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Molly the Cat Isn’t So Crazy After All: Enrichment is Key


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“I adopted Molly and another cat Garvey together in May. Garvey is a sweet cat. Molly, who is about a year-old, gets very angry, she will hiss at me, swat, and bite. When she thinks I’m going to feed her and I’m not, she will become aggressive. Or when I walk by and she wasn’t expecting me she will swat. Or just for the hell of it. I have used the pheromone diffuser, calming chews, and essential oil spray. Molly also has pica. Not sure if she swallows paper but I can’t leave any paper or cardboard boxes out.

“The vet now suggested that I try Prozac and she feels this cat should have been deemed unadoptable. Do you have any other suggestions on how I can best help her? Or how we can learn to live together. For as angry as she can be is also as sweet as she can be, as long as it’s all on her terms. L. T., Glenview, IL

What you said in your last line is key. Apparently, she is generally sweet, but life has to be on her terms. Why is that a problem? And also, enrichment is key.

I’m not positive about how you feed your cats, but let’s start here: From what you said it appears that you do so out of a bowl, and at predictable times.

Instead I suggest you feed her and Garvey using a product like The Hunting Feeder or another similar food puzzle (there are dozens of choices available at pet stores and online). The new version of the Hunting Feeder allows you to measure dry food. The Hunting Feeder is coming out with a moist food version. For the time being for moist food, you can simply use a few of those plastic tops used to keep moist food fresh in the refrigerator, and turn them upside down.

The Hunting Feeder comes with four little plastic mice-type replicas. At your traditional feeding place, teach your cats to feed from them by manipulating the feeders so kibble falls out. There’s a setting on each feeder, so depending on the cat’s individual dexterity, you can make it easy or hard. Once both cats get the hang of it, begin to move the food dispensers further and further away from your away, eventually hiding them and fill each with a combination of food and treats to further entice. First you place them in spots where the cats hang out and are pretty much guaranteed to find them (hiding them in plain sight), but eventually in harder to find places. Over time, offer few and few treat and only their food.

Not only will Molly and also Garvey each spend time “hunting” indoors for food, Molly, in particular, will also have a more appropriate outlet for her prey drive. And this is a healthier way to feed cats anyway, smaller meals and more of them.

Having said that, you can feed around half to 50 to 75 percent of their food as you currently do to insure they’re each getting what they need.

Molly could be a really good candidate for being taught to walk with a leash and harness

Also, find other ways to enrich your cats’ environment – ensure enrichment with climbing spaces and hiding places, new options to investigate like empty boxes.

About the paper or cardboard that Molly chews on, the first step you’ve already taken and that’s to remove any opportunity to eat paper or cardboard. But do offer Molly an opportunity to chew. Some cats really like to nibble on cat grasses. available at some supermarkets and online; you can also grow your own. You can also stuff treats, a dental chew for cats called CET or from Hill’s Science Diet called TD inside toys, and encourage Molly to work to get to the chewy as a dog might. Crazy as it sounds, some cats just like to chew. Different cats have individual preferences for tastes and most important, textures.

Not a news flash – cats love empty boxes

As for the walk-by attacks, carry ping pong balls, little cat toys or treats in your pocket. You likely can predict when Molly will go after you. Instead of allowing that to happen, as you approach toss the toy or treats in the opposite direction. You’ll actually be training Molly (over time) that when you walk by to routinely run the other way.

The most often asked question I get these days is about CBD. YES, CBD could help to moderate Molly. But there’s no absolute published science (yet) to demonstrate. Also, for as little as we know about CBD in dogs; we know even less about cats. And not all CBD products for pets are the same, so this is a discussion you will need to have with your veterinarian.

For reasons I can’t explain when cats or dogs do things we don’t like, we sometimes push their buttons, maybe it’s because we want to be in control. Unless there’s a safety, respect her and find a space between what Molly will tolerate and what you seek in a companion animal.  You say she gets angry at predictable times. Don’t allow those things to happen that make her angry. If these suggestions don’t work, consider contacting a certified cat behavior consultant or veterinary behaviorist. Also, I suggest Decoding Your Cat, authored by the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (and I wrote the introduction), which absolutely can help.

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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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