can cause or contribute to behavior problems?
A decline in the cats hearing, sight or other senses, organ dysfunction (e.g. liver or kidney disease), hormonal diseases, diseases affecting the nervous system, diseases of the urinary tract (infections, tumors or stones), any disease or condition that might lead to pain or discomfort, and those that affect the pets mobility can all cause or contribute to behavior problems.
a) Any condition that leads to an increase in pain or discomfort can lead to increased irritability, increased anxiety or fear of being handled or approached, and ultimately an increased aggressiveness. If these aggressive displays are successful at removing the "threat" (and they usually are) the behavior is reinforced. Medical conditions that affect the ears, anal sacs, teeth and gums, bones, joints, or back (disks) are some of the more common causes of pain and discomfort. If the cat's mobility is affected, it may become increasingly aggressive, choosing to threaten and bite, rather than retreat. A decrease in mobility could also affect urination and defecation by reducing the cats desire or ability to utilize its elimination area.
b) Sensory dysfunction: Cats with diminished sight or hearing may have a decreased ability to detect or identify the stimuli, and might begin to respond differently to commands, sounds or sights. Sensory decline is more likely to be seen as cats age.
c) Diseases of the internal organs, such as the kidneys or liver, can cause a number of behavior changes, primarily due to the toxic metabolites that accumulate in the bloodstream. Organ decline and dysfunction is more common in the older cat. Any medical conditions that cause an increased frequency of urination or decreased urine control, such as kidney disease, bladder infections, bladder stones, or neurological damage might lead to an increase in house-soiling. Similarly, those problems that affect the frequency of bowel movements or bowel control, such as colitis or constipation might lead to house-soiling with stools.
d) Diseases of the brain and spinal cord can lead to a number of behavior and personality changes. Conditions such as epilepsy, brain tumors, infections, immune and degenerative diseases can all directly affect a cats nervous system and therefore its behavior. In the older cat aging changes can have a direct effect on the brain, leading to cognitive dysfunction and senility.
e) The endocrine (hormone) system also plays a critical role in behavior. Over-activity or under-activity of any of the endocrine organs can lead to a number of behavior problems. The thyroid and parathyroid glands (in the neck), the pituitary gland (in the brain), the adrenal gland (by the kidneys), the pancreas, and the reproductive organs can all be affected by conditions or tumors that lead to an increase or decrease in hormone production. Endocrine disorders are more likely to arise as the cat ages.
f) The aging process is associated with progressive and irreversible changes of the body systems. Although these changes are often considered individually, the elderly cat is seldom afflicted with a single disease, but rather varying degrees of organ disease and dysfunction. Cognitive decline and senility have also been recognized in older cats.
What tests need to be done to determine if my pets behavior problem is due to a medical condition?
Clinical history and physical examination
The assessment begins with a clinical history and physical examination. Laboratory tests may be needed. A more comprehensive examination such as a neurological examination or sensory testing may be required. For some of these tests yourcat may need to be referred to a specialist.
Medical, surgical, dietary or pharmacologic treatment
Before beginning behavior therapy, any medical problem that has been diagnosed should be treated. A change in diet or a drug trial may be an important aspect of differentiating a medical from a behavioral cause (as a food trial or steroid trial might be used to rule out an underlying allergic cause). Surgery may also be indicated such as when a tumor is diagnosed or when castration is indicated to reduce male sexually influenced behaviors. For long standing behavior problems your veterinarian may commence medical and behavioral treatment.
Litter Training Your Kitten
From a young age, cats have a strong instinct to void in sand or soil. Typically, cats
dig to prepare a shallow hole. More digging follows to cover their waste. Cats exhibit a
wide range of normal behavior relating to elimination. Some normal cats do not cover
waste, whereas others dig enthusiastically before and after voiding. Cats often prefer a
specific litter box location and type of litter. To encourage kittens to use the litter,
gently place the kitten in the pan soon after each meal. If the kitten has had an
"accident" outside the box, simply place the mess in the box to help the kitten
make the desired association. Punishment is never necessary, as kittens
usually learn quickly. Avoid disturbing your cat while it is using the box, and never
punish it for any reason especially when it is near the box.
The Litter Box and Litter Material
Choosing a Litter Box
Many types of litter boxes and litter material are available to cat owners. Litter boxes or pans are generally rectangular plastic containers. The box size should be large enough to comfortably accommodate an adult cat. The sides of the pan should be low enough to allow easy access by a kitten or an ailing or aging cat. (For these cats, you may consider replacing a standard litter pan with any other suitable container.)
Covered litter boxes are available in a variety of styles and may substantially reduce odors. Some litter covers have charcoal filters that further reduce odor. You can purchase a litter pan without a cover, but ask whether a cover may be added later, just in case. Covered boxes reduce odors by decreasing the circulation of air that carries odors emanating from the box. However, covered litter boxes retain oders that are offensive to some cats. Therefore, it is important to keep all boxes fastidiously clean, even if you cannot smell them. Odors trapped in a covered box can deter the cat's use, so be sure to change all boxes frequently.
A standard covered box requires the cat to step into an opening in the cover's front. Other models require the cat to enter and exit through an elevated and inclined opening. The top portion of a covered box can also be removed and placed upside down as an alternative litter pan for cats that tend to void over the edges or are unsteady because of age or illness. The best type of litter box is the one that your cat will use.
Choosing Litter Filler
Cats are not born with an instinct to eliminate on unnatural litter filler. Their natural choice is sand or soil. A wide variety of litter filler is marketed to attract the cat owner. In choosing a litter filler, consider first and foremost what your cat prefers.
Some cats may have no preference, whereas others are surprisingly choosy. It is probably best to begin with a product that is basic and simple. The dust or scent of perfumed or deodorizing filler materials may be disturbing to some cats. Others may prefer fine, sand-like filler or even shredded newspaper. It may be helpful to try two or three different types in several litter boxes simultaneously to see which material the cat prefers.
If you decide to try a new brand, your cat might adjust more smoothly if the old and new litters are mixed for a time.
Care of Litter Boxes
The most important factor in encouraging litter box use is cleanliness. Cats are very clean animals that avoid foul-smelling and damp places. Consider not what you think is clean, but what your cat considers acceptable. Change the litter completely and frequently at regular intervals, using the manufacturer's recommendation as a guideline. Each cat has its own tolerance of litter box contamination and may avoid using the box if it is too dirty As a rule of thumb, provide one litter pan for every cat in your household plus one more. If you have more than one litter box, you may find that some are used more than others. This may reflect your cats' preference for location or dissatisfaction with litter hygiene, suggesting that you should reconsider box placement or change the litter more often. Cats in multi-cat households often share litter boxes, but some are less tolerant of soiled boxes. Though you may have several boxes in your home, you must keep them clean to ensure their regular use.
Litter Box Location
Cats prefer to eliminate in boxes that are placed in a quiet location, such as a corner away from busy areas but within sight so you will notice any elimination difficulties which will prompt an immediate visit to the vet. Male cats that cannot urinate due to urinary tract blockage can die. Place the litter pan well away from a food dish or water bowl. It is also important to never block access to the litter box. Consider placing an additional box at a different location in case access to the other box is blocked. It is also prudent to provide more than enough litter boxes in case you are slow to keep them as clean as your cat may require.
Elimination Problems in Cats
DEFINITION A behavior problem characterized by failure on the part of a cat to voluntarily urinate or deficate in an available litter box. This section addresses problems related to urine with a brief discussion of inappropriate defecation. Feline housesoiling includes both inappropriate urination, characterized by simple (squat) urination on horizontal surfaces outside the litter box, and urine spraying on vertical surfaces outside the litter box.
PATHOPHYSIOLOGY With inappropriate urination, the cat's behavior may be entirely normal or a pathophysiological state may underlie the behavior problem. Urine spraying is a normal marking behavior in cats. There are widespread individual differences in the propensity to spray urine, and there may be a heritable component to the behavior.
This problem is often strictly behavioral. This is especially true with urine spraying. However, inappropriate urination may be associated with medical conditions, particularly those associated with polyuria and polydipsia, dysuria, and pollakiuria. In all cases of inappropriate elimation the cat should be thoroughly examined for an underlying medical problem. A minimum database should include CBC, Biochemistry Profile, Complete Urinalysis and Fecal Exam.
The longer inappropriate urination is allowed to continue, the more enduring the pattern may become and the more difficult it may be to resolve. This behavior is self-reinforcing, increasing the likelihood that the cat will do it again. Inappropriate urination may continue because of environmental factors that have little or nothing to do with the initial cause, which may never be determined.
Urine contains odors that identify the individual and mark a cat's territory. The location of food, water, and safe places to rest are linked to a cat's sense of security within its territory. If these are disturbed or if a sensitive cat is distressed for any reason, it may reaffirm its territorial claim and relieve anxiety by urine marking.
Litter training is further complicated in households with more than one cat. An easily offended cat may avoid a box that has been used by a housemate, whereas another may be attracted to void in the box to cover the odors left by others. Territorial conflict between cats in multi-cat homes may cause problems relating to use of the litter box. One cat may wait near the litter box to ambush another cat when it attempts to use the box. An increased level of anxiety could lead to inappropriate elimination.
As a guideline, provide one litter box for every cat in your household. Choose a variety of locations in quiet corners of your home to see which box attracts the most use. A cat that is harassed by others, even in play, should have an alternative box to use.
A cat can develop preferences for a certain target surface, such as carpeting, and eventually mark similar surfaces throughout your home. Certain sounds or even certain times of day may trigger marking. The problem can rapidly become complex. Regardless of the initial trigger, inappropriate elimination may reappear in times of stress because the act immediately relieves anxiety.
Environmental Factors Contributing to Inappropriate Urination
Environmental Factors Contributing to Urine Spraying
Cats that have been neutered at the appropriate age and that have never roamed outdoors or even seen another cat may begin to urinate outside the litter box. A sexually intact tom or female in heat that has begun to urinate inappropriately should be neutered without delay. The hormonal influences related to reproduction may motivate urine marking. Once these are no longer in circulation following neutering, the behavior is likely to stop, provided it is not allowed to continue for too long. Neutering alone, however, may not be enough to return behavior to normal if marking (or inappropriate elimination in general) is longstanding (roughly, more than several weeks). Also, neutering does not guarantee a cat will never urinate inappropriately. Given enough social stress or predisposing circumstances, any cat might begin to void outside its litter box.
Medical Abnormalities Associated with Inappropriate Urination
It is extremely important to differentiate inappropriate urination from urine spraying (see signs) because treatment is different. The most common cause of inappropriate urination is dissatisfaction with some quality of the litter box. The most common cause for urine spraying is urine marking in response to the presence of other cats.
Findings vary with the underlying cause. Results are usually normal in cases of urine spraying and inappropriate urination when it is strictly a behavioral problem. Urinalysis is the minimum data base in any cat examined because of inappropriate urination. Serial samples should be collected in cats whose behavioral signs wax and wane.
OTHER DIAGNOSTIC PROCEDURES
In multicat households, it may be difficult to determine which cat is responsible for inappropriate elimination. The offending cat may be identified in one of two ways: 1. Isolate each cat one at a time in a small room to identify the culprit by process of elimination. However, such a protocol may sufficiently alter the social milieu that inappropriate elimination may not occur. 2. Administer the dye fluorescein (6 fluorescein test strips in a gel capsule PO) sequentially to each cat. Urine outside the litter box fluoresces under a Wood's light for approximately 24 hours. If negative after 36 hours, the test can be repeated on another cat.
OTHER DIAGNOSTIC PROCEDURES
In multicat households, it may be difficult to determine which cat is responsible for inappropriate elimination. The offending cat may be identified in one of two ways:
Cats that approach the litter box and eliminate in its vicinity are communicating some dissatisfaction with the litter box.
Moving the Litter Box
Most cats prefer a quiet, out-of-the-way place for urination and defecation. Too much noise or activity nearby can discourage a cat from using the litter box and drive it to another location of its own choosing. Moving the litter box to a new location can also upset certain cats. If the litter box must be moved, do it gradually.
Move the box a few inches each day toward the new location, even if this is slightly inconvenient for you. Place another box at the new location. When your cat discovers the new designated location and uses the box there, it is probably safe to remove the transitional one.
Another method is to place several additional boxes in various new places and observe which of these your cat prefers. Your cat's individual preference of location is your best guide.
Failure to Cover Waste
The instinct to bury urine and stool is strong in most cats. Most cats dig in the litter box to prepare an indentation before voiding. They then cover stool and urine deposits with litter. Digging associated with defecation may be more pronounced.
Some cats enthusiastically cover their waste, whereas others may never do so. If your cat does not cover its urine or stool, this is no cause to worry. A cat that does not bury its urine or stool is not abnormal.
Soiled Hair in Long-Haired Breeds
Long-haired cats, such as Persians or Himalayans, are more prone to urine or stool soiling the hairs around the anus, tail, thighs, and even the paws. Segments of stool may adhere to their long hair and later fall off or be removed by the cat during grooming. Cats remove adhered feces by pulling out the soiled hair or by rubbing against the floor.
Punishment for fecal soiling is not effective and only confuses your pet and makes it more anxious. Instead, a professional groomer or veterinary technician can carefully trim the long hair beneath the tail, around the anus and genitals, and at the back of the thighs. This makes maintenance grooming much easier.
Elimination In Houseplant Pots
Cats have a natural instinct to void and dig in soil or sand. The litter box is a human invention and an artificial substitute. It is surprising that more cats do not eliminate in potted plants! To discourage your cat from eliminating inappropriately in your houseplant pots, devise ways to prevent access.
Many of the reasons why cats fail to urinate in the litter box also apply to inappropriate defecation. Defecation also functions in territorial marking and relief of anxiety. Inappropriate defecation may stem from a dirty litter box, medical problems, stress, anxiety, and even fear. A cat may display its displeasure by depositing urine or stool in inappropriate areas.
Inappropriate defecation and urination should not be viewed as intentional acts of malice or revenge. The same solutions apply to both types of elimination.
Owners should keep a detailed log of all elimination patterns to provide more information on the problem and feedback regarding treatment success. Owners on a program of environmental modification need to make adjustments in order to respond to preferences shown by their cat.
Predatory Behavior In Cats
With the exception of lions, most members of the cat family are solitary hunters that
hunt alone and primarily at night. The cat's earliest association with human beings, about
11,000 BC, was probably uninvited but tolerated because of its usefulness in rodent
control. Predatory aggression in domestic cats today continues to provide a valued
service. Predatory behavior in cats is both instinctive and learned.
Hunting techniques are practiced by most normal kittens in the form of play. For example, kittens born as barn cats learn to hunt by observing their mother and perfect their skills by trial and error. Some housecats without prior experience instinctively react to prey animals that accidentally cross their path. Not all cats, however, are "born hunters."
Presentation of Prey to Owners
Owners may be horrified when their cat presents them with a half-eaten mouse, chipmunk, squirrel, or bird, or worse, a wounded one. Prey presentation is neither a gift nor the cat's token of gratitude for hospitality and care. Rather, this may be redirected maternal behavior, causing a cat to return to its "den" with prey for its young. The queen will normally bring dead prey, even regurgitating halfdigested food, to her newborn litter. As the kittens grow, she will return with live prey to provide real teaching tools for her kittens' education.
Bringing their prey home may be a remnant of ancestral behavior. A cat's instinct may be to carry its prey to a sheltered area but not to consume it. Some cat owners proclaim that it is cruel to restrict a cat's natural instinct to hunt. Yet the same owners may be disturbed by their pet's success in capturing the birds that gather at the birdfeeder or fountain in their own back yard.
Prey presentation is neither a gift nor the cat's token of gratitude
Preventing Predatory Behavior
The only practical way to resolve undesirable predatory behavior in cats is to prevent it. The instinct to hunt, particularly once a cat has become an experienced hunter, can be so strong that it lasts a lifetime. As long as a cat has the opportunity to hunt, it will hunt. Cats permitted to roam outdoors will express instinctive predatory behavior. Hunting may be part of a cat's outdoor activities, regardless of how well it is fed at home. Indeed, some outdoor cats prefer to hunt their own food and are finicky eaters at home.
It may help to attach bells to a breakaway collar (in addition to important identification tags). Though many cats learn to stalk their prey without ringing a single bell, multiple bells can help warn unsuspecting targets.
If you allow your cat to roam, you can prevent it from entering your home with its prey. You can install a magnetic cat door with triggering magnet collar or a cat door that allows the cat to exit at will but requires your presence to permit its reentry. This allows you to regulate unwelcome guests. Remember, though, that your pet can be injured in its attempts to capture prey and is susceptible to the health risks associated with roaming outdoors.
Territorial Behavior in Cats
Most species of wild cats live in relative solitude. Although there is reason to
believe that the domestic cat is more social than many of its "wild" relatives
and often forms affiliations with other cats, the territorial instinct is alive and well
in the domestic feline. A cat's territorial nature is very much a reflection of its social
behavior. Pet cats that are permitted to roam freely outdoors generally spend little time
with other cats. For the most part, cats prefer to share their territory, indoors or out,
with a select few or no other cats. The more densely populated the area, the greater the
tension between individuals, regardless of gender or reproductive status. This applies to
outdoor cats and to cats in multi-cat households.
The territory of outdoor cats may be shared by many individuals passing through at different times of day. Cats confined as housepets occupy a restricted home range as compared with the area they might otherwise claim outdoors. Cats usually adapt well to being kept indoors, particularly if they have been confined from a young age. Some kittens that have never been outdoors, however, can be quite persistent in their attempts to escape. Cats adopted as adults, even as adult strays, often thrive as housepets. Clearly, there is much individual variation in the territorial nature of domestic cats.
Conflicts may occur between cats sharing the same territory. This does not mean that cats always fight when they meet. When they see each other, each cat evaluates the other. Do they recognize each other? What was the nature of previous encounters? Is there hesitation and defensiveness, or is the posture alert and confident? One or both cats may detour from their usual route to avoid encounters. They may approach each other, only to change course ~ at the last moment. They may approach closer to gain information that cannot be gathered from a distance, such as scents that indicate an animal is diseased and therefore a weakened opponent.
If neither individual retreats, tensions may rise. If one cat tries to retreat when the
other cat is ready to fight, a fight may result anyway. If neither cat is willing to
retreat or fight, they may eventually pass each other by without conflict. If both cats
are equally motivated to challenge each other, a fight often results. An assertive,
uncastrated tomcat, forexample, is more likely to antagonize another cat during the mating
season than at other times when sexual motivation may not be as high. Indoor or outdoor
cats may leave scratch marks or mark with urine and/or stool to reassert territorial
claims and to relieve emotional tension.
Conflicts Between Housemates
Conflict may arise between indoor cats upon first introduction or following a period of calm coexistence. The age of the individuals may be an important factor. Kittens reaching physical and behavioral maturity, for example, may discover their own sense of territory or may be suddenly resented by another resident cat.
Housecats may sort out their individual territories without fights. Cats may come to an understanding of each other's temperament and physical ability during play. Play times may end abruptly, however, if one cat perceives subtle challenges in the other's behavior. Minor territorial disputes between pet cats can be mistaken as playful interaction. You may have to intervene in conflicts between cats if the conflicts become severe and frequent. Always consider your own safety first. Your injuries will almost certainly be more severe than those sustained by your cats. Throw a glass of water or a blanket over the opponents to break up the fight at least temporarily. The more cats there are in a household, the greater the likelihood for conflicts over food, space, and your attention.
Restoring the Peace
The best way to resolve territorial aggression between cats is to prevent opportunities for it. The factors contributing to it should be identified and controlled. Do the conflicts occur more often at certain times of day than at others? If so, it might be helpful to confine one of the cats during this period so that the same territory may be "time shared." Does one cat wait in ambush for the other to appear? Do conflicts occur in specific areas of your home? These locations should be neutralized by blocking access to them, for example. Are the confrontations chance encounters, erupting spontaneously?
It may be necessary to isolate each cat in a different area of your home so that their paths never cross. Is the severity of aggression serious and getting worse, or is it mild and constant, without casualties? If the conflicts are brief and without physical contact, it might be wise not to interfere.
If the bouts seem to be escalating in intensity, several steps should be taken. As a temporary measure, it is almost always necessary to separate the antagonists, confining them to their own separate quarters. Regardless of whether the pets are kept indoors exclusively, all cats not intended for breeding should be neutered. If fighting occurs between intact cats that will be bred, these animals should be caged or housed separately. In some cases, it is simplest to end ongoing conflicts by relocating the antagonist in another home where it will be the only cat.
If none of these measures is effective, contact your veterinarian for referral to a veterinary behavior consultant in your area. Remember that territorial conflicts in multi-cat households are virtually inevitable. Keep the number of pet cats in reasonable proportion to the size of your home and the individual needs of your current feline friends.
Territorial Cats and People
Territorially aggressive cats can occasionally direct their attentions to people. Visitors may be lunged at or bitten by a cat that perceives them as intruders. This can occur immediately upon their arrival or much later. Sometimes the cat's impendmg attack is signaled by stalking one individual in particular, or it may resent all intruders. Cats with this tendency should either be confined to avoid guests or intentionally exposed to them. If you want your cat to get used to visitors, keep it on a harness and leash, and carefully supervise as your guests give your pet a favorite treat. Your cat should get this special food treat only when there are visitors. Instruct your guests not to touch the cat first and only to respond to your cat's interest in them if you are quite sure it is friendly.
The Benefits of Neutering
Cats instinctively explore and frequently patrol their territory. The size of their territory may expand or contract according to population density, exhaustion of natural resources, availability of cycling females, and interactions between aggressive rivals. Younger cats tend to patrol wider areas than do aging animals. Males tend to roam over greater areas than do females. Neutered males may patrol smaller areas, whereas neutered females tend to expand their territories. Many cats that have been reared indoors from birth may become increasingly interested in the outdoors and often attempt to escape even before they reach sexual maturity.
Neutering a pet cat may diminish its determination to escape, reduce the size of territory outdoors, and reduce the frequency and severity of cat fights which can easily result in deadly, infectious viral diseases such as Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, Feline Leukemia, and Feline Infectious Peritonitis; all of which are fatal disease for which there are no cures. There is no vaccine for FIV, and the vaccine for and FeLV is not 100% effective. The efficacy and safety of the FIP vaccine is highly questionable. Neutering alone, however, will not deter any cat with a strong predisposition to roam. Neutering is advised for any cat that roams outdoors, either habitually or accidentally, if only to help control the population of stray cats.
Converting to a House Cat
Many cats born as strays and adopted as housecats adjust remarkably quickly. Indeed, many stray cats that are adopted remain indoors permanently without protest. Cats that live in temperate climates may naturally restrict their outdoor activity during cold winter months. These individuals may adapt more readily to being kept indoors permanently.
Newly confined cats typically go through a phase of heightened activity. Their agitation and frustration may be redirected to undesirable indoor activities, such as destructiveness, excessive vocalization, irritability, and nocturnal patterns of peak activity. These cats may seek escape routes for many weeks before resigning themselves to confinement. Should the opportunity to escape present itself, however, many of these cats may take it, even years later. It is particularly important to provide your cat with additional outlets by playing with it and engaging in interactive diversions you both will enjoy.
Prevention of Roaming
A young cat increasingly interested in going outside should be denied the opportunity to escape. One successful escape virtually guarantees that other attempts will follow. Young cats usually outgrow this
escapist phase when they are consistently unsuccessful. Some cats manage to escape despite their owner's intention to confine them. For these owners and for those that own adult cats already accustomed to roaming outdoors, efforts to restrict their pet's range can be frustrating.
Be aware of your cat's position as you enter or exit a door leading outside. Secure windows and place screens as needed. Balconies even several stories high can present attractive escape exits to more daring (or foolhardy) cats. Provide a wide variety of toys that are attractive to your cat (not just to you). Frequently play with your young cat so that it is less prone to seek amusement elsewhere. Have your cat neutered at an appropriate age as recommended by your veterinarian.
If you (wisely) decide to keep your cat indoors, stand by your decision. Even occasional outings will increase your cat's determination to go outside. The initial transition period may be easier with a short course of sedatives in small doses. Medications prescribed by your veterinarian can help your cat become adjusted to confinement. Given enough time and positive reinforcement, most cats adapt well.
An outdoor cat lives a more stressful life than an indoor cat, and stress leads to a
myriad of physical and psychological disorders. Outdoor cats on the street, or even
in the country, are faced every day with territorial disputes, threats from other animals,
people, cars, environmental noises which cause panic, and situations which generate pure
fear. Indoor cats generally live longer and healthier lives than outdoor cats - a
fact that cannot be disputed.
Although territorial roaming provides cats with exercise and mental stimulation, cats can live a happy life while remaining indoors. The risk of injury (from motor vehicle accidents, cat fights, or confrontations with other animals), disease, and abuse far outweigh any possible benefit to your cat. It is not cruel to restrict cats to an exclusively indoor existence. Rather, the cruelty lies in exposing them to the dangers outside of a safe home.
The cruelty lies in exposing them to the dangers outside of a safe home.
Cats can live a longer, happier, life while remaining indoors.
AGGRESSION BETWEEN CATS IN A MULTI-CAT HOUSEHOLD
When a cat is frightened or startled, its reaction may be redirected to the nearest
available individual or object. In a multi-cat household, this target may be another cat.
Redirected aggression is swift and intense, and may begin a cycle of persistent aggressive interaction. The spontaneous eruption can occur between housemates that previously coexisted peacefully. It may subside within moments but, more commonly, several days or even weeks may pass before the housemates resume normal relations. Sometimes the relationship between cats is permanently changed.
In a multi-cat household, the target cat is not necessarily the first victim of the aggressive outburst, though usually it is. Occasionally, the roles may be reversed and the aggressor becomes the target cat.
After the initial conflict, a vicious cycle may form between the target cat and its aggressor. In anticipation of an attack, the target cat typically assumes a defensive, fearful, and cautious attitude, which triggers the attacker's pursuit.
Long after the original episode has passed, the aggressive cat may be aroused simply by the target cat's hesitation. The dominant cat may appear to chase the other as a kind of game.
To avoid further problems, separate the cats as quickly as possible after the first episode. Avoid injury to yourself that may be caused by trying to separate one from the other. It is safer to let the tension subside and then deal with any injury inflicted on the target cat. The steps below should be taken with the close and direct supervision of a veterinary behaviorist. It is important to proceed at a pace that does not force the cats together too soon so that their peace will last.
Confinement can help resolve aggression between cats.
Fear serves as an alarm system, alerting an individual to danger. The more an animal
feels cornered or perceives little chance of escape, the more likely it is to become
aggressive. The greater the perception of danger, the more intense the aggressive response
may be. Pets can be afraid of loud noises and startled by sudden movements. If they were
not exposed to a variety of people growing up in a critical phase of their development,
they can be afraid of children, or men, or everyone. Isolated from other cats or dogs,
they may be afraid of them, too. The critical period of socialization is considered to be
between 7 and 13 weeks in puppies. In kittens, the most sensitive phase is even earlier,
between 3 and 7 weeks. As important as exposure to people is during these periods,
individual temperament is always the fundamental determining factor to influence a puppy's
or kitten's social attitude. Fear of people does not necessarily stem from a negative
(abusive) episode but may result from inexperience and lack of social interaction. The
unknown is frequently more frightening than the familiar.
A frightened animal may signal its heightened arousal and impending attack, such as a cat's hiss or a dog's growl. Typically, a frightened cat or dog will crouch closer to the ground, with its hair (especially along the top of the back and tail) standing on end. Cats can initially puff up and stretch their legs, turning sideways, in the "Halloween cat" posture to make themselves appear larger and more defensive. Ears for both frightened cats and dogs are usually laid back flat against the head, although ears can remain erect, too. This is more difficult to see in dog breeds such as the Cocker Spaniel, which has long, floppy ears set close to the head. Another subtle clue to a pet's fear is the size of the eyes' pupils, which are often dilated, making the eyes appear darker. In dogs, the tail may be tucked under the back legs, but it could be held erect and may be even wagging, so it is a less reliable body cue. However, an animal may give little or no warning before a defensive attack.
Fear-induced aggression can be redirected toward an innocent bystander who unintentionally blocks a path of escape. The best way to prevent injury to yourself is to refrain from any behavior that escalates the animal's anxiety.
Do not crowd a cornered dog or cat or pursue one that has sought refuge under a bed or table. Do not even try to comfort it with petting. Back slowly away to a distance at which the pet's tension subsides.
Entice it gently away from the comer or other sheltered location with a food treat. Avoid sustained eye contact and do not intercede if it makes another dash to escape. Avoid the animal until signs of fear and agitation disappear.
Fear-induced aggression may occur with other types of aggression. A territorially aggressive dog, for example, often shows signs of fear as it advances against or withdraws from an intruder. A dog or cat that is introduced to an unfamiliar person may approach and retreat as social and fearful tendencies conflict. This is seen in dogs, for example, that wag their tails in seemingly friendly greeting while they growl.
When an animal displays signs of fear including hesitation, with apparent friendliness, always exercise caution. A confident, cautious, or growling dog that is wagging its tail may bite with little provocation. If your own pet's behavior fits those described on this page, be sure to seek the professional guidance of a veterinary behaviorist. A fearful dog that becomes aggressive is a dangerous problem that, thankfully, responds well to appropriate intervention.
Intolerance to Handling In Pets
Both cats and dogs can display signs of intolerance to human handling from an early
age. However, it can be an acquired problem later in life. Regardless of how it began,
intolerance to human handling should be discussed with a veterinary behaviorist so that
your pet can better respond to your needs as a pet owner. Do not assume that nothing can
be done to improve your pet's attitude when you have not explored the possibilities.
Intolerance to Handling In Cats
The temperament of domestic cats is quite variable. Some pet cats are attentive, demonstrative, and tolerant of handling. Others are anxious and cautious, and avoid interaction with people. Between these extremes lies a great range of tolerance of and preference for handling.
Some cats, for example, solicit petting and find unlimited pleasure in human contact but resent being held. Others enjoy handling endlessly, as long as their belly is not touched. Still other cats briefly endure human handling before abruptly moving away.
Intolerance to handling is not a reliable indicator that an animal has suffered abuse in the past. Although physical abuse may cause a cat to avoid a specific person or people in general, some cats that have never been subjected to inhumane treatment may be irritable or shy. Some cats that have been abused may be passive and tolerant.
Underlying Medical Problems
Irritable aggression may be a sign of a health problem. Sudden changes in a pet's temperament should prompt a visit to your veterinarian. For example, if your dog or cat seems to resent having its ears touched, it may be uncomfortable because of an ear infection.
Any gradual temperament change should also be brought to your veterinarian's attention, particularly if accompanied by physical changes.
A cat that becomes progressively agitated and irritable, and is losing weight despite an increased appetite, may have an overly active thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism). An aging dog may become inactive and intolerant until the discomfort caused by arthritis is controlled with appropriate medication.
Report any aggressive reactions to petting to your veterinarian so that the possibility of an underlying physical illness can be investigated.
Irritability may also be a natural part of your pet's basic temperament. If you know that your cat does not like to have its tail touched, avoid touching its tail. If your dog growls when disturbed from sleep, wake it gently by calling its name.
If you persist in an activity that is disagreeable to your pet, it will almost certainly aggravate the problem. Your pet may even begin to anticipate unpleasant interaction with you and learn to avoid you altogether.
Depending on your pet and the circumstances of its irritable aggression, the safest and simplest solution may be to avoid repeating the pattern that elicits the undesirable response. A pet that has learned to run away in anticipation of being touched should simply not be approached. Instead, encourage the animal to approach you.
Hold the food dish at mealtime but withhold all other physical contact. As your pet
learns to associate you with good things (food), begin to pet it lightly and briefly
during feeding. Eventually, you should be able to pet the animal between meals, too.
If your pet becomes irritable in response to a necessary interaction, such as having its nails trimmed, mimic that activity by repeating parts of the activity and associate these with a positive experience. For example, touch your pet's foot briefly and reward it with a food treat if there is no sign of irritability. Reward its good behavior (lack of aggressiveness) and gradually progress to the actual nail trim after a long retraining period. If your pet tolerates handling, such as petting, but only for a brief and predictable period, develop a sense as to how long this tolerance lasts and stop the petting before that point.
If you persist in an activity that is disagreeable to your pet, it will almost certainly aggravate the problem
Regardless of how aggression is first triggered, it may be repeated in similar
situations long after the initial cause is past. Aggression is self-reinforcing,
increasing the chances that it will be exhibited again.
Once an animal learns that aggression is effective, it is more likely to become aggressive again under similar circumstances. It may also display aggressive behavior in other unrelated situations (for example, in order to avoid a bath).
Aggression is an instinctive response that can become a conditioned response to any
given situation. A dog that is rewarded by praise or attention for aggressive barking may
soon learn that barking is an effective way to get your attention, even if the attention
is your scolding.
A cat that nips at your hand in a moment of excitement as its food dish is filled may learn that biting is associated with a reward (feeding).
In general, exercise caution when reprimanding an agitated animal. Avoid injury to yourself. Do not correct intense aggression by immediately punishing your pet. If your pet has learned to control you with its aggressive behavior, it is wisest to seek professional help. Veterinary behaviorists can identify the triggers and problem contexts associated with aggressive control by your pet. Retraining should include an emphasis on how to prevent episodes from repeating.
Appropriate behavior should be encouraged at all times by reinforcing positive forms of interaction, such as obedience skills for dogs. In recognized problem contexts and whenever undesirable behavior appears, withdraw all rewards including, and in particular, your attention. Sometimes it can be more effective and safer to leave the room rather than to confront an aggressively aroused animal.
Once an animal learns that aggression is effective, it is likely to become aggressive again
At the Veterinarian's Office
Dogs or cats visiting a veterinary hospital are often aware before entering the
reception area that something different is about to happen.
They may have been transported, for the first time, in a carrier or car and sensed anxiety in their owner. The reception area is filled with the scents of unfamiliar pets, people, and disinfectants. Strange sounds, including those made by other frightened or ill pets, increase their anxiety.
They are then taken into an examination room to be handled by a stranger who may cause them discomfort. Hospitalization for a surgical procedure or medical treatment may follow. It is unusual when fear is not expressed by a pet after even a single visit.
Some pets become so fearful at the veterinarian's office that they risk injuring themselves and anyone attempting to handle them. Fear out of proportion to the actual danger present is classified as a phobia. A fearful response at the veterinarian's office is probably the most common phobia in companion animals.
A pet may become aggressive at the veterinarian's office because of fear and inability to escape. Some dogs are additionally motivated by defensive aggression aimed at protecting their owners in an apparently menacing situation.
A dominant dog may be more strongly inclined to defend its owner. Veterinarians sometimes find it helpful to separate a dog from its owner, so as to reduce aggression during a veterinary visit. This does not eliminate the dog's fear but often makes the veterinarian's examination considerably easier. Isolating a dog from its owner often eases its aggressiveness. This calming effect on the dog may also reflect the additional tension caused by its concerned owners.
Placing a muzzle on an aggressive dog frequently has a calming effect, as well as ensuring everyone's safety. It is not cruel to muzzle dog for brief periods.
If you are asked to separate yourself from or to place a muzzle on your agitated dog, have confidence in your veterinarian's judgment and concern for your dog's best interest.
If your pet develops an excessive fear of the veterinary visit, you will both be helped to feel comfortable by seeking the help of a veterinary behaviorist. Pets can be professionally desensitized over time to decrease and even eliminate their emotional aversion to the veterinary office. A fearful and aggressive pet is difficult to examine and to treat. Resolving this problem could have tremendous benefits down the road.
Problems of Agression
INTRODUCING NEW PETS TO RESIDENT PETS
There are many factors to consider when introducing pets for the first time. The species, breed, size, gender, age, individual temperament, and health status of each pet all contribute to their initial encounter and eventual coexistence. With so many factors to consider, it is virtually impossible to predict how one pet will respond to another.
Not all dogs and cats are destined to be antagonists. Not every sexually intact (uncastrated) male will reject a new male in its territory. If you already have a dog (or cat), adding a second dog (or cat) of the opposite sex does not guarantee they will get along.
Sometimes the most unlikely pets become instant and lifelong companions. Sometimes the intolerance of one or both is immediate and enduring. Often the initial period of conflict evolves over time toward a minimum of mutual tolerance. Also, once-stable relationships can degenerate for a variety of reasons.
Here are some general guidelines for introducing a new pet to resident pets:
Introducing a New Cat
to a Resident Cat
Cats that have been exposed to other cats while growing up may adjust more readily to a
new housemate. The best way to avoid conflict between cats is to carefully prepare for the
first encounter. The resident cat may adjust to the newly introduced cat without
confrontation if they are first required to share your home but at different times of day,
and are not immediately introduced.
(Note: It may take several weeks to reach this point. Even if it takes only a few days,
delay the next step for an additional week. Keep separate litter boxes for now. With
continued progress, you may decide to gradually move one or both litter boxes to another
location. It is advisable to maintain one litter box for each cat, even though each cat
will likely use both boxes.)
With time, most cats learn to accept others in the household. Should your cats be exceptions, however, two options remain: (1) Keep one cat confined for part of the day, while the other roams freely. (2) Keep one cat permanently confined to one part of your home, while the other is kept exclusively in the other. You can always try another introduction later.
Introducing a New Dog to a Resident Cat
Cats that have had positive experiences with dogs early in life are more likely to welcome a new pet dog. Before introducing a cat to a dog, it is important to determine if the dog will harm the cat.
Some adult dogs that have never previously seen a cat show no aggression toward one. If a dog's predatory instinct toward cats is strong, however, it is likely to be displayed immediately and with little advance warning. For this reason, restrain the dog on a firmly held short leash and do not allow the cat to come within the dog's biting range.
If you have adopted an adult dog, ask the previous owner, if possible, about the dog's past interactions with cats. If the dog has had no previous contact with cats, proceed with caution. If you have acquired your new dog from a local shelter, ask the staff to test the dog's tolerance to cats before you take it home.
Even if there is no reason to suspect a problem, you should still restrain your new dog when it meets your cat. Young puppies (younger than 3 months) are unlikely to harm an adult cat. Though there are always exceptions, young animals are unlikely to turn against other animals when they are raised together.
a New Cat to a Resident Dog
Most of the guidelines suggested for introducing a cat to a dog apply here. Proceed
cautiously. As long as the dog is restrained on a leash and the cat is free to escape,
rely on the dog's initial reaction to the cat. If your dog guards its food or other
objects, retrain it or take preventive measures. A cat that approaches a dog guarding its
food may risk injury.
A common concern among dog owners is that a cat will scratch their dog's face and, in particular, its eyes. This concern may be less common when an unfamiliar dog is introduced to a resident cat.
A cat will rarely attack a dog without provocation unless it is cornered or threatened. Most dogs have a long muzzle and quick reflexes that adequately protect their eyes from cats. Your dog's eyes are more likely to be injured from flying debris when its head protrudes from your car window. Any traumatic corneal lacerations caused by a cat usually heal well with prompt veterinary care.
Training Your Cat To Tolerate Petting & Grooming
Reasons for Intolerance
Most cats enjoy human contact, but many animals have areas of their body that are sensitive to touch. Animals instinctively guard some body areas because these are more vulnerable. They often protect the abdomen, or belly, and the throat area. The "sensitive" areas vary with individual animals; for example, some animals resent having their tail touched.
Certain body areas may also become sensitive because of previous injury. If an animal is sensitive to touch because of past injury or illness, ask your veterinarian how to avoid causing your pet discomfort. It is probably worthwhile to discuss the possibility of an underlying medical problem with your veterinarian whenever your pet seems uncomfortable when touched. If your pet naturally resents having certain body areas touched, you may decide to simply avoid touching those areas. If these areas must be manipulated for routine grooming, work slowly to gradually increase your pet's tolerance by offering a reward at each training session.
Some dominant cats resent even gentle caresses over the top of the head, neck,
and back. Their reaction may be worse if your hand holds a brush or comb. If your pet
resists being touched over the length of its back, consider how other elements in its
general behavior fit the profile of a dominantly aggressive pet. If your cat does
not avert its eyes from yours during direct eye contact, stubbornly resists assuming a
"down" position, persistently jumps on everyone even in apparently friendly
greetings, it is most likely displaying signs of dominance.
Practice with minimal grooming and petting for a very brief time. Over a period of days and weeks, increase the duration of the interaction. Stop well before your pet shows any sign of intolerance or irritability. Keep a record of the length of each session to give you a clear idea of your progress. Lack of further improvement may suggest that more training may not be productive.
Reward your cat's tolerance of your handling with a small food treat. Scheduling the inter action before meals can form a positive connection between petting or brushing and eating. In some cases, grooming can be made into a game. Your cat may enjoy gnawing on the comb for a few seconds in between brush strokes. You may alternate a stroke of the brush with a caress of your hand.
Choice of Brush or Comb
Although you may not believe you are exerting excessive pressure while brushing your pet, your pet may not agree. Some of the brushes recommended for your pet's coat type may cause discomfort. Although a particular comb may be effective in removing knots from your cat's long coat, it may also scratch the skin and pull the hair. Make sure that the comb or brush used to groom your pet is comfortable for the animal.
Though a certain type of brush or comb is recommended for specific coat types, it is of no use if your pet won't allow you to use it. Find a grooming device that is both effective and accepted by your pet. Be careful not to exert undue pressure while grooming your pet, particularly in naturally sensitive areas.
To improve your pet's tolerance of being petted or groomed, withhold all petting or grooming for several weeks. When you resume grooming and petting, identify the circumstances most often related to your pet's intolerance. How long does it take for your pet to reach the limit of its tolerance and react negatively to grooming or petting?
Once you know at what point your pet becomes predictably irritable, stop well short of the limit. If you discover that your pet resents these activities at certain times of day, you may wish to reschedule them. If your cat is most playful and agitated in the evening, as many are, it might be best to brush it in the afternoon, just before its nap.
Make sure the comb or brush used to groom your pet is comfortable
Training Your Pet To Tolerate Nail Trimming
Some cats resent having their paws held or their nails trimmed. This
intolerance is partly instinctive in young animals, and may also be learned from an
unpleasant experience during nail trimming.
The living portion of the nail bed contains sensitive nerves and blood vessels (the quick). If toenails are cut too short, a cat learns that nail trimming is painful. This negative experience is not easily forgotten. Once a cat has learned to anticipate discomfort when its feet are touched, its evasive reaction can intensify each time. Most cats rarely need to have their claws cut if they use a scratch post.
If your cat is instinctively cautious about having its feet touched, and even if it shows no sign of withdrawing its paw, teach your cat that this interaction is not unpleasant.
Before you ever attempt to trim your cat's nails, begin by touching its legs, feet, and toes, and associate this with an activity it enjoys. When it is resting, begin petting it, gently passing your hands over its back and legs. If this is well tolerated, you may wish to give it a small food treat. Do not try to do too much the first time.
Gradually manipulate your cat's foot more each time. Eventually, you should be able to slip your fingers in between each toe, gently squeezing each one to flex the nail, putting gentle pressure as you hold each foot and manipulate the leg. Do not attempt this exercise when your cat is in an agitated or playful state, as it is most likely to resent any restriction to its movement. Once your cat tolerates having its feet touched during quiet times, you may begin to incorporate this into elements of play time.
If you are unsure of how to trim your pet's toenails, ask your veterinarian or a technician to show you how. They can show you where the sensitive nerves and blood vessels are likely to be found. The nail bed is seen as a pinkish triangle at the base of the nail; however, it may not be evident in dark-colored nails.
There is more variety between the shape of toe nails in dogs than in cats. Some pets' nails grow in a more curved shape, as compared with those growing more parallel to the ground. This may determine how short they may be trimmed. Even a skilled professional can misjudge the depth to which a nail may be trimmed. It is also not uncommon for a pet to withdraw a foot while the nail is being clipped, because of pressure on sensitive nail areas.
It is better to cut less than to cut more than necessary! Trim off small sections at a time and stop well short of the sensitive part of the nail. Cutting the nail too short results in a painful experience for your pet. Cut your pet's nails frequently, a little at a time, rather than occasionally when toe nails are uncomfortable to both your pet and to you. In this way, nail trimming will become a routine event, rather than a periodic wrestling match. Continue to manipulate your pet's feet and toes between nail trims so that it remains a familiar sensation.
It is better to cut less than to cut more
If your dog or cat has already had an unpleasant experience with nail trimming, you can train it to tolerate it by starting from the beginning. Even if you have followed the preliminary training steps above, start over as if its feet had never been conditioned to manipulation and gradually desensitize your pet to this interaction once again. Your veterinarian may recommend a small dose of a mild, anti-anxiety medication to facilitate retraining in extreme cases.
Fear and anxiety are normal responses to danger. When these defensive
reactions are out of proportion with the actual threat presented by the situation, it is
called a phobia. Physical changes that accompany phobias may be exaggerated, such as rapid
breathing. Panic may be displayed by frantic attempts to escape. Fear-induced aggression
may be directed toward anything or anyone approaching too closely or blocking a path to
Phobias may develop gradually over time after several fearful experiences, or the initial experience may be so stressful that the phobic response may appear immediately during or after the first experience. When a pet has developed a phobic response to something, it rarely resolves without intervention.
Fear of the Veterinary Hospital
It is exceptional that a pet does not develop some anxiety when it visits
the veterinarian. If the visit is made because of a medical problem, your pet may sense
your concern and anticipate an impending problem. An element of fearful anticipation is
normal in unfamiliar situations. When the discomfort of an injection or postoperative
pain, or anxiety from separation and confinement become associated with the veterinary
hospital, subsequent visits can trigger a negative response.
Your pet may express this conditioned fear by attempting to escape or becoming somewhat aggressive. Some pets become frozen by fear, displaying unusually calm and passive behavior. When defensive responses exceed the expected normal range, they are classified as phobias.
Phobic responses in cats and dogs are potentially dangerous to them and to the veterinary staff. An animal risks injury to itself as well as to those that are dedicated to its care. Diagnosis and treatment are difficult when the patient cannot cooperate with caregivers. Additionally, a sick or injured pet may complicate its own condition if it fears visits to the veterinary hospital.
It is often helpful to:
Begin this process by getting your pet used to being in the car and pet carrier. The annual examination and vaccination may be the only time your pet is transported in the car or in a carrier.
Make frequent, short trips to the veterinary office that do not culminate in pain or discomfort.
Enlist the cooperation of veterinary employees by asking them to spend time playing with or petting your pet during off hours. If your pet cannot reliably predict which visit may result in discomfort, its anxious anticipation may fade.
Give a special treat to your pet that it gets only at the time of this visit. If visits result in a pleasant experience, your pet's fear may lessen.
Related Topic: Aggression at the Veterinarian's Office
Fear of Automobile Travel
Fear of car travel is related to several factors. A pet may be anxious
because of confinement in a restricted space, the motion of the car, or the anticipation
of its destination. A pet that goes for car rides only when it is going to the
veterinarian's office can easily make a negative connection with the car. Many young
animals are instinctively afraid of unfamiliar situations. If they are gradually exposed
to driving in the car for frequent short trips, however, most adjust well.
Your pet can become well adapted to car travel, using these steps:
If necessary, your veterinarian can prescribe a sedative or tranquilizer to calm your pet for car travel. However, medication should not replace the slow, methodical steps to reduce the phobic response
Fear of Unfamiliar People or Places
Unfamiliar situations and people are unnerving to many pets. A pet's territorial and social nature, combined with past experiences in new places with new people, helps to determine its reactions. The ability to adapt to a variety of situations is, in part, a learned ability.
A dog that is confined or that has limited opportunity to socialize with others may develop antisocial behavior later in life. The critical period of socialization to people is between 6 and 14 weeks of age. This important developmental phase may occur even sooner in kittens.
Pets may respond fearfully toward certain people. This does not necessarily mean that the pet has had a past negative experience with that person or another person. A pet that is fearful of men, for example, has not necessarily been abused by a man in the past. A fear of men, common to many pets, is likely a reflection of inadequate socialization to males as compared with females.
A young pet should be exposed to a variety of social situations early in life to prevent problems later, but it should not be forced to endure any situation that makes it uncomfortable. Play groups with other dogs during group obedience class, for instance, is important for every young dog. Bring your puppy to the playground to socialize it to children from the start. Your extra efforts now could have invaluable pay-offs later in a variety of social interactions that you may not predict now. Shyness in adult pets must be met with patience. The pet should be coaxed with food treats and gentle verbal praise.
Fear of Other Pets
A pet that has had a previous negative experience may fear interaction with other pets. Cats or dogs that have been raised without exposure to other pets may react negatively in social situations with other pets. These fears do not often cause problems, however, unless another pet is introduced into the household.
When a pet exhibits an extremely fearful response to other dogs or cats, attempts can be made to desensitize the animal by exposure to the feared animal for gradually increasing periods, similar to the process used for loud noises.
Fear of social interaction can be prevented by exposing your pet to a variety of positive encounters with other pets while it is still young, ideally less than 6 months old. Play groups between friendly pets are beneficial to your pet on many levels. Find one or start one in your neighborhood today!
Related to Grooming
Fear, frustration, inactivity and isolation can lead to anxiety. A cat direct this anxiety against objects, such as destruction of property, or against itself. Excessive licking, nibbling, chewing, sucking, and rubbing at hair and skin can result in self-inflicted injury.
It is important to determine whether excessive grooming began in response to an underlying medical problem or whether an underlying behavioral problem created a medical condition.It is often necessary to treat the pet for both the behavioral and medical problems that contributed to the skin problem, regardless of how it began.
Behavior problems related to grooming may be the result of:
Addition of a new pet or member of the household
Lack of exercise and attention
Inadequate brushing or combing; mats and tangles in the haircoat often cause discomfort and predispose to skin problems
Regardless of how excessive grooming begins, it may persist long after the initial cause has disappeared. Behavior that allows immediate release of anxiety tends to be repeated, becoming an enduring and persistent pattern. The excessive grooming may resolve temporarily, only to re-emerge in times of stress. It may be performed in your absence. You may unknowingly encourage excessive grooming by paying attention to your pet's selfmutilation.
Consult your veterinarian at the earliest sign of any grooming problem. A referral to a veterinarian specializing in pet behavior problems can help curtail a problem before it becomes firmly established.
Sucking In Cats
Some pet cats have a habit of sucking on a blanket, an article of clothing, or some other selected material, such as wool. This may begin in young kittens and persist into adulthood.
Typically, sucking and gnawing are accompanied by the alternating kneading with the front paws, as seen in kittens during nursing. The cat may purr loudly and salivate profusely.
Sucking is more common in Siamese and Abyssinians but has been reported in many breeds. Sucking behavior can be objectionable if the cat damages valued items. Ingestion of some of the material could result in intestinal obstruction.
Treatment depends in part on the cat's preference of material. If it is limited to one object and the cat's health is not in jeopardy, it may be easiest to sacrifice the object and tolerate the behavior. If a preference for a specific texture, such as wool, draws the cat to several items, it may be necessary to block access or make them unavailable.
The cat's attraction may be discouraged by applying a distasteful scent, such as citrus or mint, to the desired items. Increased exercise and positive social interaction with owners may also be beneficial. A wider variety of toys and more play time also help to control sucking behavior.
Psychogenic Licking In Cats
Injury caused by excessive licking in cats is aggravated by the normally rough texture of the feline tongue. Hair loss and skin inflammation can occur anywhere the cat can reach with its licking. Unfortunately, the cat's flexibility gives it almost complete access to most body surfaces, except behind the head and neck.
Some anxious cats cause only slight damage to their coat, whereas others lick themselves raw, creating ulcers and thick scabs. They may do this when they are left alone or in your presence.
Regardless of the initial stressful situation or stimulus, psychogenic licking must be controlled quickly. Appropriate medication, prescribed by your veterinarian, is frequently necessary to treat the injured skin. In many cases, psychoactive medication must be used to alter the cat's emotional state, in addition to adjustments in its daily routine. Consult your veterinarian and ask for the name of a veterinary behaviorist near you.
Underlying Medical Conditions
Medical disorders are commonly accompanied by behavior changes in pets. In fact, a change in normal behavior may be the first sign of a medical problem. Loss of appetite and reduced levels of normal activity (lethargy) are typical complaints of almost every pet owner reporting a pet's ailment.
Excessive grooming can be a sign of various physical problems, such as external parasites (fleas and ticks, for example) or internal parasites (tapeworms or roundworms). Bacterial, viral, and fungal infections can cause skin eruptions. Allergic reactions to inhaled particles, food, and medication, or contact with irritating substances can be manifested by skin abnormalities. Autoimmune processes and metabolic or hormonal imbalances are associated with a variety of skin conditions. Discomfort from anal sac impaction or infection can result in redirected grooming of completely unrelated body parts.
Behavioral disorders must always be included in the list of possible underlying causes when excessive grooming or skin problems are noticed. Anxiety resulting from separation or isolation or in response to addition of a new pet or human housemate may be expressed by excessive grooming. A cat that chews or licks excessively at its foot may have been stung by an insect or stepped on a sharp object or an irritating substance. It may have seasonal allergies to pollen or dust, or it may have an ingrown toe nail. It may also simply be anxious about a change in its environment or a lack of attention and exercise.
Some cats have even been known to bite their nails. A relatively inoffensive behavior, nail biting can become a habit long after the initial cause has passed.
Consult your veterinarian at the earliest sign of any grooming problem
Excessive grooming can be a sign of various physical problems
Why do cats scratch?
Scratching is a perfectly normal feline behavior. Although scratching does serve to shorten and condition the claws, the primary reasons that cats scratch are to mark their territory and to stretch. Cats may also threaten or play with a swipe of their paws.
For cats that live primarily outdoors, scratching is seldom a problem for the owners. Scratching is usually directed at prominent objects such as tree trunks or fence posts. Play swatting with other cats seldom leads to injuries because cats have a fairly thick skin and coat for protection. When play does get a little rough, most cats are pretty good at sorting things out between themselves. Occasionally, rough play or territorial fighting does lead to injuries or abscesses that would require veterinary attention.
Cats that go outdoors may be content to scratch when outside, and leave the walls and furniture intact when indoors. Cats that spend most of their time indoors, however, will usually require an area for indoor scratching, climbing, and play.
How can I stop my cat from scratching?
It is impractical and unfair to expect cats to stop scratching entirely. Cats that go outside may be content to do all their scratching outdoors, but the urge may still arise when the cat comes back indoors. Cats that spend most of their time indoors will of course, need some outlet for their scratching and marking behaviors so dont be surprised if you come home to objects strewn all over the floor, scratches on your furniture, and your cat playfully climbing or dangling from your drapes. Therefore, while it may not be possible to stop a cat from scratching, it should be possible to direct the scratching, climbing and play to appropriate areas indoors. Building or designing a scratching post, providing appropriate play toys, and keeping the cat away from potential problem areas will usually be adequate to deal with most scratching problems.
How do I design a scratching area for my cat?
Since cats use their scratching posts for marking and stretching, posts should be set up in prominent areas, with at least one close to the cats sleeping quarters. The post should be tall enough for the cat to scratch while standing on hind legs with the forelegs extended and sturdy enough so that it does not topple when scratched. Some cats prefer a scratching post with a corner so that two sides can be scratched at once while other cats may prefer a horizontal scratching post.
Special consideration should be given to the surface texture of the post. Commercial posts are often covered with tightly woven material for durability, but many cats prefer a loosely woven material where the claws can hook and tear during scratching. Remember, scratching is also a marking behavior and cats want to leave a visual mark. Carpet may be an acceptable covering but it should be combed first to make certain that there are no tight loops. Some cats prefer sisal, a piece of material from an old chair, or even bare wood for scratching. Be certain to use a material that appeals to your cat.
How can I get my cat to use its post?
A good way to get the cat to approach and use the post is to turn the scratching area into an interesting and desirable play center. Perches to climb on, space to climb into, and toys mounted on ropes or springs are highly appealing to most cats. Placing a few play toys, cardboard boxes, catnip treats, or even the food bowl in the area should help to keep the cat occupied. Sometimes rubbing the post with tuna oil will increase its attractiveness. Food rewards can also be given if the owner observes the cat scratching at its post. Products have been designed to reward the cat automatically by dispensing food rewards each time the cat scratches. It may also be helpful to take the cat to the post, gently rub its paws along the post in a scratching motion, and give it a food reward. This technique should not be attempted, however, if it causes any fear or anxiety. Placement is important when trying to entice your cat to use a scratching post. Because scratching is also a marking behavior, most cats prefer to use a post that is placed in a prominent location. It may be necessary to place the post in the center of a room or near furniture that the cat was trying to scratch until the cat reliably uses it and then move it to a less obtrusive location. For some cats, multiple posts in several locations will be necessary.
What can I do if the cat continues to scratch my furniture?
Despite the best of plans and the finest of scratching posts, some cats may continue to scratch or climb in inappropriate areas. At this point a little time, effort, and ingenuity might be necessary. The first thing to consider is partial confinement or "cat proofing" your home when you are not around to supervise. If the problem occurs in a few rooms, consider making them out of bounds by closing off a few doors or by using childproofing techniques such as child locks or barricades. The cat may even have to be kept in a single room that has been effectively cat proofed, whenever the owner cannot supervise. Of course the cats scratching post, play center, toys, and litter box should be located in this cat proof room.
If cat proofing is not possible or the cat continues to use one or two pieces of furniture, you might want to consider moving the furniture, or placing a scratching post directly in front of the furniture that is being scratched. Take a good look at the surfaces of the scratched furniture and ensure that the surface of the post is covered with a material similar to those for which the cat has shown a preference. Some scratching posts are even designed to be wall mounted or hung on doors. Placing additional scratching posts in strategic areas may also be helpful for some cats. Keeping the cats nails properly trimmed or using plastic nail covers, are also useful techniques for some owners.
How do I punish my cat for inappropriate scratching?
All forms of physical punishment should be avoided since they can cause fear or aggression toward the owners, and at best, the cat will only learn to stop the scratching while the owner is around. Indirect, non-physical forms of punishment may be useful if the owner can remain out of sight while administering the punishment. In this way the cat may learn that scratching is unpleasant even when the owner is not present. Long range water rifles, ultrasonic or audible alarms, or remote control operated devices are sometimes useful.
Generally the best deterrents are those that train the pet not to scratch, even in the owners absence. If the surface or area can be made less appealing or unpleasant, the cat will likely seek out a new area or target for scratching, which will hopefully be its scratching post. The simplest approach is to cover the scratched surface with a less appealing material (plastic, a loosely draped piece of material, aluminum foil, or double-sided tape). Another effective deterrent is to booby trap problem areas so that either scratching or approaching the area is unpleasant for the cat (e.g. motion detectors or a stack of plastic cups that is set to topple when the cat scratches). Of course, neither remote punishment nor booby traps will successfully deter inappropriate scratching, unless the cat has an alternative scratching area that is comfortable, appealing, well located, and free of all deterrents.Back to top
Addtional Behavioral & Training Topics are currently in production. Check back soon!We Welcome your suggestions and comments:
Main Subject Index