While it can be very hard to tell when a cat is ill or wounded – because they hide it so well – , there are certain behaviours that can give us a clue as to what is going on with them.
And whether or not a vet trip is needed.
Today, we’ll take a look at some of the behaviours our cats display due to medical causes.
Litter box issues
The first thing to think about when your kitty decides to urinate or defecate outside the box is…could they be associating the litter box with pain?
One of the most common causes of litter box issues is called FLUTD – Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease. And it is incredibly painful. Typically, you’ll find relatively small puddles of urine and often, they’ll vocalise while they urinate.
That said, those symptoms don’t have to be present for there to be something wrong with your kitty’s urine. The quickest way to find out is to deliver that urine sample to your vet.
Then there is the issue of constipation or diarrhoea. Both can be very painful, and especially in the case of constipation, easy to miss. The general rule of thumb is, though, that if your kitty’s stool is rock hard, chances are it’s not exactly pleasant to push out.
One thing to do, if your kitty had these problems and still refuses to use their litter box after treatment, is to offer them a new (cheap) box in a different colour and shape, to break the association with the pain. Then put it somewhere else, so the context is fully different as well. They may just be relieved to finally be able to relieve themselves again without fear of pain.
You know how you get grumpy and less patient when you’re in pain? It’s no different for our feline companions. This is especially true when you reach for the part of their body that is in fact hurting, because you’re unaware of their condition.
But even in general, you’ll notice that your kitty is in a mood. Especially in more chronic illnesses, like arthritis, that typically sneak up on the senior cat and be missed by the guardian, you’ll find that your kitty becomes less engaging, more grouchy and more withdrawn.
Lastly, there is the category of cats that have had their teeth or claws removed. With declawed cats, there is often residual significant pain and a chance of painful arthritis on top of everything else. But even if your kitty isn’t actually in pain, they’ll be more aggressive because one of their lines of defense is missing.
Trinity, one of my own, has had all her teeth removed due to a painful condition called FORL. It causes the body to attack itself and createpainful lesions underneath the teeth. She did become less aggressive than she was before, because she no longer is in pain.
But she also became less confident and retained a level of aggression, typical of a cat who’s not sure they can fend for themselves anymore. So she bluffs, using aggression, and errs on the side of caution, to make herself feel safe.
Being a solitary animal, cats don’t do self-pity. There is no point as there is nobody that’s going to help them, anyway – unlike with dogs or humans.
In fact, the best tactic for taking care of yourself, when you’re wounded or in pain, is hiding, so you can rest up without anyone seeing your weakness – and taking advantage of it.
Unfortunately, that means it can be really hard to pick up on the fact that your kitty is, in fact, sick or wounded. So check up on them when they’re suddenly hiding out in the back, or withdrawing from your cuddles.
Typically, if it’s an injury, you’ll find them hiding that part of their body in particular, backing it against a wall, or protecting it in some other way.
As stated above, vocalisation can be a sign of pain due to urinary tract infections – or other conditions.
Meanwhile, it can also signal something else than pain – like being in heat for example. However, in older cats, it can be a sign of their thyroid acting up – especially if they’re also running back and forth and eating ferociously, and yet are losing weight the same time.
Senior cats are are also prone to a condition called cognitive disfunction, which presents as feline dementia. Typically you’ll find your kitty vocalising and seeming utterly lost and confused. They’ll also become more lethargic and shy away from affection. And sometimes, it presents with litter box problems, because they no longer remember here the box is. There are certainly therapy options for this condition, so talk to your vet.
Licking and grooming are part of the natural behavior of a cat. But when they start licking themselves bald and won’t stop even when they hit skin…something is up.this There are a whole host of dermatological issues that can cause this – anything from parasites, to fungus to infection. And then there is the behavioral reason for it.
Once you’ve ruled out all the potential medical causes, chronic stress tends to be the culprit. You see, repeating the same soothing behavior over and over again, such as licking , produces opioids in the body – at least at first.
By the time that stops, however, it’s usually become a habit to cope with situations that they have no solution for. A habit that is hard to break. And the longer they keep at it, the harder it becomes to break that habit.
So once you rule out any medical causes, it may be time to make an appointment with a cat behaviourist.
Eating uneatable objects
Also known as Pica. It isn’t clear what causes Pica exactly, but it’s been linked to nutritional deficiencies, neurological issues and OCD-like behavior. Consequences often include a lot of destruction of property for the owner and possible bowel-obstruction for the cat, which could become life-threatening.
Sometimes, boredom can present as Pica – where a cat will chew on things to keep themselves busy. Typically, though, Pica cats have a strong preference for a specific material, whereas bored cats tend to be less discriminatory.
The most well-known example is the penchant that especially Siamese cats display for wool-sucking. But other materials such as plastic, wood, and other fabrics have definitely been the object of obsession for Pica cats before.
Often, with a good vet and sometimes the help of a cat behaviourist, this condition can be managed quite well.
Arthritis is a big culprit here. If your senior kitty is no longer jumping on surfaces, or refusing his litter box – due to the high ledge, or because it’s too far to walk – or non-stop lying in the same place, you may want to have them checked out.
In general, apathy and lying in the same place all the time can be indicative of some form of illness.
Sometimes this can be a sign of depression. If there is no medical reason for it – such as pain – , it may be brought on by understimulation and utter boredom. In some cases, you’ll also see this in an obese cat. And it becomes a chicken or egg question. Did the cat get obese and therefore become apathetic due to restricted movement?
Or did the apathy and depression due to understimulation drive the cat to eat more because it is the only thing to do in the environment?
Either way, the answer is stimulation and exercise to get them out of their funk.
Sudden behavioural changes
A good rule of thumb in general is to take your kitty to the vet, the moment something changes in their behaviour. It’s harder to gauge when it happens gradually over time, of course. Still, if your cat suddenly starts a new behavior out of the blue, you may want to have them looked at.
When Arwen suddenly started to prefer the back of the house – she normally resided by my side throughout the day – I wondered where she’d gone. When I went to check on her, I found her seemingly snoozing in the back, like everything was well. But she seemed lethargic, and was unwilling to get up.
The fact that I knew her so well, clued me in that something was wrong– that she wasn’t just lazily snoozing in another spot. And when we had her checked it, it turned out she had an infection caused by the Calici virus in her mouth. The disease gave her painful lesions, making it impossible for her to eat properly. Luckily, we caught it early and within a week, she was back to her normal, happy self – right by my side.
So, make sure you check in with your kitty’s, and know their routines – they may not be able to tell you explicitely something is wrong, but in their own way, they will tell you.
Has your kitty ever displayed these behaviours? Or did you ever notice your cat behaving off due to a medical cause? Share your story below!
When I work with a client who has a problem cat, there are 3 things that are vitally important.
The first thing I check off my list is medical issues, by asking for a detailed report on the cat’s medical history. After that, we drill down into the cat’s interactions with other family members and the cat’s territory.
It’s often the state of their territory that will tell me what exactly is causing this cat to behave the way they are.
A Solitary Animal
Cats are married to their territory, and for very good reason. As a solitary animal that is both predator and prey, they do not have a pack to defend them against any predators or rivals. So, their territory acts like their safety net.
For that matter, it is their home – where they don’t have to be on their guard non-stop. It goes back to the very core of their self-preservation instinct.
Think of it as taking a military team into hostile territory, where they have to camp overnight. The first order of business will always be to set up a perimeter against whatever’s out there.
For a cat, since they’re on their own, this is even more important.
So, how does a cat set up their perimeter and claim ownership of their territory?
Marking The Way
Using scent, cats will make their territory their own. The information left behind is likely a lot richer than we currently know. We do, however, know it communicates a wide variety of messages about who the cat is and what is theirs.
There are three types of marking they use:
Facial marking – also known as ‘bunting’ – is something they’ll use in their inner sanctum, where they feel most safe. It is considered the gentlest form and the one that annoys us, as their roommates, the least. When a cat feels secure, they’ll use to reinforce that sense of safety by gently marking everything – including you, by the way.
Scratching provides an additional, visual clue for any onlookers. It is often done in socially significant places – such as living rooms and bed rooms -, or near exits. This way, they can ward off rivals from occupying their favoured spot. it also allows them to protect themselves against the onslaught of foreign smells that may come through the door.
Meanwhile, spraying which is typically done at the periphery of their territory, to communicate sexual availability, age, sex, and, yes, to ward off intruders. It is the most aggressive form of marking they possess. You could consider it a form of ‘ busting out the big guns’.
That, or they’re horny and cannot get out to find a date.
Sharing And Defending Your Territory
Often though, our cats have to live with a certain amount of roommates. Humans are a given, but often there are other cats, maybe dogs, kids and so on. So now, this solitary animal is sharing its territory with us.
Overall, most cats do just fine with this. They’re not exactly built for group life the way dogs are, but it works. They usually employ a tactic called ‘timesharing’.
In other words: ‘ This is yours in the morning, and mine in the evening, cool?’
This is when aggression and passive aggression (in other words spraying and guarding behaviour) often occur – and these are the 2 most common problem behaviours in a cat, for that very reason. Others include vocalisation, licking themselves bald, hiding, and overeating.
As you can tell, territory is a vital part of our cat’s health and wellbeing and plays a more significant role than we as guardians often realise when we adopt this awesome creature into our midst. That said, once you’re aware of it, it can become an awesome tool to bond and appreciate each other through, in my experience.
If you want to know more about how to optimise your kitty’s territory and, therefore, their life, please join us on the email list and receive The First-Aid Kit For Cat Guardians, for free!
About a week ago, I was faced with a horrible decision.
Falcor, my gorgeous tom cat was severely ill.
But that wasn’t exactly news in our house. He’d been chronically ill for quite some time. I’d been at the vet’s office with him every 10-14 days for the last 6 months due to allergies and secondary infections. An avalanche of cortisones and antibiotics had taken over my medicine cabinet. The staff at the three clinics I’d visited with him instantly recognised my voice on the phone and were on a first name basis with me.
This time, however, was different.
This time, me and the vet didn’t even know where to start. The resistent strain of pneumonia that had kept him coughing all day, every day, for weeks on end? The anaemia? The non-stop diarrhoea? His gingivitis which had taken hold of his mouth?
And I would’ve kept fighting for him, if he hadn’t slowly started eating less and less.
If he wasn’t gently biting my hand in misery and frustration while he desperately sought relief in my arms.
His message was clear.
It was time.
We’d been fighting for his quality of life for over a year – ever since he was diagnosed with food allergies and pollen allergies. And he’d been an amazing sport, through all the pain and misery, all the healing, all the relapses, all the experimentation to find a routine that worked for him. In between the miserable moments, he’d been a happy cat -while the treatments were working – and relished his time with his Fey Fey out in the sun.
Ironically, we eventually even found a solution for his allergies. And just as it kicked in and we had his routine down – when he finally stopped self-mutilating – the pneumonia took hold.
It started out as a simple secondary infection from herpes, passed on by Arwen, my other cat. She regularly got sick like that, and had never passed it on before. While the infection was resistent to the first batch of antibiotics, she had no problem getting rid of it with the second batch. But, Falcor’s immune-system was too worn out, too suppressed from the medication to manage his itching. It stood no chance – and as we threw antibiotic after antibiotic (the one that worked for Arwen, even one that was proven to work after doing a culture) at the infection, it mutated into a full-blown resistant strain of pneumonia.
It strangled him at the finish line.
We could’ve kept fighting, trying to fend it off , do more x-rays of his abdomen to see if we could find the cause of the anaemia, and maybe, maybe we would’ve found a way to keep going. Meanwhile we’d have had to try out 4th course of antibiotics – antibiotics which had shown to be effective for his pneumonia but for some reason weren’t catching on.
…It was the first time I had to make a decision like this for a cat who wasn’t clearly terminally ill. Where I had to take the decision because of life quality instead of inevitability.
There was a war in my head between the need to end his suffering and the need not to give up on him too soon – to give him every chance and not give up just because it was becoming an untenable situation for me.
Meanwhile, the constant insecurity of what would happen next, the non-stop medicating and checking up, the incessant war against this never-ending nightmare had been taking its toll for months. It was an exhausting, infuriating and costly process – for both of us.
Because, what do you do when your kitty scratches themselves to pieces every two weeks? On the one hand, they’re happy, playing and enjoying life, while recovering easily from the ‘shallow’ wounds they self-inflicted.
On the other, it was never-ending.
At what point is cleaning out their ears, to the point of them feeling raw, no longer acceptable? At what point do you say ‘enough’, because your kitty’s nail beds are infected for the 15th time, and you know it will cause them pain when you disinfect them and clean them out every day, twice a day – to the point that your kitty becomes aggressive?
At what point do you stop trying to trick and trap them in their own home, to the point of them becoming avoidant, even aggressive towards you because you need to medicate them every day several times a day?
When you have to shove a gigantic pill meant for big dogs down their already incredibly sore throats on a daily basis, so they won’t tear the skin off their ears and head – along with several other medications?
When you see them giving you the benefit of the doubt, despite knowing you are going to hurt them and your heart just shatters at the thought of having to break their unending trust in you again?
When they forgive you for the umpteenth time for hurting them, because they know you have their best interest at heart? And they hope, despite knowing better, that this time you won’t hurt them, that this time, it’ll be like it was before?
When is it too much?
All of these treatments, individually, are perfectly reasonable and doable – albeit a little uncomfortable. But when it becomes a vicious cycle that just stacks one thing on top of another…when do you pull the plug?
There is no real line – and if there is, it’s hard to see when you’re in the thick of it. I’d like to think that I pulled the plug when he asked me to – though, if I’m truthful, I literally ask him to hold on just a bit longer, repeatedly, while I had the vet confirm that this really wasn’t working.
Then, when he started eating less and less – as fond as he was of eating – I knew for sure.
He was done.
It would’ve been selfish to ask him to go on. To force-feed him on top of it all. Heck, perhaps I was already selfish to subject him to all I did put him through while figuring out his allergies and fight his pneumonia. If I’d known…I’d’ve saved him the last six months and given him peace then.
Most cats associate the car with one thing: the vet.
And that is rarely a good thing.
Worse even, for some, it symbolises being crated in the dreaded pet carrier for hours on end in a place that smells all kinds of wrong, dragging you off to God knows where for God knows how long while you could be at home, snuggling safely in your favourite spot.
These are the ones who’ve been taken on holiday before (without sufficient prep) or have been transported over great distances when their family moves.
So what can you do when those big life events – be it the vet or a big move – do come knocking and you have no other choice but to subject your kitty to this Hell on Earth?
Well, we can show them that the carrier and the car can be extensions of their own safe haven at home.
By slowly introducing them as desirable spots instead of prison, you’ll manage their perception of what ‘Hell on Earth’ looks like. Now, if you’re working with a kitty who has been traumatised before, this will take longer as you walk them through this phobic reaction.
But it is certainly feasible.
Go at their pace – always!
Be their support, not their stressor
Go as slowly as you can
Watch for that tail-up and food gobbling before you move to the next step
Keep them focused on the task at hand by blocking of ways of avoiding it
Keep training sessions short – no more than 10 minutes and in the beginning even 1 minute can be too long!
Think of it as helping someone who is afraid of heights cross a bridge over a ravine.
The Ravine Analogy
Don’t force them on the bridge, but do stand behind them – that way they can lean back against your chest for support, know they’re not alone, while having their flight path to the car blocked off by someone who will gently remind them of the importance to his.
For every step forwards they take, you gently step with them.
You don’t push them, you don’t sigh at them, you don’t call them a pussy for taking so long. You respect their process and their pace and gently encourage them, telling them that they can take all the time they need.
You back up when you see their stress level approaches flight or fight, but only one or two steps, until their fear is manageable again, and you try again.
You point out the wonderful things that they can look forward to once they get to the other side and you do not invalidate their fear.
Your job is just to be there and let them take lead.
The Cat Application
With cats, that means you use food, toys, attention and Feliway as distractions and anxiety management.
It also means you wait for them to stop pushing themselves through the floor or against the back of something, with their ears back. In fact, when you see that, it means you need to actually take that step or two back.
You’re looking for a cat who goes from being cautious to curious in the environment – who will eat in that same place that frightened them so, because fear and food are incongruent. The moment they eat in a place, they go from fear to curiosity.
And that is what we’re looking for.
The tail-up is the cherry on top, indicating a cat who is comfortable and curious about what is going on.
The tail-up tells you they’re ready for the next step of the process. Perked ears and attention for what is going on outside while sitting near the door of the pet carrier can indicate the same things
This is where we break the exercise down to the smallest baby steps possible, to really parse this difficult thing for your cat.
And we’re going to start with the pet carrier to then move on to the car.
Remember, the idea is to turn the pet carrier first into desirable territory, to then use it as a trojan horse in the car, while we turn that into desirable territory.
The Pet Carrier Project
1. Place the pet carrier in a socially significant room – typically the living room, kitchen or bedroom
2. Put a blanket or towel inside, preferably one that has been drenched in your smell (place it a night in your bed).
3. If you have a Feliway spray, spray the pet carrier for good measure.
4. Add their favourite treats, then show them without forcing them inside the goodies inside the pet carrier.
5. Leave them be to check things out.
6. Over the next few days, replenish the snacks in the pet carrier several times a day and point it out to your kitty.
7. Watch as your cat starts sleeping or at least voluntarily go into the pet carrier. Wait for that tail-up+ eating.
8. Gently close the pet carrier for 10 seconds, then open it up again. Build up the amount of time gradually
9. Look for your cat to be comfortable while the pet carrier is locked – purring, eating, sleeping, blinking, tail-ups.
The Car Project
1. Take the cat out in the pet carrier to the car – monitor their reaction to see if they’re stressing yet.
2. If they are stressing, let them see the car from the safety of their pet carrier as you feed them treats.
3. Put the pet carrier on top of the car and feed treats. Proceed once they’re comfortable.
4. Spray the car with Feliway and add snacks and blankets with the cat’s (and your) smell everywhere.
5. Put the pet carrier inside and open it. Then close the car and wait. Slowly build up how long they’re in the car.
6. Wait for your cat to explore the entire car and eat the snacks. If your kitty is social and motivated by attention, join them inside and encourage them both vocally and with petting.
7. Once they’re comfortable in a car that’s standing still, start the motor and watch how they respond. Don’t move the car until they’re once again comfortable.
Try to keep the training sessions short as overstimulating them will be counterproductive.
8. Once they’re good, back up on the drive way and drive back to your spot.
9. If they’re good with that, put them back in their pet carrier and go for a very short drive around the block.
10. Slowly build up the length of your drives until you can tell your cat actively relaxes in their pet carrier. That means no vocalisation or escape attempts from their pet carrier.
11. As you’re going on longer trips, you may want to get them used to a big crate inside the car which can hold a litter box and a water and food bowl. Pro-tip: fill the water bowl with ice cubes so it will melt slowly over the duration of the trip.
Reminder: go at their pace at all times and back up 1 or 2 steps if you feel you’re not making progress and they seem stuck in their fear!
If you’re driving your kitty up to your new home a couple of hours away, make sure you also prep them for the new territory waiting for them there. In my own experience, it makes things just run so much smoother. They’ll feel right at home before you know it, without keeping you up at night or peeing on your new couch due to the stress of moving to a new home.
And there you have it: you’ve just expanded your cat’s safe haven to include 2 (maybe even 3!) more places!
Yes, it is a lot of work – and it will be a challenge. But before you decide it’s not worth it or you’ll never be able to pull it off, realise that this will make such a difference for your kitty – and for you. It will bring you closer together, grow your appreciation for your kitty’s fear, and make you spend quality time together.
And most importantly, it’ll keep you from resenting your cat when they start meowing non-stop on that long drive in a desperate effort to cope with the insecurity they feel, or scratch you to pieces for taking them to the vet.
You can do this – it’ll be fun!
If you want to learn more about how to train your kitty and how to optimise your lives together, join us by signing up for the email list and receive The First-Aid Kit For Cat Guardians!
Every year, cats (and pets in general) are euthanised due to being unmanageable or aggressive.
Now, there are many types of aggression, but one of the most common causes for young cats to be euthanised or surrendered to the shelter, is play aggression. And unfortunately, being labelled ‘aggressive’ makes it really hard to find new homes for those cats.
So, what causes this level of aggression?
In fact, let’s say we’d hypothetically want to create such a kitty. How would we go about it?
Well, here are the steps to follow for optimal results:
Step 1: adopt a kitten at 8 weeks or earlier
I’ve touched upon the pro’s and con’s of adopting a kitten at 8 weeks or , alternatively, at 12 weeks before. And while there are some benefits, the fact is that kittens learn social skills from their peers from the age of 9 weeks – including not to bite or scratch each other too hard during playtime.
So, for maximum results, let’s adopt one kitten at 8 weeks or younger.
Step 2: make that kitten the only cat in your home
Now, take that 8 week old kitten, without social skills, back to your home – without any siblings or even older cats to learn cat etiquette from. With nobody to tell him that he needs to hold back when playing, he never properly internalises that lesson.
However, since the guardian is still interacting with the kitten, they could certainly teach the kitty this very important lesson.
Sooo, next in our program to create an aggressive cat is…
Step 3: Play with your kitten with your hands and feet
Honestly, it’s a mistake we’ve all made – I sure have. Those little teeth and claws don’t hurt at that age and they’re so adorable, so touchable and so cuddly at that age. It’s hard to not to. And finding that wand-toy instead, can be a bit of a drag.
That said…at this point, your kitten is learning that biting skin is ok. That it’s acceptable behaviour. Normally. their siblings would meow and walk away, effectively ending playtime, if the kitten played too roughly. But we can take it because we’re a lot bigger and let’s face it, it’s adorable to see them go that crazy.
Now…wind forward 10 months.
Your kitten becomes a beautiful cat.
With sizeable fangs and claws to match.
With improved hunting skills and a drive to use them…and absolutely no idea that at that size, with that level of skill, it’s not going to be appreciated by his guardians.
…While going through the teenage kitty years, where they test their boundaries as it is.
It’s a beautiful train wreck in the making.
Step 4: Be the focus point of entertainment in the house
Now add an indoor kitty situation. While the cat has a few toys and maybe a scratching post, most of the entertainment and stimulation comes from the owner moving through the space.
Here is a young cat, bursting with energy, and nothing to take it out on, except some lifeless toy mice. Meanwhile, the guardian’s ankles pass by the couch where the cat lies in wait.
What would you choose to hunt as a cat?
Step 5: Success!
And there we have it – a beautifully aggressive cat, who purrs and cuddles one moment and attacks the next – all because of how they were raised. And you don’t even have to complete all the steps to get there – just some of them can do the trick.
The unpredictability makes the guardian apprehensive, so they start acting afraid. Next, they start moving with less confidence – like prey – which triggers the hunting instinct of the cat even more. .
Tick Tock…How long before the guardian is so afraid they put them down or surrender them to the shelter?
That sweet little kitten’s days are suddenly numbered.
So, let’s rewind – how do we undo this?
How to delete this subroutine from your cat’s programming
Here we go!
Step 1: Buy some boots
For about 2-3 weeks, if your cat attacks your ankles, wear boots inside. That way, they can do their worst and you can literally walk away without rewarding the behaviour in any way. Don’t yell, don’t scream, just ignore them and walk on.
Step 2: Walk away
When your cat attacks your hands, get up (even if it drops them off your lap) and walk away.
This is the lesson that siblings teach – if you bite me too hard, I effectively end playtime, attention and any interaction with you and walk away. It will teach the cat that that exact action is the reason you’re ending your interaction with them.
The message then becomes ‘only toys are acceptable to hunt, bite and scratch’
Meanwhile, make sure they have enough to take out the rest of their energy on. You’ll find that as you engage them in playtime with an interactive toy, they’ll engage their static toys more. But there is no need to stop there – think about adding jumping opportunities and other environmental enrichment, as well as other activities you could enjoy together – such as going for a walk on a harness.
Step 4: Adjust your bodylanguage
You’re likely automatically cringing whenever you anticipate an attack – which can become a self-fulfilling prophesy.
Take a deep breath.
Your kitty isn’t trying to hurt you – he’s just playing with you the way he always has. Take some time to repair the relationship with your cat. Remind yourself why you adopted them in the first place and make it a point to engage them regularly to re-affirm the bond you guys once had.
So be confident when you to pet them. If you’re having trouble relaxing your muscles, try it after an extensive play session, when they’re relaxed and snoozy, to minimise the chance of attack.
Meanwhile, the boots will help to ease the fear of being attacked in your own apartment.
Step 5: Success!!
In the beginning, your kitty will try harder. The behaviour has always paid off before, so they’ll need to make sure it’s absolutely no longer an option. So stick to your guns.
By taking away one outlet and providing a constructive alternative instead, the transition should be easier.
Playtime will be on your terms – no more scratched up arms and ankles!
If you would like to learn more about why your kitty does what he does, and how to prevent other problem behaviours, sign up for the newsletter, and receive The First-Aid Kit for Cat Guardians!
The annual vet trip is often a source of aggravation and stress for both guardian and kitty alike. But there are ways to truly make this a lot easier on everyone involved – including the vet, in fact.
Most of them involve desensitising your kitty to being removed from their territory and being touched everywhere, by a stranger of all things, in a place with other animals they don’t know. All of them can be done quite easily and require very little effort.
There is but one catch – for maximum effect, just about all of them require commitment and, most importantly time.
So let’s have a look!
1. The Portable Territory Manoeuvre
Most cats fear the pet carrier as much as they do the vet. That means that getting them in there on a constrained time schedule often becomes an ordeal. And it is no wonder – in this capacity, it pretty much becomes a kitty jail.
But what if we could change the way the cat perceives the pet carrier. In stead of a jail, it would become a safe haven – a home away from home. So…how do we do that?
First, leave the pet carrier out in a socially significant place. Put some treats there to encourage them to check it. Also, add an old towel in there so it can absorb their smell when they eventually use it as a sleeping spot.
That’s right – a sleeping spot. Think about it. It’s a perfect hiding spot, sure to make them feel safe and secure so long as they perceive it as a part of their territory instead of the evil cage of doom that brings them to the torturer.
When the time comes, they’ll take comfort in the familiarity of your pet carrier, instead of actively fearing it, making it that much more feasible for you to actually encourage them to take up residence there while you visit the vet.
It effectively becomes portable territory – a security blanket for the anxious kitty away from home.
2. Accessibility & Security
Many pet carriers open from the front only. That means that the cat has to be coaxed out to be examined at the vet. However, if you invest in a pet carrier that can open from the top, the vet can often examine the animal while surrounded by the reassuring walls of the pet carrier.
This allows your kitty to feel the least anxious possible during the examination which can prevent an escalation of aggression. Add the trick mentioned above, and they’ll effectively never have to leave the safety of their own territory!
3. Playing Doctor
This is especially smart to do from the get go with your new kitten, but can certainly be applied to a cat of any age.
Your kitty trusts you more than anyone – especially more than the vet. That said, you may have noticed that your cat isn’t exactly too keen on you touching their paws, ears or belly. This is because those body parts tend to be extra sensitive, frail or in need of protection.
Ears are very thin and easily torn – not to mention that their hearing is their most acute sense, making loud sounds near the ears painful. Paws contain a lot of very fragile bones. Meanwhile, they’re vital to the cat’s survival to catch food with – kind of like our hands. Lastly, the belly houses a lot of vital organs, and exposing it to a predator would almost certainly mean death.
Now, imagine a vet having to check out all these areas for your kitty’s wellbeing? If you cannot even go there without being warned by your cat, how is the vet supposed to?
So here’s what you want to do. Every time you and your kitty cuddle and they’re relaxed, make it a point to gently check their ears, push out their nails and caress their belly. This of course depends on the individual tolerance level of your kitty. You start where they let you start and you slowly build it up. Don’t ever push passed their indicated limits, always respect boundaries and never do it for too long. Frequency is key, as is keeping them happy during the experience.
Slowly but surely, you’ll build up their trust that nothing will happen to those precious parts of their body. And your vet will thank you for making their job that much easier.
4. Going For A Walk Or Drive
If you want to take suggestion 1 a step further, you can take your kitty for a walk. That’s right. In fact, I do this step also as a way to prep them for going outdoors on a harness.
After you’ve completed suggestion 1, you can take your kitty for a walk. My vet is in walking distance, so I have carriers that are more like hand bags, allowing me to sling them over my shoulder. I leave the top a little bit open so the cat can stick their head out (if you don’t trust they won’t jump out – most cats wouldn’t dare jump into unfamiliar territory, though – put them in a harness and attach it to the carrier), and get used to the outside, and their carrier.
Similarly, you can build on this exercise by introducing them to the car. Bring some treats. First they’re near the car – hand out treats, check. Then they’re inside the car – administer treats again. Next, the car gets started, but stays in the same place. After that, you go for a drive around the block, and so on. Go at your kitty’s pace so you don’t make it too hard on them all at once.
Finish this exercise with a big cherry on top: go to the vet. Feed them treats there, while weighing them in the waiting room, or whatever.
It will teach them that the vet office doesn’t have to be just a place of torture.
It can be a fun place where you get treats.
5. Be There For Them
If you haven’t had the time to do any of the above, there is still two things you can do for your poor kitty.
This is especially useful if they have to stay the night, or go into surgery and wake up there afterwards.
The night before you take them to the vet, wear an old t-shirt, or add an old towel between your blankets. That way, the shirt or towel will smell of you the next morning.
Then, add that to their carrier.
It’s a reassuring, familiar smell that will stay with them through the entire experience, giving them a literal security blanket while they go through their ordeal – something to hold on to, while they wait for you to come get them.
Be sure to tell your vet about it, so they can make sure that the cat has access to the towel or shirt at all times.
To top things off, spray their pet carrier with Feliway the night before. This is especially handy if you haven’t had the chance to do the first suggestion yet, where they have a towel with their own scent in the pet carrier. It mimics the pheromones a cat distributes when they’re marking their territory, which helps them feel safe.
So, in summary, buy yourself an pretty looking pet carrier you wouldn’t mind placing in your living room or bed room, for your kitty to sleep on, that opens from the top, and put in the time to help your kitty acclimatise to this vital part of their life. It’s important for their wellbeing and stress level, yours and your vet’s! And once you get the hang of it, you will wonder why you didn’t do any of this earlier!
So, what about your cat?
How do they take going to the vet?
Have you ever had to cancel your appointment at the vet’s office because your cat wouldn’t cooperate?
As anyone will attest, having a baby is a big deal.
It tends to change your life completely and forever. It can enrich your life, and give it meaning. Children teach us as much as we teach them, really. And it is a natural part of life, for most people.
So – have you thought about how you’re going to break the news to your kitty?
Big Changes & Prep Time
This is going to be a joyous yet overwhelming time for you and your family. There is so much to prepare for – nurseries to paint, furniture to shop, books to read, lamaze classes to take, training your husband to clean out the litter box,…
And the same is true for your kitty. After all, it’s also your kitty’s territory that you’ll modify to welcome home your baby.
Some cats cope with this quite well. And, some will need some time and guidance along the way – before they can truly appreciate this great development in their lives. This will depend mostly on if your cat was properly socialised with kids and their general personality.
One of the most obvious and early changes in the house is going to be changing one room into a nursery and adding baby furniture. If this room is a favourite for your kitty, see if you can redirect them with cat trees and sleeping spots to another room they like.
One thing you can do to make this easier on them is to plug in a Feliway vaporiser. Or, you can spray the corners of the nursery with Feliway spray after you’re done painting. Then let them check out the room and furniture.
Also, you may want to stagger the addition of each piece of furniture, so that your cat has time to mark them with their facial pheromones and get used to their presence at their own pace.
Tip: to keep them from sleeping in the crib, put a cat tree next to to the crib as a viable alternative and fill the crib with stuff that is uncomfortable to sit on for your kitty.
Soon, the other change that will set in is a new routine and a new focus. You’ll be busy getting ready for the baby with doctor’s appointments, pregnancy classes, and you may change your work schedule. Things like cuddle sessions, play sessions and even feeding routines could get affected – and may therefore affect your kitty.
While these are all natural changes, it helps to be aware that change in routine can stress your kitty very much. And this bond will change even more once the baby is born, as you’ll be busy getting the hang of a new routine.
In other words, it is possible to fall into the trap of completely ignoring your kitty and their needs due to the demands of life as a new parent. One way to avoid this trap is to include your kitty in this experience, and actually plan them into your new routine.
Whatever it is you two love to share the most, make a little time for it.
It won’t just benefit them – it’ll relax and benefit you.
New Family Member
Let’s face it, babies make a lot of noise and take up a lot of their guardians attention – your cat is bound to be either terrified or intrigued and possibly both.
Your kitty will likely need some time to warm up to the weird screaming alien life form in their territory.
One way to start early, is to YouTube some ‘baby screaming vids’ and see how your kitty takes it. Feed them some treats while you do it, to make it a more positive experience. Fun fact, did you know that a cat’s keenest sense is their hearing? Yeeeeeup. So, make sure you really offset that noise level with some serious jack pot treats, affection and play.
Next, you could invite one of your friends with a baby, to let them have an on hand experience and see what a baby is all about. Keep that bag of treats nearby for maximum effect.
Depending on how your kitty responds (and if your friend are up for it), do this multiple times. The first time, they’re likely to keep their distance.
What you’re looking for is progression from fear to curiosity.
Doing This As A Family
Having a baby can bring up some pretty strong protective parental feelings. Some people worry, for instance, about the cat smothering their baby in their crib. And this is what motivates them to close off this room to their cat.
However, if the cat previously frequented the room, this can trigger some problems. Think vocalisation, scratching, even spraying the door once the baby – and all the smells and noise – arrive.
If you do decide to close off this room, maybe your kitty could still investigate the room – under supervision – just a couple of times, once the baby arrives. That way, they know what goes bump in the night in there. And hopefully it will reduce their anxiety level.
Introducing your cat to your new born baby
Generally speaking, the best way forward is to give your kitty the benefit of the doubt.
Nobody is saying you need to leave them alone with your child – particularly not at first. But do consider including them in this experience.Give them time to catch up on what is happening – this is a big one for both of you, after all.
When you come back from the hospital with your little one, introduce them to your kitty. When your cat runs up to you, happy to see you, let them get a whiff of the baby. See how they respond. Sure, they may hiss and run away at first, but that’s ok.
They’ll come around in time.
Once the baby is in their room, invite your kitty to join you there.
Try not to force them or push, just… have some treats ready and encourage them with your voice to check things out. Most cats will be fascinated by this little lump that you brought home with you, who smells of you and…well, something else. Also, you can put a familiar smelling cat tree in there so they can sit high up and feel safe, as they gaze down into the crib.
Do this just a couple of minutes, tops. Then leave the room together,P but take your kitty with you, each time you go back in there, provided they’re up for it.
Lastly, consider putting a onesie with your baby’s smell under your kitty’s food bowl so the cat can associate their smell with all good things in the world.
Did you have a baby before?
How did you handle the baby vs cat issue?
And how well do your kids get along with the cat nowadays?
Chances are they were this adorable kitten that got up to the craziest stuff and played with everything in sight. Or perhaps you adopted an adult cat from the shelter, because you felt that ‘click’ when you went to visit them there.
It was love at first sight.
But eventually, the sun set on your honeymoon together and reality came knocking. Now, that doesn’t mean you need to break up with your cat, but, let’s face it. After all this time, you might just be stuck in a rut. And both of you have – most likely – done your share of ignoring and/or sniping. You could go on living next to each other for the next x- amount of years…or you could work on your relationship.
Isn’t it amazing how eerily similar this is to a typical, traditional relationship? Admittedly, while the general advice of ‘spend time together to re-appreciate who the other is and remember what you shared in the beginning’ is certainly applicable, the concrete applications are thankfully quite different.
You can even use it to compete with your kitty in the circle of Life. Trust me, when they master that skill set, they become freakishly fast and down-right psychic in predicting where their prey will be next – the role you get to embody!
2. Hunting games
If your kitty is very food motivated and incredibly resourceful in obtaining said food, you can use that to play ‘hide and seek’ with them. Think of it as an Easter egg hunt, where you hide dry food around the house for them to track it down. Alternatively, you could teach them how to use a food dispensing toy.
They also make amazing puzzle toys for cats whose brain just won’t quit, where they have to navigate a series of obstacles to obtain the treat. It is the perfect way to keep annoyingly smart cats out of your kitchen cabinets and busy elsewhere!
This is also the perfect way to play chess with your kitty.
You can even take it further and match your wit with theirs by coming up with your own series of obstacles for them to navigate.
Grooming is a universal signal of affection in the animal world, and cats are no exception.
Yet, there are many, many cats who hate brushing. And usually, they have a good reason for that. They either haven’t been introduced to a brush before and are scared of it. Or, more commonly, they’ve been groomed out of necessity (for instance, due to matting), causing them pain and displeasure in the process.
One way to undo the damage is to introduce the brush properly, by letting them sniff it. Then, start petting them first with your hand, then using the brush. Use the brush as an extension of your hand to replace petting – not as a tool to remove mats.
Make it a pleasurable, sensual experience.
You’ll see that if you approach brushing the way you would petting on a regular basis, your cat will start to crave that time together and return the favour with their own brush – their tongue.
And, as a nice bonus perk, the matting problem your kitty has will disappear in time. They won’t even have a chance to form with your new bonding ritual in place.
This is an obvious one, of course. The only thing to keep in mind is that forcing cuddles tends to be counter-productive.
Not all cats are comfortable being held into place. Letting them come to you and building it up from petting to sitting together to eventually snuggling up might be necessary. And some cats may never acquire a taste for it. Some prefer playing together over cuddling up together. Heck, you may just share their preference on this!
That said, your chances of regular cuddles greatly increase if you invest in strengthening your bond using some of the other activities on this list.
Now, if you’re interested in truly investing some quality time in doing something fun together, clicker training allows you to turn fun with your cat into a full-blown hobby. The possibilities are endless. Think about it – you could teach your cat to roll over, high five you, you name it!
It’ll give you a unique insight into who your cat is, what drives them and how they perceive the world, while having a great deal of fun together.
If you thought this was only for dogs, you should definitely check it out – cats are just as trainable!
6. Obstacle course
This is one of the more advanced applications of clicker training, where you teach them all types of challenges to overcome, and then put them together in a sequence – as shown in the video above. It can be an amazing mind and body work-out for both guardian and cat.
Typically, bengals, siamese and other eastern cats very much benefit from these type of exercises as it provides them with both physical and mental stimulation while getting their dose of attention from their loving guardian.
Meanwhile, those that miss having a dog will absolutely appreciate this type of activity.
7. Going for a walk
Or, you know, you could just teach your kitty to go for a walk, using a harness. If you really want to go for full-on dog rivalling.
Then distract them with treats and toys as they get used to it, for a few minutes. Take it off, and do it again later in the day. Build up the amount of time you leave the harness on, each time you do this exercise, until they are fully comfortable.
Then it’s a matter of leaving a trail of treats to the place you want them to walk up to, to build up the fun factor and their confidence to talk on the leash.
Before you know it, you’ll be ready to go outside!
So which of these activities do you enjoy with your kitty?
Have you ever seen that joke article out there – the one about ‘How to feed a cat a pill’? It’s like 14 steps long. The one they usually post next to it is ‘How to feed a dog a pill’, which consists of one sentence (step 1: wrap pill in bacon and feed to dog.)
Most cat guardians out there know it can be the most thankless job ever. Heck, forcing your cat to do anything is often a battle of wills where we win the battle but lose the war.
And what about that yearly vet visit, where you bring out the pet carrier and they run for cover? Some cats even seem to know before you bring out the pet carrier, like some sixth sense. The ‘my cat escaped’ cancellation phenomenon is one every veterinary clinic in the world is familiar with.
So how in the hey do they know this stuff?
The answer is simple – body language.
The Predator Perception
Think back to the last time you took your cat to the vet, or the last time you gave them a pill. Or even the last time you wanted to hold them and they weren’t really open to the idea.
The ‘mission’ formed in your mind. You set out to execute it. And your cat took one look at you and scrammed.
Now back up.
Look at your body language between getting the mission idea and the execution.
I bet it looks something like this:
– staring at the objective (the cat)
– going towards it in a determined, fast paced, straight line,
– lunging at them with both arms raised.
Or, alternatively, if you’ve been down this road before, stalking them and cutting off their path while staying fixated on them as you drive them in a corner.
How much do you look like a predator right now?
Exactly – you’ve just checked every box. Considering the fact that cats are small predators that are also prey to some animals out there, is it really that odd that your cat knows to run right now?
The thing is, we’re often not even aware of the fact that we do this. I certainly wasn’t. All I thought of was ‘I have to get this checked off my list’, because I still have x,y and z to do today. Meanwhile, your cat reads you like a book and realises they’re the object of whatever you’re planning…and it doesn’t look good, judging by your approach. It is this type of miscommunication that in that moment kills any chance you have of getting that cat to the vet.
And so the battle begins.
Changing your mindset and their perception
Believe it or not, but in order to actually succeed in your ‘target acquiring’ mission, you ironically have to (temporarily) forget about it.
That’s right – the key to succeeding in this mission, is to put it on hold- for now.
This is your cat we’re talking about. They’re family. And while they may not understand our human language, they clearly understand body language. Now, if you truly believe that the vet visit and the pill are in your cat’s best interest, explain that to them.
Relay that in your body language – instead of threatening them.
In other words, check in with them, as you normally would.
Go up to them in your usual, familiar way. Say hi. Take the time to do the social niceties to make them comfortable with you. Take a moment to pet them. Be genuine about your intention and enjoy this. Do not just go through the motions – they’ll be able to tell!
Then gently guide them to where you want them to be. You have a bond here, a trust you’ve earned over the time you’ve spent together. Your kitty will give you the benefit of the doubt, if only because of that trust. Respect their hesitation, by allowing a pause, before encouraging them to go on. Encouraging – not forcing. The more you force, the more they’ll resist.
It’s Newton’s 3d law, here, people – for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
The Pet Carrier Example
I remember getting a call from a friend of mine early one morning. Her cat was scheduled for a rather important and pressing vet visit that morning, but was in no mood to go. Getting her into the pet carrier was proving to be impossible. I promised I’d come over and help her, as she was clearly feeling the pressure – she was already running late and had to still make it to work as well.
When I got there, there was a terrified cat in one corner and two clearly frustrated – understandably so – guardians in the other.
The first thing I did when I walked in was breathe and change my mindset. I kept telling myself that I wasn’t there to catch a cat. I was there to reassure a terrified kitty and help a friend with a problem.
By temporarily shifting my focus from the mission of getting her to the vet to the mission of connecting with her to see if she was ok, I changed my body language.
Talking to a terrified cat
I walked toward the cat, without staring. I was just there to greet her and ask her what was going on. Nothing more. She looked up at me and I saw her gauging me and my movements. She was about ready to sprint to another corner. I paused and consciously relaxed my body without coming to a stand-still, as that too would be the move of a predator. Then, I added some reassuring and questioning high-pitched sounds. In doing so, I showed hesitation and curiosity instead of mission objective target acquiring behaviour. And she relaxed. She let me come closer. In fact, if I didn’t know any better, I swear I just about heard her sigh in relief.
She was desperate for someone to reassure her that everything would be ok. That she wasn’t being hunted like a rabid animal. That she wasn’t in any danger. And that her loving guardians were still that – loving.
And so, I petted her. Meanwhile, my friend, understandably, looked at her watch. We were cutting it really close. I gently talked, as to not stress the cat further, and said that she’d have to bear with me and trust what I was doing. And so she did. As the cat pushed herself against me for some more much needed oxytocin and reassurance, I asked the boyfriend where the pet carrier was. He showed me but also informed me that she panicked at the sight of it.
Working around her fears
And so I told him to turn the pet carrier in such a way that the opening was pointing upwards. Confused, he obliged my request. Meanwhile, I gently put my hand on the cat’s scruff and ever so gently pulled it. She went limp. I put my other hand underneath her to support her properly and carried her carefully to the pet carrier. Making sure she didn’t see the carrier as I walked over there, I then gently lowered her into the open carrier. Once I was ready to close the door, I gently let go of her scruff.
And there we had it – a kitty, ready for transport, in a relatively stress-free way.
So, what about that other difficult scenario?
How to feed a cat a pill
After much trial and error in recent months, I found that the best way to feed a pill to a cat is to first offer it to them in a consensual way. Honestly, many pills look like treats to cats and my tom cat, for instance, gobbles most of them right up. This is even more true for liquid medication that has a syrupy quality. Many will gladly lap it up.
So don’t assume you need to do anything.
However, if you do, the actual feeding them the pill may bring up some resistance. If you keep your movements calm, firm and slow, at all times, while talking to them in a reassuring voice, that resistance most likely won’t escalate. If it does, give them a little space without giving them a chance to escape. Just loosening your muscles and grip a little does a lot. It’ll help them to calm down, giving you a chance to try again. Don’t ever clamp down on a cat because that will just turn them into Houdini with 18 sharp claws. Include some petting and reassurance, even a treat after and most will have no problem with you doing this day after day.
It is intuitive to be mission oriented and effective in trying to get things down. Unfortunately, that kind of efficient control exertion works really well with objects but not so well with living beings – especially not independent ones like cats.
It is also intuitive to – once you have what you want – clamp down on it to keep it from slipping through your fingers. However, clamping down on a cat who is already panicking ends up in only one scenario: with the cat gone and you scratched up.
Going against your instincts usually is the wrong thing to do. In this case, however, due to the mission objective, our first reaction is often to control and force the situation to take place. And it’s the wrong way to go about it. If we were the cat, we’d have the same reaction to that kind of control being exerted on us, wouldn’t we?
So this is a chance to learn how to control your instinctual impulses, and truly master the art of communicating using your body language.
By focusing on your connection with your cat, instead of your control over them, you can shift your mindset and with it, what you communicate to your cat through body language.
Imagine communicating and standing together as a team, instead of at odds with each other, during this type of difficult situation.
And isn’t that just the key to any relationship?
What are your experiences like with your kitty on this subject? Share them with us in the comment section!
Do you know someone who might benefit from this perspective? If so, please share this post with them!
At what age have kittens learned all that they can learn from mom and their siblings? And are there actual benefits to weaning them at a younger age ?
Most debates you’ll see on this will either defend the position that 8 weeks is the best period for the transition or that 12 weeks or later is best for the kitten.
Today, we’re taking a look at the background and context for these stances, as both have merit for different reasons. It just takes weighing the context, background and situation of the individual to make the best decision for their wellbeing.
So if you’re looking to adopt a kitten, consider carefully when you would like to bring them home.
Into the Wild
In the wild, kittens complete their weaning at 16 weeks of age.
This is the time that mom will start telling them to grow up. While female kittens can stay, provided there are enough resources to sustain everyone, male kittens will be kindly asked to leave.
They’ll typically move on to band together into ‘bachelor groups’ before they come of age and start to compete for the position of ‘top cat’. (This, by the way, explains why some mother cats can become extremely vicious towards their sons once they hit 4 months.)
So why don’t you hear any arguments for adopting kittens at 16 weeks?
Domestication and the critical change in vital skill sets
We humans tend to take over the role of foster parent quite a bit earlier than 16 weeks. Kittens are, after all, absolutely adorable at a younger age, and we don’t want to miss out on that stage.
But is it in the kitten’s best interest?
In fact, there is a compelling argument for such ‘shared custody’. After all, domestic cats do need time to get to know the individuals they’ll be spending their life with: humans.
There are two socialisation periods in a kitten’s life. And, the second socialisation period of a cat ends at 14-16 weeks – when their training in the wild would end as well. This means that anything they’ll encounter later on which they aren’t familiar with is a potential threat in their eyes.
Cats cannot afford to take risks – they’re both a solitary predator and hunted as prey.
So, if we don’t take full advantage of that socialisation period, fear will set in, which in turn can lead to a variety of problem behaviours.
Now, studies indicate that handling kittens regularly and introducing them to new things frequently helps shift their mindset from anxious and cautious to sociable and curious. And that is a more desirable trait and better skill set to master when living with humans.
Those studies showed concretely that those kittens approach new challenges and objects with curiosity instead of fear once they reach adulthood.
In fact, the more foreign objects and the more people they encounter -in a positive way – during kitten hood, the better the result!
Faith’s phobia – a concrete example of an unsocialised cat
Faith, my feral, came to me at 6 months – way past the second socialisation period. Her mom had taught her well, but all she knew about humans was that they were to be distrusted and that they had food. .
That was it.
To this day, she does not trust me fully. It’s been 10 years – and the yearly vet visits haven’t helped the matter. I’ve recently started on an extensive training program to help her overcome her fear and avoidance.
But, I’ve had to earn every inch of her trust, so far. I’ve been at it for three months straight, and can finally pet her on the terrace, provided I bring food. Before, there was no going near her, let alone touch her. If we look at it from her point of view, she’s been incredibly flexible. From mine, it’s infuriatingly slow and feels almost insulting.
But, for now, those are her conditions – and considering the amount of fear she’s struggling with, I have to respect that. It takes a lot of time, patience and compassion to get her to revisit the limitations she imposes for her own sense of safety and to get her to trust that I won’t abuse her faith in me. Every mistake I make sets me back at least a week.
Interestingly, she gets on famously with other cats and is very adept at manoeuvring the social waters there – because cats, she was properly socialised with, by her mom.
This is what you can expect from an unsocialised pet – and understandably so.
So hijacking some of mom’s teaching time to instil that ever important trust in humans is clearly necessary. But how many weeks should we requisition?
The benefits of waiting until 12 weeks
Medically speaking, this is the soundest decision. Many breeders insist that their kittens stay with them until the age of 12 weeks because they’ll be fully vaccinated, dewormed, and so on.
Behaviourally speaking, the kittens are about to graduate kitty classes from mommy. They’ll have been imbued with all her wisdom. They’ve learned an abundance of things – caution, hunting skills (provided mom herself had the chance to learn), self-care, confidence, where to find food, and so on.
The crucial difference between 8 and 12 weeks
Interestingly, it is the interaction between siblings which is crucial to learning cat etiquette.
Mom actually finishes most of her lessons by week 8. From week 9, the kittens pair off into teams of 2 and practice play fighting. That second socialisation period lasts until the 12th week. And it is crucial to the development of a well-balanced cat.
The most vital lesson they gain from play fighting, is that when they play too roughly, the other kitten will cry and walk away effectively ending play time. Since this generally ruins their fun and ends the opportunity to practice their skills, they’ll learn to monitor the strength of their bites and attacks. They learn how to spar properly.
Kittens that miss out on this lesson often display a lack of nuance in their approach of other cats, causing unnecessary conflict and tension. Because they don’t know any better. Which in turn earns them the label of an ’aggressive cat’.
Now, combine this with the habit of many well-meaning guardians to play with their kitten using their hands and ankles – effectively teaching them that skin is ok to ‘hunt’.
Within the year, you likely have an vicious animal on your hands. An animal that is confrontational, inept and scared of interacting with others and ‘plays’ by hunting their human’s legs and arms – this time with full grown fangs and claws
. An animal that…really has no clue that what they’re doing is wrong because nobody actually taught them different.
And it is these kittens that end up being euthanised or dumped at shelters – because who would want to keep a vicious cat like that?
So knowing this…why would you even consider taking them away from their family before this vital lesson was completed?
The benefits of adopting at 8 weeks
There is one other thing that sets in at 9 weeks – fear.
As many cat guardians can attest, there is nothing that stresses a cat more than changes in their territory. Now, imagine going to a new home, away from your siblings and mom at the tender age of 12 weeks. That can be jarring. Especially since the fear reflex sets in at 9 weeks.
From 9 weeks on, kittens show a distinct level of caution when approaching others and foreign objects. This is a good thing – in the wild, this keeps you alive.
But that also means that if you catch them before that response kicks in, they’re wide open to readily accepting a new home with a loving family. They’re still in that boisterous ‘I’m-going-to-conquer-the-world’- phase, where they unabashedly approach everything nearby.
Curiosity can kill the cat, for sure, but it also comes with perks.
And this is one of ‘em.
And then, there is the fact that the socialisation clock is ticking.
What do I mean by that?
Well, at this point it’s time to consider the context. If you’re adopting a kitten who comes from a reputable breeder or shelter, who are able to make it their mission to socialise the kitten properly, you will most likely see your patience rewarded with a well-balanced, medically sound, adorable kitten at 12 weeks.
If you’re however adopting a kitten from a place that has less than ideal conditions, you’re better off putting in the time yourself and adopting at 8 weeks when mom has finished up most of her basic lessons.
Think of situations such as:
– The kitten might have to fight for food and other resources due to overcrowding
– The kitten isn’t be able to properly interact with their siblings or mom – or even other cats.
– The current guardian simply doesn’t have the desire or time to properly raise and socialise the kittens.
Taking charge of your kitten’s education
For that matter, if you feel you can provide the optimal conditions for your kitty, you could offer this option to their current guardian. These are some of the arguments you could use :
– You’re adopting two kittens which allows them to continue their socialisation lessons together
– You have other cats at home that can help teach your kitten, and you know how to introduce them correctly
– You plan on doing the work of introducing them to plenty of people and any objects they should become accustomed to
That would create the ideal situation for a kitten to bloom into the beautiful cat they are. Oh, and don’t forget about the follow-up vaccinations and anti-parasitics!
With all this said and done, don’t forget to check the law in your country. In Belgium, for instance, the law says that you cannot adopt a kitten before the age of 7 weeks. In Norway, it is 12 weeks.
So, do your homework while you’re waiting for mom to guide your kitten through that essential first socialisation period!
So what about you? Which age did you opt for when you adopted your kitty?
Once upon a time, there was a beautiful, grey cat named Princess.
She was the picture of dignity, grace and felinity.
That is, until she stopped using her litter box and started eliminating all over my couch and my bed, three times a day.
The next 9 months, I spent desperately trying to figure out the cause of her litter box issues while cleaning the house to keep it from smelling all the time. And while I didn’t know it at the time, I owe her and her behaviour a lot. She inspired me to dig deeper and set me on this journey to learn more about animal behaviour.
Litter box issues are the most common problem behaviour in cats. Plus, it is one of the main reasons that people bring their pets to the shelter. And I was almost one of ‘em. It is infuriating, not to mention exhausting to deal with as a guardian and it can drive you to the brink of insanity. The resentment and anger that builds up completely ruins your relationship with your kitty who – believe it or not – is not doing this to spite you. In fact, chances are they are as miserable as you are. They’re just desperately trying to cope with an impossible and stressful situation of their own.
So how do you deal with an untenable problem like this?
Step 1: Do Not Skip This Step – See your vet!
I know – it’s the number one piece of advice out there, but honestly, it is the most important step.
So many cats out there are ‘under-diagnosed’ since cats do not complain or show weakness. They are solitary animals – showing vulnerability can cost them their lives. Unlike dogs and humans, they don’t have a pack to help and protect them in the wild.
So, it is up to us as a guardian to detect the signs.
Typical symptoms includevocalisation during elimination, small puddles of urine and frequent urination, along with apathy and hiding.
With litter tray issues, you usually want to bring in a urine sample and have your vet check your cat for lower urinary tract problems. They could have infections, kidney stones, you name it. Alternatively, if their no. 2 is hard as stone, they’re likely suffering from constipation. And these conditions tend to be incredibly painful, causing the cat to blame the litter tray – as the pain always manifests in that location – which in turn leads to them try and avoid that pain by going elsewhere.
Litter Box Aversion After Recovery
This also means that if your cat does have a medical issue, they could keep soiling your house and avoiding their litter box – even after they’ve recovered from their condition.
Since it was the evil box that hurt them so, they rather not take any chances. And who can blame them, really?
The easiest thing to do here is to buy your kitty a really cheap, temporary box of a different shape and/or colour. Place it not too close to the old one (or, for that matter, remove the old one for now), and see if your cat will go for it. If you really liked your old litter tray, you can try reintroducing it after a while. Once your litter tray is once again out of the dog house, it is safe to try it out. Just wait a month or two after the problem has been solved.
Luckily, in my case, my Prin was perfectly fine, medically speaking. On the other hand, that meant something else was very wrong in my home. And so I start reading like crazy to figure out why she was acting crazy – from my perspective, of course.
Step 2: Identifying The Trigger
If your vet has given your kitty a clean bill of health and medical causes are ruled out, it is time to put on your Sherlock Holmes’ hat.
Let’sfind out why your cat feels the need to spread their scent around the house.
Finding that trigger can give you vital information on what to do next. Keep in mind though that the trigger might not be present anymore today, yet the problem behaviour continues since your kitty now has established this – to them – helpful habit. For instance, say there was a sale on cat sand and you brought home a different brand because of that. Your cat, however, didn’t care for it and preferred your rug in the other room instead. Unfortunately, since the rug is perfectly satisfactory to your kitty, they didn’t go back to their litter box when you switched back to your regular brand.
The trigger (= the sand) may be gone, but the soiling continues! Still, identifying the trigger can help us by providing valuable understanding into what started the behaviour and will be useful to us in our attempt to rectify it .
So, how do you find out what is – or was – bugging your kitty?
Ask yourself the following questions:
What changed in or around the houseat the time the behaviour started?
Sometimes, the behaviour only happens sporadically.
One of my clients noticed that every time her boyfriend went on a business trip, her cat would eliminate in the bed – on his side. Once he came home, the cat no longer felt the need. The absence of their beloved guardian was the straw that broke the camel’s back, so to speak.
So, if your cat is eliminating sporadically in the wrong place…what occurs right before your cat displays this behaviour?
Where in the house does the cat eliminate instead of the litter box?
Sometimes, the location itself holds the key to the trigger.
Maybe that new rug in the guest room is irresistible due to the privacy and softness? Perhaps your windows and doors get the brunt of the spraying – indicative of outside threats like other cats or the neighbour’s dog. Ask yourself – why there?
Armed with all this information, you can then check out the scenarios further below. There, you might just find the one(s) that is affecting your kitty and how to address it.
Meanwhile, all of this was unfortunately no help to me – I still had no idea why Princess had started using my bed and couch instead of her litter tray. And I am not alone in this – a lot of owners feel at a loss when this type of problem occurs. Which is why this situation can be so maddening.
So…what do you do when you have no idea what the trigger could be?
Deducing the trigger
There are 3 different ways this problem can manifest itself – spraying, urination and defecation.
At first glance, spraying and urination present as the same problem. The thing is that for the most part, they are two different behaviours with different motivators. And uncovering that motivation is key to solving the problem. So, let’s have a look:
1) How to identify a spraying problem
Spraying is typically done standing upright, with their tail quivering and a concentrated stream of urine shooting out. Usually, you’ll find a stream dripping down from the sprayed object, forming a small puddle on the floor.
Spraying is territorially motivated. Territory is vitally important to cats as it provides their sense of safety and security. Compare this to dogs who can also rely on their pack for their security – unlike a cat. This means that territory is king to cats.
Communication is key
One of the ways that they communicate their territorial boundaries without conflict is by using pheromones in their urine when they spray.
This avoids direct face-to-face confrontation – which can be really costly health wise.
It also communicates anything from sexual availability to personal boundaries and warnings. In fact, it likely communicates way more than that – things we still don’t really know about due to our own limited scent capabilities.
The thing is, spraying is also considered the most aggressive way of marking. Normally, cats will only use this method on the periphery of their living area. The middle of their territory – where they usually feel most secure – they will mark by bunting – you know, that ‘rubbing on your leg and furniture thing’ they do. They’ll rub their faces and flanks against objects and living companions to spread their scent. And then, there is of course also scratching, which acts as a way to maintain your nails, spread your scent and a visual demonstration for other cats around.
So..if your kitty is actually spraying in the house, they’re either advertising sexual availability or they don’t feel safe in their own home – at all. And they are desperately trying to deal that situation in their own way.
It’s not a ploy to get their guardians attention, or any way to seek revenge on their guardian.
For the neutered cat, it is an act of desperation, driven by anxiety.
What would cause spraying?
First off, sexual advertising would. Usually, this is accompanied by the cat desperately trying to get out to find suitors and a bunch of vocalisation.
However, when we’re dealing with territorial insecurity, the answer is any changes in the territory.
And this is where things get complex. Each one of the following scenarios is likely to cause territorial insecurity, either alone or in combination with other scenarios. This, of course, depends on what your particular kitty is most sensitive to. What stresses one cat out of their mind, won’t even register for another. (For more information on how to identify and deal with these specific scenarios, just click on their respective links)
2) How to determine you’re dealing with urination?
Urinating is typically done while squatting down, which leaves a big puddle of urine on the floor.
Though they’ll often prefer using an absorbent surface – one of the reasons why Princess picked my couch and bed for her business. So why was she doing it?
Something was wrong with the litter box.
Urination means that there is a problem with the litter box, plain and simple. For instance, the most common reason for house soiling and litter box problems is that the litter box is too dirty.
What could be wrong?
Think of things such as:
Dirty litter boxes
Wrong type of cat sand
Litter tray is the wrong size or height
Litter tray is located in an area that is too highly trafficked or there is a more preferable area available
Covered litter boxes
Not enough litter boxes available
Punishment related to litter boxes causes avoidance of those people, especially when near the litter box
If you want a more in-depth look at this problem, have a look at this post here .
Also, you should know there is some crossover between urination and spraying. This means that you might want to consider scenarios from both lists, in case there are several contributing to the issue at hand. Some cats will eliminate instead of spray to express territorial insecurity or vice versa. These situations can have components of both issues meshed together.
3) Where is the no. 2 in all of this?
Often, the problem behaviour features the liquid version, but the no. 2 is certainly also a way to blatantly mark things.
Typically, if a cat uses their box for no.1 but not for no. 2, you’ve got a territorial insecurity issue.
One possible exception is that you have a cat that prefers to have one box for no.1 and another for no.2. You may first want to add another box, just to rule this scenario out.
If they’re doing both outside the box, there is either something very wrong with the litter box, or they’re territorially insecure, or both! In this case, you may want to check out both the urination and spraying section for scenarios that checks your kitty’s box.
Meanwhile, Princess was urinating for sure and not spraying.
So, something was up with that litter box. I just didn’t understand what. About 2 months into trying to figure this stuff out, and reading all the books I could find, I finally caught a break. And my resentment towards my kitty turned into utter empathy.
One afternoon, I was sitting in the couch when I noticed Princess heading to my ‘litter room’ in the back. In that room were four covered litter boxes, all clean and ready for use. I heard her go into one of them, scratch the sand and get down to business.
As she’s digging, I noticed my playful, pitch-black Luna wake up. I watched her as she perked her ears at the sound of Princess digging. And I saw her pupils dilating, giving her an evil look. She jumped up and stalked to the back. Intrigued, I followed her. Then, I saw her tiptoe to the litter tray that Prin was in. She jumped on top of it, waited for Prin to come out and then jumped right on top of her. Next thing I know, there is a hysterical scream of a furious cat and a gleeful black cat running off. Talk about something being wrong with the litter box!
Now tell me, who of us wouldn’t choose the bed instead for our needs next time – where you could see your foe coming from miles away when you’re at your most vulnerable?
Step 3: Addressing the problem
So, here we are. You must be going: ‘ All right, I get it! Cats have good reasons for driving me mental! So, how do I fix it, already!!???’ So, here goes:
Removing the trigger
Remember that trigger we talked about in the beginning of this article? Yeah, let’s first get rid of that, shall we?
We had a look at a serious number of possible triggers above, so you should have decent idea of which ones apply to your situation.
Each one links you to another post that will show you how to best deal with this particular trigger.
In my case, I removed all the covers from my litter boxes. I then put the boxes in different rooms so there was no guarding them or surprising the other cats. And – more importantly – I addressed Luna’s boredom, which was causing the play aggression she displayed towards Princess.
Unless you clean the soiled spots thoroughly, the faded scent will trigger the cat to re-use it. So, it is important to clean things thoroughly. This is true for both actual litter box issues and spraying issues.
Pro tip: To make sure you’ve found all the spots, use a black light. Cat urine (but also vomit and no. 2’s!) lights up under a black light.
The best thing to use is a cleaning product that breaks down the enzymes on a molecular level. They tend to be available at pet shops. That way, you know for sure that even to a cat’s nose, there won’t be anything to smell. Though, in a pinch, I’ve been known to use 1 part white vinegar to two parts water, myself. Green soap supposedly does the trick as well.
In my situation, I also used a watertight tarp which I put on the bed during the day and on the sofa during the night (as I was home during the day anyways). That way, the cleaning process became a lot faster and easier.
Avoid and Redirect
In order to fully break the behaviour, we might also try to change their perception of the area.
So, what does that mean ? Well, you could – temporarily – put small food and water bowls on the now clean spot(s). If this is not an option – due to, for instance, crawling toddlers or gobbling dogs – you could also use a deterrent, instead. Think of things like double sided tape on a placemat to cover the spot.
Once your cat goes back into its litter tray, you can start playing with the removal of these things. Just make sure you only remove one so you can test whether or not the coast is clear. Then put it back, remove another, test, and so on. Eventually, you can just remove them all.
With spraying issues, you can use both the Feliway vaporiser and the spray. Clean the spots, then spray them with Feliway to encourage your cat to use bunting. The cheap variant of this is to use your cat’s own pheromones. Just rub a cotton ball along the cheeks and mouth corners of your cat and pin them on the soiled spots. That way, you mark the spot with their scent for them. You can also add a scratching post instead, so they can use their claws for marking. This is particularly useful near doors and other exits.
In my case, I didn’t use this step, but I could’ve – I just stuck with the tarp. I did make sure there was a scratching post near the sofa and plugged in a Feliway the first month to alleviate some of the tension.
It will allow your cat to vent frustration and alleviate stress. This effectively treats the symptoms of their anxiety, frustration, whatever is bothering them. It’s like what exercise does for us.
However, play time can also be used – especially for more timid cats – to build their confidence and change their perception of a specific area.
Say your cat always gets harassed by your other cat in the hallway. That hallway is going to have a very negative association for the victim. Once you’ve addressed the bully’s issues, you can retrain your other kitty to enjoy the hallway by owning it. Just like we can build our confidence by honing our skills, you can do the same with your kitty by playing the ‘quivering prey’ that hides behind things (so do not wave the thing in his face!). By doing this exercise in that haunted hallway, your cat will see that place as a hunting ground instead and feel more secure and even happy to be there.
The playtime exercise was a huge game change for me. Before bed, I would take 15 minutes to play with Princess. When I dragged a string over the bed covers the first time, she trembled so badly, I was afraid she’d vibrate out of her skin. And then, when she finally let loose, she literally bounced off of all four walls in the room. Apparently, she’d been carrying a lot of stress around.
Once we did that daily, she was more able to deal with the situation. And since she was a cat with high confidence and still happily visited the room where Luna attacked her, I thankfully didn’t have to help her ‘reclaim’ that area.
The Safe Room Option
In some cases, it can be useful to confine a cat to a safe room.
Some use this as a last resort due to the Kitty Jail trap (see below), others prefer to start off with this. Personally, I use it when I find that it just makes the situation more manageable for everyone involved.
For instance, if your kitty is being harassed and is therefore soiling outside the litter tray or spraying, you can give them a break from the bully by giving them their own safe space where they don’t have to worry about the other cat. It would restrict their access to the trigger (= bully) while they learn how to deal with it properly, through addressing the aggression and potentially staging a re-introduction.
Meanwhile, there is no where else to actually go to the bathroom. It’s not like they would want to soil their own nest, after all – that goes against every instinct they have.
How to properly make use of the Safe Room tactic
Set up your safe room with the food and water bowl on one side of the room and a litter tray on the other. Also, make sure you have some toys in there and a scratching post. The idea is to make them comfortable and safe when you’re not there to supervise. Then, let them out and have some fun times together when you are in fact there to supervise.
So how long should you keep them in the safe room? The general guideline is one week per month they’ve been refusing the litter box (up to six months), but play it by ear. You’re trying to make them feel safe, not caged, after all.Be careful that you don’t fall into the trap of creating a kind of Kitty Jail for a problem animal as that won’t actually solve the problem or alleviate the chronic stress they (and you!) are under.
Since I worked from home, I opted to confine Princess to the bedroom with us at night, so she’d have a break from Luna. Once I started doing that, along with the removal of the litter box covers and playtime, she thankfully started to make progress with leaps and bounds.
You’re not alone
All in all, this is the type of stuff that can drive people to tears and desperation – and for good reason.
I know I went mad after months of this stuff, and it wasn’t until I saw real progress that I finally felt like there was a light at the end of the tunnel. And it did take me almost 9 months to fully figure it out and put it all together from the information I had. Towards, the end, she thankfully only eliminated on the couch once every 3 weeks, but still.
There is absolutely no need to put up with this stuff for that long.
Recognise when you’re in too deep and don’t be afraid to contact your local cat behaviourist for help. In many cases, this can be resolved within 2-3 weeks. In some, it’ll take a bit longer.
And do it before you’re too far gone, before you no longer have the energy, belief and willpower left to actually do the training that is required to remedy the situation.
Before you start resenting your cat so much that you no longer can get past it.
Start with your vet. Often, your vet will know someone to recommend.
Do you have a cat that drives you crazy by soiling your house? What tricks have you tried already?
We strive for the perfect little home, with the perfect garden or balcony, neatly separated from others by a white picket fence, while still closeby.
Our very own nook in the world.
There’s an inherent need to just own a little bit of the world. To make it your own and become your inner sanctum, only to share with loved ones – like our kitty.
Many animals share that need.
Very much so.
However, they don’t necessarily agree with us on the size, shape and general boundary of that little nook. In that respect, we may just have more pets than we realise, really.
Which means you may have some unexpected visitors barging into your space – like your garden, balcony, and even your inner sanctum if they know how to work a pet door. Now, safe from the latter, we tend to not care, as long as they don’t wreck things, right?
Well…your kitty just might, though.
Your cat may not agree that the house is the boundary of your shared territory. And that garden or terrace of yours? It can become a very hotly disputed piece of land, causing your kitty to feel like they’re under attack.
And this, in turn, may cause some seriously undesirable behaviour in an attempt to ‘defend the fortress’. Such as spraying, eliminating, hiding and even aggression – making it effectively your problem, as well.
In fact, we often aren’t even aware of the problem until our kitty starts eliminating outside the litter box. Suddenly they prefer to use their liquids to literally ‘build a moat’ around their territory, targeting windows and doors where the offending parties can be spotted from. They feel officially under attack and the enemy is right outside their doorstep.
So, what can we do to assuage their – often justified – territorial insecurity?
1. Removing The Offending Party From Your Property
First off, removing the trigger if possible is certainly advisable.
That means removing any reasons for other animals to be attracted to your garden. Think of things like spaying or neutering your kitty – or the boys will leave their calling card on your doors and windows. For that matter, use a black light to check for calling cards! But, also remove places that can be used as a litter box, such as an empty flower bed. Lastly, remove any food stashes that may attract things like raccoons, possums and stray animals.
Then, we fortify the perimeter.
Close up any gaps in fences, if you have any.
And, if all else fails – use deterrents such as the Scarecrow and an air canister. Just keep in mind you want to use these things when your own cat is inside.
If you have an outdoor cat, also consider building them a ‘catio’ high up and outside. That way, they can climb up high on perches to oversee their territory from a safe spot and guard it.
2. Blocking Off The Offending Party
So..what if you cannot remove the offending party because they’re walking on a piece of property that just isn’t your?
Meanwhile, your kitty still considers part of their territory – and can see them through the window.
Try to block off that window. Now, this may be temporary but in some cases, the block needs to go up permanently. This will depend on your kitty, and the situation. For now, though, help them calm down by making the trigger ‘go away’ by blocking off their line of sight.
Now, if your kitty is eliminating outside the box and hiding, you may want to break out the wand toy to build their confidence in the room where they feel so insecure. Let them catch the toy often to change the context of the room to that of a hunting zone where they’re the confident predator.
If your kitty is aggressively charging the windows (and maybe even attacking you), you could also try to use the toy as a distraction technique to keep them from fixating on the window.
After a few days – or rather, once they’ve calmed down a bit, you try the next exercise:
3. Building Positive Associations
Say the offending party is a dog walking by on the street.
There is no way you can keep dog owners from walking their dog there, but it may still be upsetting to your kitty.
So, it is time to change the context. See if you can ask a friend who has a dog to help you with this one, so you can control the exercise. Also, try to do this when nobody usually walks their dog.
Alternatively, you could do it at the time that everyone walks their dog and play off of the opportunity they provide.
Now, make sure you have your cat’s favourite treat ready. Next, remove the object blocking off the window and get ready. Either cue your friend, or wait for someone to walk by with a dog. Do not let your kitty escalate – try and keep their focus on you and the treat.
You see, it is kind of hard to both enjoy food and stay stressed and defensive at the same time. So we’re giving our kitty a choice. And, in doing so, reprogramming their opinion of the offending party. Their presence equals delicious treats that they only get when the other animal is present.
Now, if that isn’t a reason to reconsider your animosity, what is?
Build up the time of exposure as you progress with the exercise. Make sure they don’t get too overstimulated and do not let things escalate. Over time, maybe…just maybe you could remove the object blocking the window completely.
Of course, this exercise depends on the predictability of the offending animal’s presence and your level of patience and devotion.
Dealing With The Moat
Throughout all of this, do not forget to blacklight both inside and outside the house and use an enzyme cleanser to remove all scent marking that has been going on.
Also, put more litter boxes out – especially on the spots that have been chosen to be marked near the windows and doors. It’ll allow them to use the litter boxes to build their moat.
Rest assured, this is a temporary measure you can remove once you are incident free for over a week.
Meanwhile, this type of situation has a way of making one feel hopeless, so please, do not hesitate to call in back-up in the form of a professional cat behaviourist. A guiding hand can do wonders and reduce the amount of frustration and time spent on training significantly, after all.
If you would love to learn more about why cats do crazy things– like build moats of pee around your home – join our email list so you won’t miss any future articles.
It will also give you access to my First-Aid Kit For Cat guardians, to help you optimise your live – both your lives.
We have the pleasure of forming a new acquaintance, some misunderstanding arises and suddenly we’re absolutely filled with antipathy towards that person. We either start avoiding them like crazy or blow up on them, causing a serious falling out.
What would it take to make you re-approach that person with an open mind?
For that matter – what if that person…is your own kitty?
How do we get passed these slights? Especially if it isn’t an option to avoid them – like, say, if they were your roommate and family member?
It honestly isn’t that different for cats and humans.
If negative associations with said person are what caused the rift, then resolving your differences so you can re-establish trust through forming positive associations becomes key.
But it doesn’t stop there. Misunderstandings often occur with no one to blame. Someone looks at another a certain way or laughs at a moment that gets misinterpreted and voila – instant conflict. So, preventing that situation from repeating itself is going to be important.
And of course, then there is the fact that when we’re stressed and miserable, we lash out. Misery, after all, loves company. Relieving chronic stress and optimising your living conditions, in particular, will benefit your social skills a great deal.
And the same is true for cats.
Unfortunately, there are rifts you cannot come back from, no matter how hard we try. And this point of no return is different for each individual – depending on the topic, personalities involved and the trauma inflicted. Similarly, the duration, complexity and intensity of the situation will play a large part in the resolvability of the problem.
So how do we put this all into practice? How do we apply it concretely to our feline companion’s problems?
In other words, what do we do when our kitty is less than happy about the new pet we brought home? Or when the dog won’t stop pestering them? When your two fur babies just won’t stop hissing and clawing each other up? Or when your cat is terrified of you, your spouse or your children?
1. Fostering Positive Associations
Re-introduction is an attempt to break the pattern the two parties are stuck in. We all fall into patterns and it is all too easy to stay there, even if they are a negative pattern. It costs significant energy and effort to re-do the work you put in to form your previous conclusions and stay open to a different result.
First, we set the stage. That means no unsupervised interactions, period. No possibility of negative affirmation in the slightest. From now on, all interactions are a positive thing. That means confining the warring parties to different parts of the house, if need be. It also means making your presence (if you are one of the warring parties) a positive one at all times.
And now, we bribe.
Just like ‘grass’ is legal in cat land, so is bribery – in fact, it’s encouraged!
Check out Step 4 in this article on how to foster all those good ‘feewings’ you need to restore harmony and peace in your household. Cliché, but true – sorry.
One thing to consider
If you are part of the war, check in with yourself.
Do an intake of your attitude towards your cat.
Chances are that over time – due to the growing apathy and antipathy between you – you’ve started responding to the cat primarily when they caused a negative reaction in you. And chances are you aren’t even fully aware of that tendency, yet.
If so, invest in repairing the trust and bond you once had by engaging in joyous activities together. Challenge your negative responses to their actions. Ask yourself instead why your kitty would do such a thing, Then see if you can channel their motivations and energy in a way that you find acceptable or even appreciate.
In other words, try and remember why you adopted and love your kitty in the first place, so you can regain that bond you had.
2. Using Distractions To Break ‘The Stare’
One of the things you’ll run into more with re-introductions than with actual introductions, is the threat of the Stare.
Staring is considered an overt threat by most mammals.
It is also something we do when we don’t trust someone. And the same is true for cats. So when you’re doing the food ritual described in the previously mentioned article, you may want to have the option to close a door, or lower a towel onto the door to break that stare, before it escalates into violence. In the final stages, a piece of card board may suffice.
The Stare often is the first sign of aggression. And more often than not, we miss it, because a) we’re not looking for it, and b) it tends to be a rather subtle yet infinitely significant gesture.
The longer the two warring parties are exposed to each other, the higher the risk that the Stare will occur. This is why you want to build up the amount of time that they are exposed to each other carefully. Also, try to end the interaction on a high note, whenever possible. Think frequent but short training periods.
3. Optimising Their Happiness And Living Situation
Nobody is at their best when they don’t get their needs met.
We get short-tempered, chronically stressed, insecure, and eventually just snap.
Besides food, water and a clean litter box, a cat needs to feel safe in their own home (territorial insecurity) and have something to actually occupy their time with (environmental enrichment).
Creating a kitty sanctuary doesn’t have to be expensive, either. It just takes a little bit of effort, creativity and empathy to understand exactly what it is that your cat needs to be the best they can be.
And…if you are one of the warring parties…you may want to do the same for yourself.
A little self-care goes a long way!
Complexity and Intensity
Despite all of the above, these types of things can in fact be too complex and too high-stake to handle on your own.
There is no shame in bringing someone in to help you make sense of it all and straighten it out if at all possible.
Especially considering the fact that consequences of this stuff can be elimination 3 times a day on your bed and sofa, destruction of your property, non-stop vocalisation at night causing sleep deprivation and increasing antipathy towards your beloved pet.
Any reasonable person would go nuts (chronic stress, hello!) in that type of situation.
One thing your cat, any warring party, yourself and your behaviourist will undoubtably agree on is:
The sooner it is resolved, the better!
Meanwhile, if you would love to learn more about step 3, please check out my First-Aid Kit For Cat Guardians. It is freely available to those that join our email list.
And, it has all the basics on optimising your lives together!
One of the most helpful things you can do for your cat is to introduce yourself and your family properly.
Sounds simple, right?
It is – provided you go about it the feline way.
Starting off on the right foot is vital, especially for a small, solitary animal. Relationships aren’t the priority – safety is. They just cannot afford to trust first.
I personally didn’t think of this, back in the day. That is the benefit that we as the bigger, more powerful animal have. We don’t have to worry about getting this right or being careful. I learned the hard way, though. WWIII erupted in my home when I brought home Trinity to Princess. A month of growling, hissing, fighting and hiding ensued.
To this day, I’m embarrassed and guilt-ridden I even made that mistake. Thankfully, the guilt and shame made me research like mad. I read Cat vs Cat by Pam Johnson-Bennett and fixed things, while properly planning out the introduction for our third addition – Luna.
So, what exactly does a proper introduction look like, then?
Step by Step At Their Pace
Feeling safe is priority one and we can definitely help them with this.
By going at their pace, each step of the way, we can show that we – and our family – have good intentions.
That way, the cat has the chance to process this as best they can, without getting overwhelmed. If we want them to become part of our family, building trust is essential, after all.
So, tell your kids and spouse to be patient. Also, keep the family dog away from them for now. Lastly, keep them separated from other cats.
Step 1. Indirect Introductions
First off, you want them to feel safe in your now shared home.
From behind the walls of their safe place, your new kitty will hear your voices and get familiar with your scent. This allows them to pick up on a lot of information about you and your family, before there is any risk of conflict.
Step 2. Scent-Swapping
And now we start building trust. With you feeding them every day, they’ll already start to associate you with the food. In other words, they will start to associate you with good things happening.
Bribery is totally legal in kitty-land.
But we can certainly go beyond that. If you have a dog, cat or kid, see if you can get a small towel or sock with their scent in it. Rub the other pets down with it, especially alongside the mouth corners and chin. Ask the kids to wear something or put it in their bed for a night. Now, put that piece of cloth underneath the cat’s food bowl so that when they eat, they associate that smell with good things too.
Oh, and don’t forget the other [insert pet] in this equation!
They too will have to be properly introduced, so see if you can feed them on the other side of the door. Add something smelling of the cat underneath their food bowl, so they can get used to each other. Trust me, they’ll be dying of curiosity and eagerly awaiting that ‘dirty’ sock chockfull of scent information about this intruder!
Step 3. Site-Swapping
Once they’re comfortable in their own room, and showing you a tail-up, it is time to do a site-swap.
Have your family members leave the house. As for the pets, put them in a carrier out of the way, or take them for a walk.
Then, open the door. Let your new cat get comfortable with all that territory they haven’t seen before – as explained in step 5 of the cat adoption article. Once they’re done, put them in a carrier, and put them in one of the other rooms for a couple of minutes. Meanwhile, your resident pets get to check out their safe room. They’ll be wanting to check out and reclaim this part of their territory.
Then, put everyone back where they – for now, belong. Repeat as needed.
Once we have ears and tails up all around, we’re a go for the next phase.
Step 4. Meeting Face-To-Face
Finally, we get to the good stuff – meeting face to face.
Here’s where we take into account each species involved, to optimise our chances for a good first impression!
Cat vs Cat
With other cats, you want to open the door as they’re eating on both sides of the door, ever so slightly.
Keep the interactions brief, and do this several times a day. Build up the amount of time that the door stays open. Also, be on the look-out for signals such as staring and focusing on the other cat instead of the food. Break the stare by closing the door before things escalate.
Eventually, you’ll be able to open the door fully without either one of them batting an eye. You may want to do this one cat at a time to keep the situation controllable for you. Also, it might be a bit too overwhelming for the new cat, otherwise. Personally, I always play this by ear. I let any cat that wanted to join in join in, and only restricted their access when I saw that the new cat was backing away.
Dog vs Cat
With the family dog, you want to make sure that the dog is on a leash and focused on you.
At all times.
It is imperative that the dog focuses on you and actually listens to the command ‘sit and stay’. Use treats if need be to focus their attention.
One idea is to place a scratching post nearby, so the cat can go up there to feel more safe. Let the cat dictate the pace of the interaction. Open the door to the safe room, and leave it open so they can retreat. Let them check out the dog while the dog stays focused on you. Keep these interactions again short and sweet at first, then build them up.
Eventually, you’ll see the cat go up to the dog and actually interact with them. It’s fine if the dog at this point turns away his attention from you in order to get to know them. Keep them on the leash, in case they get too exuberant, though.
With both types of pets, do not leave your new cat with the others without supervision. That is, not until you have witnessed them interacting long periods of time with each other without any issues. Only then should the safe room be dismantled.
Kid vs Cat
With the aliens knowns as ‘kids’,see if you can teach your kids to let the cat come to them.
Show them how to respect their wishes, not stare at the cat and hold out their hand for the cat to sniff at the same time.
With smaller children, you may want to use a cat tree so they can observe the toddler from high up, where they’re safe from grabby little hands. Make it worth their while with treats if you have to.
Kids really are like aliens to cats – they are big (in comparison to the cat), unpredictable, flail about, jump up and down and scream very loudly at the weirdest moments – as lovable as they can be. It will take your cat some time to observe them from the safety of their cat tree. This will ensure that your kitty can predict your kid’s behaviour properly so they can feel safe around them.
One big icebreaker in this situation, is a wand toy. Equally beloved by both cats and kids, it can really help form a solid bond between them over the endless hours of playtime together – especially if the kids are taught how to use the toy properly. While I wouldn’t break it out during the very beginning of the first interaction when both parties are sizing each other up, it certainly can be a great help later on.
Human vs Cat
With adults, it is often enough to just sit down on the couch, ignore the cat for a bit and let the cat check things out at their own pace.
Though, performing feeding duties will very much speed up the bonding process.
Try to let the cat go at their own pace at all times and get used to one family member at a time. This is especially important when introducing cats, dogs and kids. Otherwise, it will be harder to control the situation and all the moving parts for you. At the same time, you run the risk of the cat becoming completely overwhelmed, which is counterproductive.
Always look for that tail-up.
And there you have it – polite introductions all around, setting the stage for you all to become a close-knit family!
So, how did your first meet-up with your kitty go? Was your kitty eager to get to know their new family, or a bit hesitant and in need of some encouragement? And for those with a multi-pet home or kids, how did those interactions fare?
It is the number 1 problem people call cat behaviourists for. And for very good reason, as cats, by their very nature, are supposed to be very clean animals.
Yet, their sweet little fluff ball is choosing a different litter box than they had anticipated.
Fortunately, most cats don’t make this decision lightly. And however infuriating, exhausting and exasperating this situation can be, there is likely a very good reason your cat is doing this.
If it’s not due to territorial insecurity or physical pain – please, do see a vet to rule this out -, there is often something very wrong with the litter box itself.
So, let the process of elimination – pun intended – begin! And remember that multiple answers are allowed for this test!
Here we go!
1. Dirty Litter Boxes
Believe it or not, this is the number 1 reason out there that cats have litter box issues.
So, if you yourself wouldn’t use it, chances are, the cat wouldn’t either.
The moment that they have to navigate excrement and wet patches, things go wrong. If they do not have the room to actually dig and do their business, they might just decide that it’s not worth the effort.
And I’m sure we all can sympathise with that.
Meanwhile, the bed might just become their next favourite spot. Unfortunately, whatever you do, if you have an indoor cat, you will have to clean up after it. That’s just a harsh fact of reality.
Fortunately, it is our choice and in our control where they go – they’re usually pretty flexible that way.
So, we can either clean the litter box, or clean the carpet/bed/couch!
2. Wrong Type Of Cat Sand
Did you by any chance change litter brands recently?
Generally speaking, cats prefer a fine, unscented sand that clumps together – especially if you’re running a multi-cat household.
But, every cat is different and has their individual tastes.
One of the easiest ways to find out what they prefer is to offer them a literal buffet of litter boxes, each containing a different cat sand. And if you do have a multi-cat household, don’t be surprised to find that some of your cats may prefer one type while others may prefer another.
3. Wrong Size Or Height Of Litter Box
Suppose you’re a wee kitten, or an old chap suffering from arthritis. That ledge of the litter box can seem like an insurmountable wall. So, for the wee ones and the elderly, consider a litter box with a lower ledge.
Meanwhile, if you’re a strapping, red blooded, big boned tom cat, your average litter box is going to be rather cramped.
In fact, did you know that most litter boxes out there are too small for your average cat?
The right size = your largest cat x2 length-wise, and your largest cat x1 width-wise
4. Area Too Highly Trafficked Or Other Area More Preferable
Cats are at their most vulnerable when they’re doing their business.
So, they tend to prefer an area where they do not have to constantly be on their guard. This becomes even more important if your house has screaming kids, other cats and barking dogs.
Often, guest rooms, laundry rooms and bathrooms are selected instead due to low traffic.
Interestingly – and to the despair of many an owner – the dining room is a big hit. And when you think of it, it makes perfect sense. That room usually doesn’t get used except for big family events and often has a nice rug to absorb liquid while being sheltered under a table. Meanwhile, it usually features 2 or more exits – especially appreciated by those in a multi-cat household!
So, see if you can compromise between their comfort level and yours. In some cases, you may have to concede temporarily and put a litter box under the dining room table, at first. After your cat has been using the box faithfully again, you can move it to the side – gradually. That way, you can find a spot for it that is less of an issue for you and your family.
You may also want to temporarily remove your favourite rug under that dining room table. That way their pleasant alternative isn’t there anymore to tempt them. Besides, you might just want to get that thing cleaned, anyways.
5. Covered Litter Boxes
This is a problem found especially in multi-cat households. It certainly was one of the major contributors to my litter box issues with Princess.
You see, other cats may take to blocking the exit or jumping on top of the cat coming out of the box.
Which is exactly what my black beauty, Luna, did with Princess every time she went into the litter box. Who wouldn’t opt for the bed and couch instead, where you can see your nemesis coming from a mile away?
But even for single cat households, it’s not exactly recommended. The inconvenience of having to remove the lid makes it way more tempting for cat owners to put off cleaning the box. While this hides the mess from view, the smell get concentrated inside and the sand doesn’t get a chance to dry. The toxic fumes alone are enough to keep anyone from wanting to go in.
On top of that, it adds to the problem of the box feeling too small to use properly. If you like the box due to the fact that it contains everything nicely, you may want to try a box with high sides, instead.
6. Not Enough Litter Boxes: 1 Per Cat+1
The ideal situation is one litter box on each floor of your house, and 1 box per cat + 1, so research tells us.
So, if you have 6 cats, you ideally need 7 boxes. Yikes, right? The reason for this is that some cats prefer to do ‘no. 1’ in one box and ‘no. 2’ in another. Then there are the cats that refuse to use a box after a specific other cat.
On top of it all, there is the problem of guarding.
If you have a ‘litter box room’, it becomes easier for one cat to guard the entrance to that room. Or, for that matter, the pathway leading to that room. This in turn makes it hard for other cats to use that room – who might then opt for a more convenient and attractive alternative.
You ideally want to have 2 or more locations so that guarding is a non-issue – especially if there is tension in your home between certain cats. If that’s the case, you may even want to make sure that each cat has access to each resource (food, water, litter box) within their part of the territory inside of your home.
Meanwhile, the box being inconveniently far can create another problem.
Especially for sick and elderly cats who may have some trouble getting to the litter box in time. So, see if you can have at least one litter box on each floor of your house, in order to keep them from using potted plants and beds instead.
There is this myth floating around that teaching a cat to stop eliminating in the house is simple – you just push their nose into what they did wrong.
Unfortunately, that myth is not just cruel, it is also likely to do the exact opposite of what it’s meant to do.
In most cases, all it provides is a convenient excuse for a frustrated guardian to lash out at their cat.
And all it teaches the cat is that their guardian is crazy, and they should avoid them. Because otherwise, they get punished for something that they cannot exactly stop doing – eliminating. Which means that if the guardian then happen to be near the litter box, they’ll likely find another place to go. And the cat will likely start sneaking around so they won’t get caught.
When punished like this, a cat may avoid their litter box all together as it isn’t safe to be seen near it, in their mind.
One Small Disclaimer
Nobody is likely to have ‘the perfect situation’ at home, litterbox-wise, as laid out by this list.
Do not feel compelled to adjust everything in your house according to this list.
If your situation works for you and your kitty, that is great!
Cats are individuals – what bothers one, won’t bother another at all. So, please, use this list as the tool it was meant to be. It is meant to help you Sherlock Holmes’ the particular problem your cat is desperately trying to communicate, not as the 10 commands as handed down by God.
Some cats will have no problem using a covered box and even benefit from it in their particular situation. Others may have no problem doing their business right next to a dryer going full blast. Meanwhile declawed cats are likely to have sensitive paws that hurt when their litter boxes have a coarse kind of sand in them. They may seem to go elsewhere just out of mere spite, despite you doing everything righty. Yet, it is the pain in their paws that is the real culprit.
Do right by your kitty and yourself, in this situation and negotiate the best possible compromise for everyone involved.
That’s the only thing that counts.
So, how picky is your kitty about their litter box?
What is important to them – and to you – when it comes to their litter box?
You probably have been there – or know someone who has. ‘Oh, we’ll just adopt this one cat.’ And then six months later ‘Maybe they’d like a friend, right? It’s so nice to have someone to play with, after all.’
And before you know it, your house is covered in hair, covered in cats and covered in awesome.
However, cats are..different from us when it comes to living in groups. And even if you introduced them gradually to each other, your clowder still needs to find their groove.
To Hierarchy Or Not To Hierarchy
While we still don’t fully understand how exactly they find their groove, there is a certain pattern that cats employ.
From what we can tell, they have a type of… flexible hierarchy.
For example, cat A may have dips on the food bowl. And cat C may just be queen of the window sill, as that is their priority and favourite spot. Meanwhile, cat B may be second in line to the food bowl, be last regarding the window sill, yet rule the bedroom.
Basically, whoever wants it more tends to get their way.
They also have – to us – rather crude interpersonal skills. They usually prefer to employ personal, one-on-one contracts with each other, also known as ‘time-sharing’.
Basically, they avoid conflict by doing something like this:
‘Hey, how about you take this spot in the morning?
I’ll come on over in the afternoon when you’re off for your walk anyways. That way we don’t even have to see each other’s face, cool?’
This allows them to share space even if they don’t particularly get along. Conflict can be really costly when everyone has claws and fangs, so avoiding it at all costs is in everyone’s best interest.
While cats absolutely can make friends and likely care deeply for others, there is no such thing as pack protection.
There is no leader, no cooperation, no organisation and no deferring to others – in any situation. Though, you’ll find more assertive and influential personalities within a group, of course.
However, safe from queens babysitting each other’s kittens while they hunt, cats tend to stand alone.
Therefore, territory and who owns whatwhen is everything. Especially when you live in tight quarters together. In a way, it’s more of a roommate situation rather than a patriarchal family situation – which dogs, for instance, employ.
So now, what happens when you have too many roommates in one house? Or, what happens if one of the roommates takes over the place without any regard for the others?
Exactly – things turn (passive) aggressive, in a fight for your right to personal space.
Territorial issues are a typical problem for multi-cat households.
You see, according to research, most male cats need on average 4-5 rooms to themselves. Meanwhile, most female cats need 1-2 rooms to themselves, depending on the personalities and interpersonal relationships involved. This is, of course, a generalisation about the species itself, and can differ when considering the needs of the specific individuals involved.
Still, you as the guardian may just find yourself with a spraying war on your hands. Say a dominant cat just goes around aggressively marking everything as theirs. In response, a more insecure cat may start spraying as well, in an attempt to carve out their own little spot – without risking direct confrontation.
This is especially true for indoor cats. We’re especially talking about those that have nothing else to do all day but pick on their fellow cats. They’ll go so far as guarding the ‘litter box room’ if the litter boxes are grouped together. Or, they might even sit on top of covered litter boxes to jump onto the unsuspecting cat using it when they exit the box. My Luna did this to Prin in my household, causing a heap of trouble.
That cat, of course, will be looking for a safer place with more escape routes after that – often someone’s bed or sofa.
For this reason, it is always a good idea to have at least 1 litter box per cat + 1 *and* to keep those litter boxes at least in 2 different locations, uncovered, so that guarding and surprising fellow cats becomes almost impossible.
And sometimes, they’ll go outright aggressive and try to drive out any cat that invades their territory. WWIII might just take place in your bedroom or living room. And a re-introduction might just be warranted, in this case.
‘Faking’ Enough Territory To Go Around
So how do we avoid – or even fix – this?
Well, let’s look at how we can increase the territory available and alleviate some of the stress. Yes, you heard me – we’re going to be *adding* onto your home – vertically.
You see, one of the things you can do is add high hides.
Cats see a place in 3D, so you can add a 3D dimension to your place by giving them wall space to climb on, things to sit on and snoozing spots on windowsill.
Especially timid cats love a high hide as it provides a place to watch all the action from the relative safety of the sidelines. With multiple-cat households, adding different ‘levels’ can help alleviate tension. When not everyone is on the same rung, it comes off as less threatening.
So why is that?
The Sofa Exercise
Well, think of an empty room.
Now add 3 cats to that room.
Even if it it is a big room, those cats – with nowhere to hide and nowhere to go – will be pressing themselves against the walls and floors, avoiding each others gaze in a desperate attempt to avoid conflict.
Now, add a sofa to that same room.
Suddenly, there are three levels to sit on – the back, the armrest and the seat (and as a bonus: don’t forget the floor and the option to *hide* behind the sofa!). Even though the room is bigger than just the sofa, you’re likely to find the cats all three on or around that sofa, especially if they’re familiar with each other.
They can now divide up that sofa. Everyone gets their own spot, instantly easing the tension. The levels provide an added security that this is theirs and the other level is someone else’s, basically.
Resources For All
If their owners then claim the sofa, however, the cats’ll need their own furniture to do the same with – cat trees, scratching posts, shelving to go from one side to the room to the other, you name it.
Putting a big, stable cat tree in the family room where all the activity takes place is, for instance, an excellent idea as a feline alternative for the sofa.
You may even find that your house has been split up into ‘zones’ that are assigned to different cats.
If you have cats that don’t exactly get along, it might be wise to make sure that the communal resources – food, water and litter boxes – aren’t squarely placed into one cat’s territory, but spread out. Or, at least placed in neutral pathways with multiple escape routes, so that everyone can actually use them without fear of retaliation.
As you can tell, running a multi-cat household where everyone feels comfortable and safe can be a bit of a tricky situation, but it can also be a lot of fun.
That said, if you find yourself completely in over your head and your cats and you are unhappy, it is certainly worth it to hire yourself a cat behaviourist – for everyone’s sake. This kind of situation can be utterly complex to deal with, especially if things have been going on for a while.
Meanwhile, if you’re looking for more tips and tricks to keep the peace and optimise your lives, check out The First-Aid Kit For Guardians. It’s a free resource available to those that join our email list.
It contains all the basics for a happy feline home!
Holidays are meant to be relaxing and fun – for everyone.
Yet, the reality of it often turns out quite different. Travelling, getting to the airport on time, finishing up work and all that packing – yikes.
And what about your kitty? Do you take them with, bring them to a cat hotel, leave them at home with a trusted relative or professional pet sitter, what?
And how will they respond to all those changes, including your absence?
Possible Problem Behaviour
Cats like routine – much like we do.
Depending on their past and personality, they deal with changes when they come along just fine. But, some may trip them up more than others. And in some cases, they will then try and find a way to cope. For instance, by mixing their smell with that of the owner who is missing.
For example, I’ve had one client call me who had a cat that eliminated out of the box on the bed where the husband slept. This happened each time he left town on business. Yet, when he came home, the cat went happily back to their normal routine.
Others meow incessantly throughout, claw the front door, hide under the bed or worse – lick themselves bald and, more acutely, stop eating. Most are, of course, perfectly fine, or manage the stress without ‘inconveniencing’ us or making us worry in some other way.
So how do we minimise the stress and potential outfall – for everyone involved, when it comes to us going on holiday?
See if you can find a solution that works both for you and your cat and plan ahead.
The important thing is to surround your cat with familiar smells and to keep their routine as predictable and normal as possible. Second, you need someone trusted and competent to check in on them regularly. That way, they can provide them with food, water, and clean litter box. And, if at all possible, some play time and cuddles, depending on what your kitty enjoys, would be much obliged.
For most cats, the best solution is to stay in the comfort of their own home, with their familiar things and smells.
Having to leave their territory tends to be rather traumatic. So, in that respect, a pet sitter is your best bet.
Whether it is a trusted family member, friend or a professional sitter, they can swing by and make sure that the cat has everything they need. The only big change the cat will have to work with is the absence of their guardian. With that in mind, familiarity with the pet sitter might be a good idea.
Make sure they have your the following details on you and your cat:
Contact info of your hotel
Contact info to your vet (and a 24 Hour Emergency Veterinary Service)
The medical history of the cat
Info on any special needs or quirks
And most importantly – make sure they want to do the job so that they actually do it right. Your kitty is, after all, completely dependent on them while you’re away.
Additionally, you may want to invest in a Feliway vaporiser to help your kitty through this change.
Cat hotels can be crappy – or they can be amazing.
The amazing ones go out of their way to make a cat comfortable. Think Feliway, enough space, the ability to stay with house mates, plenty of hiding spots, cat grass, toys, scratching posts, toys, and daily interactive play.
And, they’ll be demanding on your part. They’ll insist you to bring blankets and sleeping spots with your kitty’s scent in them. And they’ll ask you for your kitty’s brand of food and their brand of litter, to make things as familiar as possible for your cat during their stay. They’ll also require the cat to be medically checked and vaccinated, before their stay.
The good ones will also make sure that your cat gets followed up on if that happens. And, they’ll keep you up to date on it all, of course. So, it is definitely worth it to do your home work and select a good one. Go and visit them beforehand, preferably when they least expect it, and check out the facilities for yourself.
The Pro’s And Cons
The thing is – it is still a big change on top of the owner’s absence, to process.
And it does happen that a cat stops eating altogether due to a severe stress response.
That said, cats can be taught that they have two territories. Especially those that grow up going to cat hotels often have no problems whatsoever. In fact, they usually have a wonderful time on ‘their’ holiday there.
Confident cats likely will do better with this transition, although one can never fully predict the outcome until you try it.
Breeds that are more focused on people – such as Siamese – might also do better in cat hotels than at home due to the interaction level they crave.
Additionally, you may want to consider cat hotels for longer stays. A cat needs about a week to adjust to a new environment, meaning that picking up your cat after a couple of days is kinda harsh because they’re just getting used to the place. This also means that they’ll have an easier time staying there another two weeks, once they’ve properly adjusted.
Meanwhile, keep in mind that picking them up after two weeks means they will have to rediscover your home again as all their scent markers in the house will have faded completely. So be kind to your kitty, as they get their bearings once more.
Lastly, cat hotels tend to be cheaper than professional cat sitters, especially over longer periods of time.
A Solution Tailor-Fit For You And Your Kitty
In the end, you’ll need to evaluate what is best for you and your kitty in your situation and be prepared for any potential issues that may arise.
Cats are in a way like kids – most bounce back quickly from temporary stress as long as it is, in fact, temporary and they have the tools and outlets to deal with it properly.
If you do the work, you’re sure to find a way to make the holiday a holiday for every family member in your household.
So, what do you and your kitty prefer to go with?
And why is it the perfect fit for you and your family?
And in a way, it is. The theory is, in any case – wave a stick about, with a toy dangling from it and the cat pounces it.
Rinse and repeat.
Well…I found that there is just a little bit more to it than that. In fact, I’ll be the first to admit that – to me at least – that is boring as hell. Why on earth would you wanna do that? And you know what? When I wasn’t into it, my cats soon lost all interest as well. There went a bonding and de-stressing tool out the window.
And so, I tried again. Jackson Galaxy teaches people often on his show how to play with their cat because it is vital to the therapy he is prescribing. And it shows just how difficult this easy-looking stuff can be for us.
However, once I understood the factors that were involved, I was a lot more intrigued and I got into the game.
There is nothing cuter and more easily entertained than a kitten.
Everything is new, fun and exciting.
And so, it’s very much easy to entertain a kitten by waving a stick with a big colourful toy in their face. They’ll go for it every time. And they are so frigging adorable in the process, it entertains us just as much. This also requires very little skill level – for both parties involved, making it easy and fun to engage in.
Then those fuzzy bundles grow up and their skills evolve. And so should ours.
If given the chance, and if taught properly by her own mother, a mother will pass on her preference of prey to her kittens.
Some will hunt rabbits every time. Others prefer birds. Even when mom wasn’t able to do so, your cat may develop an aptitude and preference for a particular toy.
Figuring which type of hunter your kitty is can therefore contribute a lot to your interactive play.
Birds move differently from mice and rabbits. Mimicking the movements of their favourite prey is the key to holding their attention, raising the stakes of the game and honestly, to get your own buy-in. It certainly requires more mental capacity and imagination than just waving a bloody stick in someone’s face, after all.
Birds fly about, and land occasionally. To really capture your cat’s attention, make it a predicable pattern of swooshing through the air (preferably using a feather toy) and landing at certain intervals. Then, watch your kitty stalk and ambush the prey – this is best done in a place where your cat can actually use the furniture to hide behind and jump onto for the ambush.
For ground prey, running fast, then hiding and quivering behind furniture, inside shoes and underneath carpets is bound to drive your kitty batty. Especially if you use a toy that makes some kind of noise – clicking, rustling, squeaking, you name it.
Timid vs Assertive
Then, your cat’s personality level comes into play.
It is my experience that most commercial wand toys have a neon-coloured, obnoxiously big toy attached to them. Now, as stated above, kittens often love this. And these toys are amazing for cats that are near-sighted or blind.
But more often than not – they scare cats.
They intimidate them. Remember, cats are prey as well as predators, so they have to be careful. Couple that with a guardian who waves these toys in their faces and they run for the hills – and who can blame them?
Now, some cats go nuts for these toys. They’re usually the very outgoing and confident cats that are up for trying anything. On the other side you’ll find cats like my feral one, Faith, who are terrified of people and anything big or unpredictable. A laser toy allows me to play with her from across the room, with her going mental over the small tiny light which is the perfect size for where she is at right now.
Knowing your kitty will help you greatly in deciding the right toy for them. In my experience, you’re generally safe with something the size of a small toy mouse for ground prey lovers. Most cats feel pretty confident taking that on and cannot resist something like that.
Meanwhile, bird hunters tend to very much enjoy the feel of real feathers and the swooshing it makes when it flies through the air.
Cats are taught how to hunt. While they have an innate drive to go after prey, they don’t necessarily know what to…do with it, if they haven’t been taught properly.
For instance, Arwen paws at prey but doesn’t use her nails – though she is getting better at this. She very much still plays like a kitten because she wasn’t taught by mom – she was taken away from her at 4 weeks.
Falcor knows how to hunt prey, but then doesn’t now what to do with it and ends up letting it go.
Princess knew how to catch it but not how to hold on to it.
Luna, in her day, knew how to hunt, catch and hold the prey but was then at a loss as to what to do next.
Only Trinity knew how to administer the killing blow and then eat the prey.
Personal Growth And Fun – For Both Of You
Each of my cats – safe for Trinity – demonstrates a gap of knowledge in their hunting skills. And this affects playtime with them. Much like you would with a child, I try to build them from the ground up:
I play with Arwen the way I would with a kitten.
Strings and mice are her favourite and she doesn’t mind having the toy be right in front of her. Her damaged eye makes it harder for her to see things further away. She is also the only one who is interested in automated toys that repeat the same pattern over and over. She can run up and down the same corridor after a toy for minutes on end.
Meanwhile, Falcor loves birds that swoosh through the air above him and lands just inches away from him and holds still, safe from a quiver. It’s even better when it actually hides behind a corner. For him – and Trinity – I often build an obstacle course where the prey can hide in and around things.
Trinity is at the highest level. She loves swooshing birds overhead and she loves it at top difficulty. That means prey that hops in and around things, swooshes further away from her and is fast and *hard* to catch.
Now here’s the kicker:
The more you let them catch the toy, the higher you boost their confidence and the more motivated they will be to practice. And this also spills into the rest of their lives – meaning that it boosts their confidence and happiness in general.
In that respect too, they are just like us. Exploration and play leads to the motivation to master the skill – provided it pays off. Regularly at first, then only on occasion, to keep things interesting.
So for Arwen, I let her catch it plenty. Falcor, I do about half and half for, so that I can keep him interested enough. And with Trinity, if I let her catch it…I don’t get the toy back because she’s got a death grip on it. So, I only let her catch it near the end of the game, and then switch to the ‘wounded prey’ where I gently tug at the cord for a bit as she winds down.
She is also the hardest to engage at first, but when she goes into hunter mode…she is also the scariest and hardest to avoid capture with. Her level of lethal intensity is downright terrifying.
Each kitty is of course different and you’ll have to feel yours out, which is part of the fun.
Before you know it, you’ll be beaming with pride at their growth and accomplishments, as you’re struggling to keep up!
So, what is your kitty’s favourite way to play? Do they have a favourite toy? And what about you – do you enjoy joining in?
Please feel free to share your favourite play time ideas in the comments!
There is nothing worse than losing someone you care for deeply.
Be it through a painful break-up, divorce or the worst of all – because they leave this earthly plane all too soon.
It overwhelms you, engulfs you and numbs you to the rest of the world. For a while, time seems to stand still. Food loses its appeal. And life has lost all meaning. Your head is haunted with the question ‘why’. Meanwhile, your anger is doing its best to shield you from that infinite sadness and emptiness within.
Lean On Me
What gets us through such heartache is time.
Time and love.
Time to grieve, with loved ones who are still there, who share your misery, feel your pain and are there for you. And all too often, it is our 4-legged friends especially, that are there for us day in day out. Without judgement, they support us during this difficult time.
But what about those that are equally affected by the tragedy?
What if the the loved one you lost in your life was a loved one for your 4-legged friend as well?
It’s something we don’t always consider because they’re…well, another species. And truth be told, our emotional state makes us too blind to notice – understandably so, given the situation.
Not to mention that everyone feels and processes loss differently. Cats, in particular, tend to look very pragmatic and stoic. As they’re not pack animals, they cannot afford to look or act weak.
But that doesn’t mean they’re not affected by it, on the inside.
And while we often do share our pain with our 4-legged creatures, just as often, we don’t. We’re so in the thick of it, that we forget that sharing our pain with them could just be what both of us need.
For that matter, our fear of losing another loved one could cause us to distance ourselves from our pets. Which leaves us blind to their needs in all this.
And so, we shut them out and turn a blind eye.
We effectively isolate ourselves – and them – in our grief.
Losing someone often also comes with a bunch of adjustments.
Suddenly, you have to fill that void that you used to spend with that beloved person.
You find yourself sorting through their stuff and missing the activities you used to share. Maybe you even need to get a job with different hours now that you are supporting a household all on your own.
The point is, major changes often accompany such a loss.
And with major changes comes stress– for both the human and the cat. Adjusting to new routines until you get them down, changes in territory, triggers of anxiety and loss, you name it.
And while cats are a big fan of routine and predictability, they are less so of big changes in their lives. They like things stable. Much like most of us, really – with just a pinch of controllable excitement to spice up life. Right?
While your furry companion will do their absolute best to cope with everything that is going on, it may just prove to be too much.
Depending on the level of devotion to the lost person, the level of territorial anxiety due to the many changes that are going on and the personality your kitty has, the traumas in their past…they may just not know how to cope.
Or, for that matter, the coping mechanisms they choose to desperately make themselves feel better may just make you resent them for causing more problems at such a difficult time.
Don’t let yourself fall into this trap – you and your kitty need to stick together in these difficult times.
Problems that may arise range from litter box issues (territorial anxiety), vocalisation throughout the night, hiding under cupboards to even aggression due to insecurity issues. Much like you’ll feel less stable emotionally, your kitty is not immune to this stuff, either.
And ironically, what they need is pretty close to what you yourself probably could benefit from.
Coping The Best You Can
What your kitty – and you, for that matter- craves most, besides time to heal, is stability.
While you may have to make some changes, see if you can spread them out. Change one thing at a time. Also, try to keep everything that is still the same very much the same, as to not overwhelm either of you.
That means breakfast at the same time, as well as dinner. Litter boxes get scooped out and you still clean your apartment. Take a page from your kitty’s playbook and don’t neglect your grooming, either. If a bunch of changes are inevitable, see if you can structure and parse them – for both your sake’s. That way, you won’t get slammed by everything at once.
While it is perfectly natural to lose your grip on your life for a bit when you get dealt such a blow, it is important to keep your life going. Of course, you can ease up on your routine and stick to the pure essentials. But do stick to those essentials – for both your own sanity and your cat’s. You’ll eventually find comfort in them as it will give you a reason to get out of the bed in the morning when nothing else seems to.
Coming Together In This Difficult Time
As you adjust and make the necessary changes you need to make to your life to go on, you may just find yourself adding new routines.
Routines such as making time to play with your kitty or a snuggle session in the morning – a very good way to relieve stress for both of you. Whatever the both of you need, take the time to figure it out and address it.
See if you can also add some extra treats to indulge both of you and reconnect a bit.
Think ice-cream for you, and catnip for yours truly. A new puzzle toy with snacks for the fur ball and a new dress or suit for you. Feliway to keep furry night terrors away, and a radio in the bedroom for you to fill the house with a bit of liveliness for when you go to sleep – just for a little while.
Make life great again – starting with the little things that can lift both of your spirits.
If you’re not quite sure where or how to start, you may find some additional ideas in my First-Aid Kit For Cat Guardians. You can download it for free if you join our email list!
It contains everything you need to optimise your lives together.
When I was growing up, we had a lot of cats over the years – most of which were half-feral. Money was tight, so while we shared our home with the cats, they never actually got their own furniture, aside from their own food and water bowls.
Then, when I moved to my first apartment, I got myself my very own indoor cat, Prin.
When you bring another living being into your home, what is the first thing you do?
You set them aside a room.
Adult roommates will usually bring their own furniture. We also buy a ridiculous amount of specialised furniture for our children. They effectively own these pieces. And it makes them feel at home. They can make it their own using a colours, stickers, a certain type of style, you name it.
Next, they need something to do with their day, right? Adults will go to work or college, kids will go to school or kindergarten. Or, they stay home with mom and be surrounded by toys, tv and attention. This keeps their attention focused on something productive instead of destructive. Meanwhile, it allows them to fulfil their need for stimulation and learning.
So, why would this be any different for any other living being – including your feline companion? Considering how important territory is for cats, it could be argued that it’s even more vital to them. Especially when they are indoor cats and effectively live and ‘work’ at home.
Lastly, there is the interactive aspect. We enjoy meeting up with others and sharing our lives with others. And while cats are perfectly capable of being solitary animals, they have adapted to living with us. They are quite willing to form intimate and close bonds with others – including humans. That means we’re part of their territory and part of their lives. But more than that, they make up part of ours and take up a special place in our heart. So why would we not make the most of that by playing with them and spending time together?
Ask yourself – why do you have a feline companion?
What is it that you two love to share?
What Kind Of Specialised Furniture Does Your Cat Need?
Look at your home in 3D.
Cats occupy the vertical world as much as the horizontal one.
By adding things like cat trees, scratching posts and shelves to your home, you create what Jackson Galaxy calls a ‘Cat Super High way’. Your kitty can effectively hop and climb from one place to another without ever putting a paw onto the floor.
Meanwhile, adding different levels is especially important if you have a multiple cat household, as it increases the territory in your home. It was one of the major ice-breakers in my own home between the cats. Suddenly, they were walking tall again instead of lurking around. Also, make sure you have some high-up sleeping spots, as well as some in quiet places.
Consider adding a big, stable scratching post to the main hub of activity in your home – this is usually the kitchen or living room. That way, your kitty can watch the action from a safe place. This trick is also very effective to make cats feel safe in a home with a dog. The dog gets to own the floor and they’ll take the higher ground.
As for the food and water bowls – make sure they cannot contaminate each other. And, of course, make sure they’re at a safe distance from the litter box as cats share our aversion to eating where you…well, you know.
Working And Playing From Home
I don’t think I really appreciated just how active a cat’s mind was until I had indoor cats.
They got into all kinds of trouble.
As I didn’t provide them with enough productive things to do, they took out all that unbridled energy on our apartment. Prin organised nightly food raids for a period of time. And every morning, at 6 am sharp, the kitten train – with one cat following another – raced through the apartment .
While my cats did get positive and productive stimulation from each other, they also started bullying one another since they had nothing else to do. And, of course, I ran into litter box issues because of it.
Channeling that boisterous energy became a definite must.
Similarly, a single indoor cat who has no one else in their life but their guardian will likely cling to that guardian. After all, they’re the only source of entertainment and movement in the house. This may also cause them to start overeating, and become apathetic and even depressed due to the lack of stimulation.
Toys are an obvious and awesome way of ‘channeling’ all that mischief.
Most cats have a preferred toy. Falcor, for instance, likes sponge balls while Arwen likes catnip mice. Then there are weekly catnip parties, cat grass – to bring the outdoors indoors – , puzzle toys, carton boxes (a new one every week!)and even cat dvds to play for them when you’re at work! (Insert link?)
Strengthening Your Bond
Cuddles are a must in our house.
My hand-raised kitty and I very much share a love for cuddling. But spending quality time together can take so many amazing forms.
For instance, I personally enjoy watching them exploring a new carton box together. And every morning, me and my boyfriend have a cuddle session with Falcor in the bed. Then, when I open the terrace door, I do a little training session with Faith, using food, and a brushing session with Trinity. Later on, I’ll typically do a little snuggle session with Arwen in the couch. I am also planning on taking further still and actually clicker train them. Maybe we’ll even try a few obstacle courses, after learning all kinds of tricks!
However, the real big one for most cats is 15 minutes of interactive play time with a wand toy – most cannot resist this. It allows you to share an activity together, builds their confidence – especially if you let them catch it often – and gives you a break from the stress in your life. It’s that special one-on-one time between just the two of you. And it’s glorious.
Not to mention beneficial – it allows you to check in emotionally and check up on your kitty physically, all at once.
This article only scratches the tip of the iceberg, though, so if you would love to learn more, you should definitely check out my First-Aid Kit For Cat Guardians. It is available for free to anyone who joins our email list!
What is with cats and anything new that comes into the house??
The most clear example of this is the most mind-blowing yet cheapest toy known to man and cat: the carton box. Just check out Maru’s antics in order to get a good idea of we’re dealing with.
When you bring home a carton box, cats will sit in it, play in it, cuddle it into oblivion, scratch it up, jump in and out again, and anything else they can think about for about a week. After that, in my experience, that box becomes yesterday’s news.
Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine!
Cats and territory.
I’ll say it again.
Cats and territory. They’re like an old married couple.
Cats have a strong need to *own* things for their own sense of security. After all, without a pack to protect you – like humans or dogs -, what’s a cat to do? The only way to stay safe is to mark everything in your territory as yours, so that others know, even when you’re not around, that this is your turf. It’s by far the best way to avoid conflict and misunderstandings.
It is precisely this need that causes them to go nuts for the carton box. It smells…exciting. The box contains all this new information about strangers and far away places, from all the people who’ handled it, the factory it was made at, the store that it got shipped to, and so on. The same applies to the stuff that comes in the box, btw – such as your fabulous, new chair.
And it doesn’t end there. You yourself are completely marked as theirs. As is every living being that walks around in their territory. Remember that affectionate rubbing against your leg they do? Yup, you’ve just been marked, dude. And who can ever forget the passionate rolling around in your shoes they do. Your shoes contain your concentrated odour in them due to the sweat you leave behind in them. And – in a true declaration of love – your cat is just mixing your scents and going ‘we belong together.’ Also known as ‘MINE’!
Marking By Any Other Name…
Most kitties use ‘bunting’ – in other words, the face rubbing – to mark things within their territory. This is where they feel safest, so they would typically use the more gentle way of marking.
It’s also convenient – since our nose isn’t exactly up to par with theirs, it doesn’t bother us in the least.
But it’s hardly the only way that a cat can mark things. We’re all familiar with one problematic way of marking – scratching. Scratching provides both a visual clue – the act of scratching in front of another cat – and leaves a scent mark. Additionally, it maintains the nails.
It’s typically done near doors due to the onslaught of new smells that come through it or on carpets and sofas due to the attractive material they are made in. Which is why it can be an excellent idea to have scratching posts near your front and back door – as well as one in the living area, the social hub of your home.
And then there is the most problematic – for us- way of all: spraying. They typically reserve this one for the periphery of their territory, to ward off other cats and to advertise sexual availability to passersby. Usually, the periphery is your garden or anything outdoors.
Spraying is also the most aggressive way of marking.
It is handy to ward off intruders, but can present a real problem for cat guardians, especially when their kitty starts marking their things in this aggressive way. That includes the fabulous chair that came in that carton box. This usually occurs when your kitty is already feeling stressed due to other circumstances, or they have a particular trauma in their past related to new things arriving to their territory.
Some cats seem incredibly easily overwhelmed and stressed by new and foreign smells.
When Marking Becomes A Problem
Seeing your cat go crazy over that carton box is entertaining to watch – until they spray it.
And everything else you bring into their home. The smell is…yeah. Not to mention that it is impossible to remove. So what do you do?
First off, clean. Removing the odour with an enzyme cleanser is your best bet, though diluted vinegar and green soap work too. If you’re not sure you got all the spots, a blacklight can help you be sure.
Second, see if you can re-introduce your cat to the offending – now clean – object. Get yourself a Feliway spray to spray the object with. This should encourage your cat to employ to bunting instead of spraying in order to mark your new furniture. Also, don’t leave them alone with the object without supervision until you’re sure they’re now comfortable with it – until they’re bunting it.
Lastly, try to use an interactive wand toy to play around and on the object. It will change the way they view the object as they will associate it with hunting, fun and playtime. And in doing so, it will boost their confidence around the object in the future.
Removing The Trigger
Meanwhile, see if you can figure out why your cat started doing this – has anything changed in their home other than the furniture?Is there a reason your kitty is more stressed than usual? You may want to address these causes, because otherwise you may just see the problem repeat itself when you bring in other objects.
And in the future, you may want to go slow on introducing a new object – to see if the problem persists. Let it sit in the living room a bit first. Unpack it slowly.
For instance, I tend to leave my christmas tree undecorated for the first three days in my living room. That way, the cats get to thoroughly examine and mark it. Once they have lost interest in it, I can put it where I want and decorate it.
So, if you have a kitty that is sensitive to this particular issue, you may want to see if you can do the same with any new objects that you bring in. Bring them in just one at a time, then wait until they’re fully comfortable to bring in the following one.
How do your cats respond to new objects? Are they curious and intrigued or do they feel threatened?
Do share their antics with us in the comments section!
Over the years, I’ve brought home my share of rescue cats to be integrated into my clowder.
As the rift between my two cats, Trinity and Princess, taught me, it was best to do this at their pace while using the Safe Room Method – which I got from Cat vs Cat by Pam Johnson Bennett.
Considering how important territory is to a cat, moving them to an unknown, new territory has to have a massive impact on them. After all, taking them away from everything they know and everything they derive their sense of security from must be terrifying as hell. It is only natural that they’d need time – and a safe haven in the meantime – to process.
Over the years, I’ve fine-tuned the Safe Room Method for my own personal use, to where it’s become a breeze for both me and the cat in question.
And I hope it can do the same for you and your kitty.
Step 1: Prepping Your Guest Room
First off, I start by setting up a room for them, just like you would for any guest that is staying the night. Preferably a small room, away from the hustle and bustle, so that they’re able to scout the room within minutes.
I try not to use rooms like the laundry room as the noise from the washer and dryer may terrify them. Additionally, rooms that our family has to use regularly for our daily routine, such as the bathroom are less than desirable, as well. Though, it works, in a pinch.
Now, I always put the litter box on one side of the room and the food and water on the other side. In that regard, cats are not that different from us. Eating while you go to the bathroom isn’t exactly appealing to them, either.
I also add a scratching post and some toys for them and spray the corners of the room with Feliway. That way, the environment already smells more familiar, easing their anxiety. Lastly, I provide some hiding spots, both on floor-level and high-up (with the scratching posts) for an added sense of safety.
This set-up had another benefit for me back when I often took in strays – it also doubled as a quarantine. I did, after all, have other cats in the house and I often took in strays with…well, a checkered background, health-wise. In fact, I often kept my new guest in their safe room a little while longer than they needed to, until the vet fully cleared them.
Step 2: Prepping For Pick-Up
Next, I prep a carrier by spraying it with Feliway spray.
And, whenever possible, I have the current guardian ready a bag of litter and a bag of food for me. The cat already has to adjust to so much. So, I usually try to get a hold of the food and litter they are familiar with. After a week or so, I gradually switch them over to what I use at home. I start by first mixing the old with a little of the new and then increasing the new steadily.
A bonus perk is to get a blanket or old t-shirt with their own smell in it. When put in the carrier, it will ease their travel time.
Lastly, I let the person that the cat is most familiar with put them in the carrier. That way, they can minimise the cat’s level of panic at what is happening.
Step 3: Welcome Home! …Or?
Once home, I usually bring them straight to their room. No greeting the kids, other cats or dogs, none of it.
If you have kids, you may need to prep them for this. They will get to meet the new addition soon, just not now. And yes, there is a good reason for this.
Right now, the cat is likely the most stressed of all during this process. They’ve just been captured, taken away from their familiar surroundings and transported to a place they know absolutely nothing about. Meanwhile, they’re surrounded by strangers who may or may not be hostile.
A Perspective-Swapping Exercise
Imagine someone took you in the middle of the night and dumped you in Moscow ( or for you Russians out there, Beijing).
Then, a bunch of people touch and prod you while talking to you in Russian – or Chinese. Meanwhile, you don’t even know you are in fact in Moscow. Wouldn’t you recoil, look for a safe place to hide and get your bearings? At best, those people mean well and this is all a big misunderstanding. At worst, you’ve just been sold to human traffickers.
While this sounds awfully dramatic, think about what your cat is going through right now. There is no way for them to know who you are, who your family is and what your intentions are. Sure, most well-socialised, domestic cats do have some basic trust in the goodness of humankind. But this is still a lot to swallow.
Meanwhile, it’s not like you can tell them things are going to be ok. So, you (or other family members) insisting on contact will only make things worse. Especially, when you consider the fact that cats don’t rely on their pack for support or security. There is nothing you can offer them to make this easier on them, right now – safe from a safe place to hide.
This truly is the worst moment for them.
Their Safe Room
So, straight to their room they go. There, I usually place the carrier in the middle of the room. Then, I fill the litter box with the sand I brought, add the food, open the carrier and walk straight out.
Yep, I don’t even say ‘hi’ myself. Because, right now, their main concern isn’t befriending other living beings. It’s securing the perimeter, and I need to let them get on with their scouting.
Introductions will come later. When they’re open, ready for the next new situation and able to give us their full attention.
Step 4: Looking For That Tail-Up
After about an hour – sooner, if it’s a kitten – I check up on them.
I do this every hour the first evening until I go to bed, and every couple of hours the next few days. This entire process can take up anything from an hour -usually with kittens- to 2-3 days. in extreme cases, it might even be a full week or longer.
I only step into the room as far as I need to, to close the door.
And now, we look for clues:
Is the cat still in the carrier?
If so, you can try talking softly to them. Crouch down next to the carrier and without staring, stretch out your hand for them to sniff.
Sometimes, encouragement from friendly humans will let them come out.
If they’re however flattening their ears and pushing themselves back against the wall and floor of the carrier, leave the room immediately.
Is the cat out of the carrier and hiding somewhere?
If so, they’re making progress.
Next, check to see if they’ve eaten anything or used the bathroom.
If they have, that is good knows, because it means they’re getting comfortable. These are two actions a stressed-out cat will not undertake.
Either way, leave the room for now – they’re not ready yet for more.
Is the cat showing you a tail-up?
If so, they’re close to ready to explore the rest of the house.
This is especially true if the cat is coming up to you and introducing themselves. And, if they’ve been eating and using the litter box. Once they’re showing curiosity about what lies beyond the door, you can start thinking about introducing them to the rest of the house.
Not the family, the house! If your family really does want to see the cat, let them do what you’re doing. But only one at a time and 30 seconds max until the cat is comfortable, showing interest and a tail up.
The tail-up is a way to make sure that you’re going at their pace.
It means ‘hi’ in cat language and shows interest.
The thing is, if you rush them before they get to this point, you may find yourself having to back up and redo certain steps anyways. Meanwhile, you may run into trouble such as hiding, litter box issues and vocalisation throughout the night. Also, if you run into issues with antipathy towards family members due to a rushed introduction, you may have to resort to a re-introduction – after finishing the introduction to the house.
In the feline world, first impressions can carry a lot of weight as cats simply cannot afford to dismiss a potential threat. They’re prey as well as predator, and they’re a solitary animal, after all.
In order for them to start out on the right foot with your family, your safest bet is usually to introduce them as gradually as possible.
All right, time to prep them for the rest of the house.
If you have small children or other pets, you may first want to remove them from the room your new cat will get to explore. Grabby hands, screaming, flailing and enthusiastic barking or hissing tend to be a downer during this kind of exercise.
I usually start by keeping my other cats in the living room. That way, the new cat can explore the bedrooms and bathroom first. Then I swap them around. Meanwhile, their lingering scent will indirectly introduce the new kitty to the rest of the family.
I also leave the door open to the safe room so the cat can come back to it when they feel overwhelmed. Don’t be surprised when this happens. Just close the safe room behind them so they can process while feeling safe. I usually do this exercise a couple of times a day. Meanwhile, I’m looking once again for that tail-up to confirm they feel comfortable in the space. If they’re still skulking about by crouching down against the floor, they’re not there yet.
I’ve found that most cats gain confidence the more rooms they explore and need the safe room less and less. Once they’ve explored the entire house, they’ll start marking the home as theirs. At that point, you can usually safely dismantle their room and distribute the stuff there over the rest of the house.
And there you have it – a happy kitty owning their new territory!
So, what about your kitty? What was it like to adopt and bring them home ? How did you go about it?
Share your tips and tricks with us in the comment section!
While we were overjoyed at the prospect, the road ahead was..well, taxing, to say the least.
Moving is exhausting, tiresome and it never seems to end. There are boxes to be assembled, packed and somehow stored, furniture to be bought, utilities to be connected and disconnected, administration and mail to be taken care of, you name it.
Often, it’s a stressful, chaotic time. And it was no different for us.
In the midst of all this, we had 4 cats to consider. Now, I’d made the mistake of moving a cat out of its territory into a new one without prep before – never again. The amount of stress you cause them and yourself just isn’t worth it.
So I came prepared this time.
Step 1: The Groundwork
First off, I bought some Feliway as I went out to get boxes to assemble. Then, I plugged that in where we were storing the boxes.
You see, I knew that that many new boxes, along with the territory disruption of packing, in our small living room was a bad, bad idea.Basically, I’d be asking for them to be sprayed or at least marked ferociously in some other way. Along with some serious cat-on-cat hostility due to the raised anxiety levels, of course.
The Feliway was a pre-emptive strike. A gentle nudge from me to them to use bunting (face rubbing) instead of spraying.
Next,I assembled the boxes and let them stand around empty, so they could get used to them. Meanwhile, I started emptying closets. Since these were items that we didn’t use on a daily basis, they wouldn’t disrupt the territory too much. So, they were the first to go.
Meanwhile, the cats were naturally intrigued by the boxes and did some facial marking. Luckily, there were no fights as things progressed. Over the course of a few days, they grew accustomed to the boxes being part of their territory. And I got to pack up most of our stuff.
Phase one was complete.
Step 2: The Final Days Before The Move
This was where the rubber met the road.
As things became increasingly chaotic, I tried to keep the cats’ schedule as routine as possible.
Food, water and litter boxes were all still in the same place. And I tended to them as I always did. Meanwhile, I hadn’t moved any baskets and cat trees yet. I specifically saved them for last so they would be the first pieces of furniture in the new place.
Packing Up The Territory
Next, I started packing up the things that were part of the territory and prepping their carriers.
I then placed blankets and towels in our bed for the night so they’d absorb our smell. Next, I put those blankets in the pet carriers which had been sprayed with Feliway. I then scattered the carriers around the house, with some snacks in them to entice the cats to check them out and and sleep in the carriers. This way, the towels and blankets could also absorb their smell.
Meanwhile, I tried to provide as much play time as I had time for. I wanted the cats to have a way to vent their nervous energy somewhere, as by now, they knew something was up.
The Night Before The Move
On the night before the move, we took apart the few pieces of furniture we were taking with us.
We spent the night on our mattress on the floor.
Everything was stacked and ready.
The plan was to lock the cats in for the night so they’d be ready to go in the morning. At this point, they were definitely tense. We knew we wouldn’t get much sleep that night.
In fact, at 3 am that morning, I finally managed to catch our Faith.
I knew she came in through the cat door during the night to eat. It was my only chance to catch her since she is feral. I could’ve locked her up before that night but it would’ve caused her a massive amount of stress. And that was something I was trying to keep to a minimum during this already stressful time.
Once I managed to close the door on her and gently corner her, I placed her in the back with her best friend, Falcor. Thankfully, he was able to help her through this, acting as her comfort blanket.
And so, we were good to go. Onto phase 3!
Step 3: The Day Of The Move
The morning of the move, I made my supply bag for the cats.
Food bowls, water bowls, food, litter, litter boxes and toys were packed up and put into 3 bags – one for each room.
The plan was to put Faith and Falcor in the office, Trinity in the bathroom and Arwen in our walk-in closet. That way, they didn’t have to deal with the entire house at once. In time, they’d explore one room at a time, at their own pace.
The reason for separating them was due to the risk of redirected aggression.
While my cats all tolerate each other fairly well, only Faith and Falcor really have a strong bond. The chance of the cats lashing out towards each other due to frustration and fear during this process was very real.
This kind of incident can cause the bond between the cats to shatter, which in turn could lead to territorial wars.
I would have separated Falcor and Faith as well, if I didn’t think his presence would at least take the edge off of the panic attack she was bound to have. He was her rock, after all.
I would also be providing them with familiar smells. Prior to letting them out of the boxes, I’d spray the rooms with Feliway in all corners, and plug in a Feliway vaporiser in the main living area.
Next, I’d give each of them a cat tree to create some vertical, familiar smelling space, a couple of toys, some sleeping spots. Then I’d add food, water and – on the other side of the room – a litter box. I’d also use some of the boxes I used to carry my supplies in as hiding spots.
So when the moving truck arrived to load up our stuff, I made sure that the drivers understood the cat furniture was the first thing they’d have to unload.
After that, my boyfriend took charge of the move while I crated the cats and prepped them for their journey. They stayed in the back as the truck was being loaded, so they wouldn’t be in the way. Meanwhile, the loud noises and people traipsing through their territory wouldn’t freak them out too much .
I then took a taxi to our new place with the cats, unloaded them into the hallway and set up their rooms.
Next, I got them each to their own room and opened the carriers. I immediately left the room, so they could get their bearings and explore the new digs at their own pace, without me there to distract them from this important step.
Meanwhile, I got busy with readying the house for the arrival of the moving truck. We also had 3 deliveries that same day. Sure, the cats were aware of the noise, of course, and most certainly got stressed. But, I was able to minimise the amount of stress by making sure they were out of the way when the movers got to the new place.
And while they were acclimatising in their rooms, I had the chance to set up the house and put everything in place as the movers brought things in. That way, I wouldn’t have to make big changes to their territory anymore, once they were finally ready to emerge from their rooms.
Evaluating Their Distress Level
When the movers finally arrived at our new place, I went in briefly to check up on each cat. Each of them got a piece of the cat furniture that had been unloaded.
It was interesting to see how each cat was coping.
While Falcor and Faith stayed in their carrier for over 2 hours, Trinity had already come out of hers and hidden under a closet by the time the truck arrived.
Meanwhile, Arwen was wandering around and exploring when I came in.
Each cat was clearly going at their own pace.
Arwen, in fact, was doing so well, walking around with her tail up and even eating, that I let her out to explore the bedroom. I did lock her back in the walk-in closet briefly when the movers brought in the bed and during its assembly.
We’d made it through the day.
Step 4: The Aftermath
Every couple of hours I checked in with them to see where they were, progress-wise.
Soon, Trinity started wandering about, but she was still not eating or showing me enough confidence in her tail-up. Which told me she wasn’t ready yet for the rest of the place. She stayed in the bathroom for a couple of days.
The same was true for Falcor, and he took a day or so longer than she did.
Meanwhile, Arwen was more than ready to explore the rest of the house after the movers left – tail firm in the air.
Faith took more than a week to be fully comfortable in her own room.
Once ready, I opened the door and let them wander while keeping their safe room available to them. And some of them did run back a couple of time, after being overwhelmed by the rest of the place. They’d often check out one of the smaller rooms first, before taking on the living area itself.
Once they showed me a tail-up and an interest in the communal food bowl in the living room, I knew I could dismantle their safe room. They soon after started bunting the walls, furniture and us.
This is often one of the biggest mistakes people make when moving since they’re so preoccupied with the move – understandably so. Without that vertical space, your cat will likely start hiding, stressing and possibly acting out, especially if there are multiple cats around.
The different levels provided by furniture allow them to preserve their personal space and sense of security.
While there was still some tension each time we cleared away more boxes – hence the Feliway vaporiser which, thankfully, lasts for a month – it was nothing compared to the moving day itself.
And after 6 weeks, they were so at home that they grew very much interested in going outside and exploring their new territory there. So, we opened the door to the terrace and joined them there. We left the back door open as they explored the neighbourhood, so they could retreat when necessary until they were fully at ease.
We were finally home.
So, what about you?
Have you ever moved a cat to a new home? Or are you perhaps planning to in the future?