Cat Behaviors Explained


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This one WGN Radio listener and reader, named Diane, has several questions:

“I have two 10-year old sister cats, Daisy and Moonglow.  I rescued them at an auction. They are wonderful indoor cats. I love just about every animal in the world; however, cats rule my world. I have questions concerning some of their habits.”

Q: “Moonglow tries very hard to cover her poop.  However, she scratches the wall instead of the litter to cover it up.  What’s the explanation?”

A: Might you mean that the cat scratches at the wall near the litter box after doing her business instead of covering what happened in the box?

Not all cats cover what they do in the box. For some cats it’s because they are uncomfortable spending time in the box (perhaps out of concern of another cat needs to use the box and wants to avoid confrontaton), or not so happy with the cat litter inside the box. So, it’s possible that your cat may not be comfortable to spend time in the box and wants to hit and run. Other cats don’t cover what they do for no particular understood reason, and it doesn’t mean a darn thing – except this is what your cat does.

 

Q: “Daisy loves food too much (not overweight at all).  I have tried various options for her not to overeat/eat too fast.  Not sure there is a way to change that.  Not sure if she did not get her share of mom milk as she was the runt of the litter. After finishing her food she goes to Moonglow’s dish and finishes what she leaves for her.  Yes, leaves for Daisy!  Not sure if she did that for Daisy when they were kitten.  I have to sternly tell Daisy, ‘No’ if Moonglow has not finished Daisy vomits often, hairballs. Could all this be my fault for not grooming enough.”

A: Wow – this is a lot to answer. I would only be conjecture as to why Daisy is so motivated to eat. And for many cats, that’s “normal,” depending on the level of motivation we’re talking about. No matter, Moonglow will feel more secure if she doesn’t have to share her meal with her littermate. Cats don’t generally prefer sharing food.

Indoor Hunting Feeder

I am a fan of Doc and Phoebe’s Indoor Cat Feeder. You pour kibble into five feeding dispensers, each resembling a mouse. And teach the game to both your cats so they can “hunt” indoors for the cat feeding dispensers. Once discovered, after seeking them out, they can pounce on them, and maneuver to get the kibble to fall out.

There’s no way your cat will be able to inhale all the food at once using this product, which may (or not) explain the vomiting. Incidentally, once slowing her feeding time, if the vomiting persists, see your veterinarian.

If you feed moist food, similarly hide the food on various plastic tops (the kind you may get free from your veterinarian to cover the food to keep it fresh in the fridge).

Using plastic lids, the Indoor Cat Feeder or any product, you will have to teach your cats how to search and seek the food by starting off locating the food in obvious places, but over time begin to change it up, even hiding some in elevated places. If Daisy is as food motivated as you say, she’ll quickly learn to ‘hunt’ for the hidden food.

So, Daisy doesn’t become overweight – feed only around 15 to 20 percent of your cats’ food this way. Hopefully, even if Daisy gets the lion’s share, Moonglow will get some.

If you prefer another product to Doc and Phoebe’s Indoor Cat Feeder, there are many somewhat similar food puzzles on the market, but this is a really really good one, created by a veterinarian. Also, the Indoor Cat Feeder gives back, when you purchase online, and type the code CatsWinn, the nonprofit funder of cat health studies – the Winn Feline Foundation – receives a percent of the proceeds.

 

Q: “I need advice on how to trim their nails as far as keeping them calm.  My partner does not hold them correctly either.  He gets angry when I tell him how, which is holding them sternly by the scruff of the neck.  Is there a sure way to get the job done without getting clawed or them being afraid?

A: Please don’t hold your cats and scruff them. Cats don’t appreciate that. Yes, it’s easier to control your cats if your scruff – but please don’t. Because they have nowhere to go, they are no less terrified.

Begin by plugging in Feliway, a pheromone diffuser which helps lower anxiety.

Let’s try to desensitize and counter condition – it works (especially with the assistance of Feliway and ask your veterinarian about a drug called gabapentin) but does require some patience.

First leave out the clippers on the floor somewhere (if there are no small children around). You can pick them up if you have company. The idea is that they become a part of the fabric of your home as the sofa or a computer.

Periodically, drop treats near the clipper – so you begin to change the association from really bad to better.

After a few weeks, when the cats are no longer bothered by the clippers, take one of  the cats into a room and close the door. On one end you or your partner clips a nail or a few nails while simultaneously offer a very high valued treat, like salmon or tuna. The trick is stop the clipping before the cat complains. After the event dinner is served, to further associate the clipping with a positive event. Timing is important, and you may need a veterinarian, veterinary technician and certified cat behavior consultant to demonstrate.

If you can’t proceed anywhere near this far – even with assistance from medication – consult your veterinarian or a veterinary nurse at the practice to instruct on the proper way to towel cat, using towel to “burrito wrap” your cat.

 

Q: “Daisy hates a collar or the tag, not sure if it is both or one of the other. She does not have a microchip.  Vet said she may be allergic to collars. Would a chip do the job? But what if she is allergic to that? Also, if we were to change vets, what happens about the microchip?”

A: A microchip is about the size of a grain of rice, and contains information about where the cat was chipped, but also all your contact information. A veterinarian injects the chip just below the surface of the skin. If a cat is lost a reader will scan the chip and as long as your contact info is up to date, you will be reached. If not, the veterinary professional or in some cases the animal shelter which a pet was adopted can be contacted. If you do change veterinarians, all you need to do is to go online or call your microchip provider and update the info, and the same is true if you move or change email addresses and/or phone numbers. A surprising number of indoor-only cats (not sure Daisy even is) do get out, endorse microchipping cats. I suppose anything is possible, but I’ve never heard of a cat developing an allergy to a microchip.

Here’s a video explanation, and Dr. Shelly Rubin microchipping our own cat.

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Steve Dale is a certified animal behavior specialist who has been a trusted voice in the world of pet health for over 20 years. You have likely heard him on the radio, read him in print and online, and seen him speaking at events all over the world. His contributions to advancing pet wellness have earned him many an award and recognition around the globe.

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