Does Your Senior Cat Really Want to Live with a Kitten?

DQ appears on KGO 810 AM RADIO!

Image

 

 

I had the honor and privilege of being on KGO radio’s “Hangin’ with Langan” show this weekend. Maureen Langan and I talked about everything from the Portland 911 cat to the common behavior misconceptions that I see everyday through my adventures with Go Cat Go. We took some really funny calls too! I had such a blast on the show with Maureen. Her comic timing and brilliant approach to late night radio made me feel really at ease. I don’t need an excuse to talk about cats and the way humans contribute to their problems. Just straight shooting on this show. I love that!

Image

You’ll hear me referred to as “The Cat Hipsterer” which is just my way of poking fun at the way people use “whisperer” to describe anyone with intuition about animals.. and also some razzing about my own aesthetic. People get so insulted when they are called hipsters. Can’t take yourself too seriously when your job is to find out why cats pee on people when they’re sleeping. It’s ok to be hip… and it’s hip to be square.

You can hear the radio podcast here: DQ on KGO RADIO

(It’s 30 minutes long, so make some muffins with your feet and find a comfy spot sit and laugh.)

Venus Hand Traps

By Daniel “DQ” Quagliozzi

Image

Oh, that belly…that terribly inviting, soft and squishy, hard to look away from, magical and mysterious cat belly. It taunts you, or at least you have been conditioned to believe it is. The mere display of this potentially deadly part of your cats arsenal makes you want to tempt fate, each and every time, like a red button that says, “Don’t push me!” You want to put your hand there. I know you do.

My advice to you: Either don’t do it at all or be prepared to get owned like a house fly. I know….I’ve heard it before. Your cat LOVES to be petted on the tum tum and he never bites. Of course, thresholds will vary, but just know one thing- The big belly reveal is not an invitation for petting. It’s more like a finger waving you closer and closer. Doom awaits and you can’t avert your eyes. This is a trap and you are at a severe disadvantage. Your soft and supple, skin covered hand is no match for this wiggling warrior’s weaponry (Say that three times).

Cat’s will display their bellies for many reasons. Sometimes it’s a show of contentment, arousal (either negative or positive) or a reaction to a catnip toy. Most of the time, a belly display is an invitation for rough play. All positive reasons to squirm and show the belly, but still not an invite to put your hand there.

Image

Image

Sometimes when cat’s are being petted on their back or flanks, they will choose to roll over on their side or back, displaying the gold. This can be confusing to well-intentioned guardians, because instincts will tell you to continue petting, working your way to that golden treasure chest of soft temptations. Be careful…You may be  inadvertently arousing your cat into a playful mood, bringing confusion to the purpose of your hand. One second your hand is petting with compassion, the next….threshold has been reached and you are being bunny kicked, bitten and held down by two very sharp paws. The bottom line is: Don’t take the bait at all or watch your cat’s body language closely. Make sure you aren’t provoking the petting aggression by missing the signals all together. Most of all, don’t take this sudden change in direction personally. It’s not about you. It’s about what you do with your hands.

Image

 If you see the following before a belly display…You may be heading into a Venus Hand Trap:

  • Flattening, turning or twitching ears
  • Tail swish – Slow to Fast
  • Cranky meow or drawn-out vocalizations
  • Staring or pupilary dilation
  • Quick head turn to watch your hand as you pet
  • Stillness or tenseness
  • Shifting body position repeatedly
  • Back feet push against your hand to keep it away
  • Front paws grab hold
  • Twitching of the back (often described as “skin rolling”)
  • Hissing and growling
  • Licking of your hand
  • Inhibited nipping (soft and gentle)
  • High play drive or need for interactive play
  • You just got bitten and scratched.

What to do if your hand is stuck in the trap:

  • Cease petting
  • Make your hand go limp (dead prey)
  • Do not react by pulling your hand or fighting back (this can provoke more aggression)
  • Redirect the focus to an interactive toy
  • Redirect to your cat’s favorite treat (only when the aggression stops)
  • Apologize for not noticing your cat’s limits
  • Never make the same mistake again
  • Tell all your friends how to avoid the trap

Next week: We’re covering ELEVATOR BUTTS!

My Cat Ate My Snuggie™

Written by:

Daniel Quagliozzi

Cat Behavior Consultant

 

 

 

Has this ever happened to you? You’re getting ready for another day at work and you decide to wear your favorite blouse…the very same blouse that has been sitting on the back of your chair for a week because you were too lazy to put it away after you got it back from the cleaners. As you put your arm through the sleeve, you notice there is a soggy hole in the side. Your cat has chewed another chunk out of your wardrobe. What the @*%!?!?! Guess what? Your cat is not hungry or trying to piss you off. Chances are,  your cat has PICA!

wool3

What Is Pica?

Pica is the term for the repeated ingestion of non-food objects. Accidents will happen, this is true. Sometimes cats will unintentionally eat an object like yarn, string or even a plastic cord. It probably looked like a snake to them? Can you blame them?

Keely_Chewing_on_Plastic_Cat_Rubbing_Toy_3-22-8

Pica is quite different and happens when cats deliberately chew and swallow inedible materials. Common targets include wool blankets, plastic coated wires, rubber, plastic bags, even thumbtacks, hair ties & spare change . Often, individual cats will have different preferences- so the cat that eats wool may not eat rubber, or the cat that tries to eat your bobby pins may frown upon your hipster sweater. Some cats have a broad range of preferences. Though it might seem amusing to some people, it could result in a lethal ingestion for your cat. Yarn can get wound up in the digestive system and plastic can obstruct major organs. Luckily, most of the time, PICA is more annoying then it is deadly. No one wants to come home to find a huge soggy hole in their favorite shirt. Unless of course, you’ve just been shot, in which case, you need to call 911 immediately.

Wool%20sucking

 

What causes this disorder has been subject of debate among vets and behaviorists. Some attribute it to a lack of fiber in the diet while behaviorist’s may claim that it is caused by boredom or anxiety.

 

 

woolsucking

To rule out medical causes, a veterinarian should examine all cats displaying pica. Once your veterinarian gives your cat a clean bill of health, discuss with them what steps you can take to modify your cat’s behavior. These may include the following:

1. Remove targeted items – Placing clothing, blankets, plastics and electric cords out of the reach of your cat is often the easiest solution. Storage containers, electric cord guards, and other useful items are available at most home supply stores. The upside of all of this is that your house or apartment is going to be super clean! NO MORE CLUTTER! I wish my cat had PICA. It would be great incentive for my wife to stop collecting shoes.

2. Provide alternative items to chew or eat – Food-dispensing toys, durable cat toys, or pieces of rawhide can be used to redirect your cat’s chewing behavior to more appropriate and safe items. For cats attracted to houseplants, small flowerpots of grass or catnip can be planted and kept indoors.

3. Provide lots of structured play – Many cats chew on household items out of boredom. Provide interactive toys and set aside time each day to play with your cat. As mentioned in many blogs prior, exercise, play and environmental enrichment provide stimulation that will cure most miss-behaviors. A bored cat has more time to focus it’s energy on misbehaving while an active and distracted cat will not have the time of day to devote to such foolish activities.

4. Increase dietary fiber – It may help to increase the amount of fiber in your cat’s diet. High fiber foods usually contain fewer calories. Your cat may be able to satisfy their craving to eat more while still maintaining their weight. Consult with your veterinarian before making any changes to your cat’s diet.

5. Make targeted items aversive – Occasionally, applying aversive substances (e.g. hot sauce, Bitter Apple®, Bandguard®) to an item may deter a cat from chewing it. If this is not possible, spraying strong smelling substances (e.g. citrus air freshener, potpourri) or using physical deterrents (e.g. upside down carpet runner, compressed air or Ssscat®,) around an object may prevent cats from approaching. Eventually, your cat will get tired and stop heading for the same places of obsession. Just be extra careful with aversive techniques. Many times they do more harm then good and can confuse the issue.

6. Consult with a veterinary behaviorist – If your cat continues to ingest non-food items, referral to a veterinary behaviorist is recommended. Further environmental and behavior modification plans, specifically tailored to your pet, may be needed. In some cases, medication may be helpful. Anti-anxiety medications can lower stress levels and help to subdue the ingestion of non-food items.

 

 

chew

Hopefully, with the right guidance and a little bit of tidying up, your cat will no longer bite off anything bigger than they can chew! Buy more cat toys!!!! No cat ever complained about too much enrichment in their lives. It’s up to you to listen to their demands, even when they are unspoken…and most of the time…they are.

Daniel

People Behaving Badly

Written by:
Daniel Quagliozzi
Cat Behavior Consultant
mischief_ntnews
Is Mr. Fluffandstuff being naughty? Are your punishment techniques unsuccessful at getting results? A new approach to “bad behavior” may help you change how you look at your cat and find solutions that work for both of you. Punishment doesn’t work with cats. Here’s why:

There are often times when we may find ourselves at wits end with our cat. However, most behaviors that cats are punished for are actually normal, they just may not be what we humans consider acceptable.

Unfortunately, there is a lot of outdated or just plain inaccurate information about punishing cats available. Whether you heard it from your veterinarian, your friend or the internet, I’m here to tell you that all types of physical punishment are not only detrimental to your relationship with your cat, but they JUST DON’T WORK. Physical punishment has many negative effects on your relationship with your cat. The first thing you may notice is that your cat starts to cower whenever you approach with your hands. For fearful cats, this will only reinforce their apprehension of humans.

The other thing that happens is that punishment can turn a sweet cat into an aggressive one. If you swat or spank your cat, he may feel that you are “escalating” the situation or provoking it to fight. Many cats respond to a nosetap with a bite or swat – not exactly the response you may have been expecting…especially if you were looking for guilt or remorse.

Cats have a fairly limited concept of punishment. Many people assume that their cat “knows” he’s is being bad, because he did something wrong, such as scratching the furniture, and then skulks away. In fact, the cat is just associating the presence of it’s owner with being yelled at. He is not recognizing that scratching the couch is bad – again, to your kitty, scratching is a normal behavior (that also happens to feel good, and that may be reward enough to risk being yelled at).

beer-cat

Many cats engage in problematic behaviors out of boredom. Just as with children, they may see “negative” attention (such as being yelled at) better than no attention at all. Often, in the case of a very bored cat who isn’t getting enough mental stimulation, humans actually reward negative behaviors by shouting. In this situation, the cat is looking for some sort of response from the human – that reaction is frequently enough of a reward that the cat will knock things off your dresser or scratch your furniture, even if he knows he may get in trouble for it.

towelrack

So, do we just give up and let the cats do whatever they want? The answer is an unequivocal, no. But, there are ways to “correct” bad behavior that are much more effective than yelling or getting physical with your cat. Cats learn by trial and error. If they try something and have a good experience, they will do it again. If they try something and have a bad experience, the behavior is more likely to be extinguished – although not always immediately. Sometimes they will keep trying in hopes that the good experience will return – just as humans will play the slot machines time and time again, hoping for the “big payoff” – before finally giving up.

Here’s an easy 4 step plan!

1. Prevention: Give your cat an appropriate outlet for “normal” feline behaviors

2. Use correction, but only when appropriate

3. Use Remote punishment to discourage undesirable behaviors

4. Reward to reinforce good behaviors

I have identified two of the most common reasons people will punish their cats below.

clawing couch

Scratching Furniture

The most common cause of furniture scratching is a lack of an appropriate scratching post. Since the couch fulfills most of the cats scratching needs (tall, sturdy, a material they like to scratch, and in an easily accessible location), it seems like the best place to sharpen those claws.

To work with this behavior:

1. Give your cat an adequate scratching post. Scratching is a natural behavior, and necessary for all cats – it’s how they stretch, mark their territory, relieve stress and shed their claws.

2. Correction or punishment, such as yelling or squirting with a water bottle, is not appropriate in this case. Cats learn quickly that the punishment only happens when humans are around, and will just return to scratching furniture when you leave. They may also scratch furniture, anticipating some attention (remember, to a bored cat, negative attention may be better than no attention at all).

3. Make the furniture an unappealing place to scratch by using tin-foil, double sided tape, or a product called Sticky Paws. These are all unpleasant sensations for a kitty trying to scratch.

4. Encourage your cat to use the scratching post by using treats, toys or catnip to lure them into a natural stretching position. Praise them for using their post instead of the couch.

OfficeCat

Climbing on Furniture/Knocking Over Items

Cats love to be up high. They also need lots of mental stimulation. When they don’t have outlets for these needs, they may start climbing up on your dresser, kitchen table or counters. In a playful mode, they may start batting at small objects, trying to knock them off. Not only does this provide them with some playful activity, but they may get a response from their human out of it, as well.

WickedChaos2_090830

1. Start by giving your kitty its own cat condo or high-up places to hang out (you can clear off some shelves and put fleece pads on them to make them more appealing). More interactive playtime with toys such as the cat dancer or DA BIRD, in addition to solo play toys (ping pong balls, fuzzy mice) will provide more mental stimulation.

2. As in the case of other attention seeking behaviors, punishment is not effective for this behavior, and may just reinforce it.

3. Make counters and other surfaces unappealing – you can use cookie sheets or pieces of cardboard with tin foil or double sided tape attached to them. You can also “booby-trap” the area with empty soda cans with a few pennies taped inside – when the cat jumps up on the counter, the noise of the cans being knocked over will be a deterrent. Keep in mind, this deterrent is not a good idea with shy cats or in multi-cat households where a non-guilty kitty may be scared off by the punishment.

4. Praise the kitty for using its cat tree, and make it a fun place to be – try placing some catnip, or solo play toys on the cat tree. Try incorporating the kitty condo into your interactive playtime – get your cat climbing or jumping on it to chase a toy.

So, with a little understanding, a watchful eye and maybe a little preventive re-arranging of your environment, your relationship with your furry roomates can stand the test of time!! Don’t be a human that behaves badly. Lead by example.

Oops I Did It Again!

By Daniel Quagliozzi

Seriously, I could devote my entire career in cat behavior to diagnosing litterbox avoidance problems. It seems that cats miss their litter boxes more often then any other behavior issue and it’s apparent that we humans are having a hard time trying to figure out why this is happening in such sacred places as our bathroom sinks, tubs , beds, couches or kitchen floors. What motivates a cat to suddenly designate your back pack as the place to leave a present? Look to the litterbox. All of the answers lie in your environment.

litterbox2
Let’s talk about expectations first. Is it just me or do we all just EXPECT a cat to enter our home and know where to poop? Technology, human convenience and laziness on our parts has made it almost an assumption that if you put a litterbox in your home, no matter what size, shape, type of litter or location…the cat will go there. This is obviously not true.
Cats are picky and vulnerable when it comes to dropping their guard and going to the loo. They look for safe and easy places with no complications. Most likely, your litterbox located in the far back washroom, tucked under the sink, filled with colorful, scent fighting crystals will not be as attractive to your cat as it is to you. Kitty is looking for a basic bathroom with an easy entrance, no frills. un-scented, sand-like substances to cover up with and an escape route. The more complicated the picture, the less likely a cat is to be successful in your home environment.
bn272050
Cats are sensitive to change. They can react to sudden changes in environment by making some adjustments of their own. Ever go away for three days and come back to find that your cat pooped on your bath mat? Discovered a smelly gift on your pillow? When routines suddenly break, cats fall apart at the seams. Some adjust and roll with the punches, while others tend to just go south. What can you do to avoid such surprises? Don’t ever leave your home! Just kidding. No seriously, it’s all about keeping things consistent. Try to have a friend check in and maintain your routines. Sure it’s a lot of work, but no one ever said having a cat was going to be a low maintenance partnership.
litterbox3
Don’t be fooled by gimmicks! No offense to the manufacturers of automated litter boxes, but cats don’t generally want a robot to clean up after them. That’s your job! Cats need efficient housekeepers that are ready to clean up on THEIR schedule. Also, some of these fancy boxes inadvertently make the box dirtier!
Keep your litterboxes simple. Have more than one! Clean them like it’s an OCD of yours. Your cat doesn’t want to sit on a dirty toilet and neither do you.
Ok, lets review:
    • Find a litter that is appealing to the cat. NEVER use scented litter. Perfumed, chemical scents repel cats. Use a mild dishwashing liquid or hot water and vinegar for cleaning—not ammonia or other harsh chemicals which will leave an odor.
    • Texture is important, too. Generally speaking, the clumping type or gravel type of litter is most acceptable. The sand type is very popular, but as a health precaution for kittens under four months old, it may pose a problem as they may ingest the litter.
    • Cleanliness is absolutely essential! The single most common reason for a cat’s refusal to use a litterbox is because the box is dirty—no one likes a dirty bathroom. Clumping litter should be scooped daily, and the litterboxes washed weekly. Non-clumping litter should be scooped daily and the box emptied every week or bi-weekly depending on the frequency of usage.
    • How many litterboxes do you need? Having one box per cat in the household, plus one extra is the best formula for success. Being the individuals they are, some cats prefer to urinate in one box and defecate in another. Some cats will refuse to use a box that another cat has already soiled.
  • Litterbox liners—they are often irritating to cats because their claws catch in the plastic. Covered litterboxes, or ones that are too small for the cat, may cause litterbox avoidance. Think about size too! Cats need to be able to spin around and sit upright when eliminating.
    The best location for a litterbox is a quiet, private place where they will not be disturbed by people or other pets. Noisy areas near washing machines, furnaces or under stairs may frighten the cat away from the box. Never place the litterbox close to food and water dishes.
    So remember, remove your expectations and think like a cat. Sometimes the writing on the wall…bed or carpet…is a message telling you to pay attention to the space you are sharing. Don’t take it personally!

The GO, CAT, GO mascot

My best friend and the GCG mascot: Cubby the Munchkin Cat from Mars.

20120827-125139.jpg

Believe it or not, Cubby was surrendered to San Francisco Animal Control. I thought it was odd to find a purebreed there but then I came to find out he was given up due to the illness of his guardian. When I was there one morning doing my daily intake for the SF/SPCA, I spotted him and fell head over heels. Cubby is one interesting fellow. He can stand upright (as pictured above) for minutes at a time. His short Munchkin legs give him a very unique sense of balance, not to mention a very awkward and clumsy play style. Add to that…the atypical Siamese breed traits and you have what I can only describe as a Munchkin cat from Mars. Cubby is not without his “behavior concerns”. He is diagnosed with Feline Hyperesthesia, which causes him to “chase ghosts”, running about the house as if his own tail is chasing him, eyes dilated and skin rolling across his back. He will even resort to self-mutilation and chew his own tail base. Thanks to Prozac, Cubby rarely has an episode these days, but it is quite surprising to see sometimes. It’s almost like he’s in a trance.

Like most cats, Cubby has a threshold that varies. He loves to be held and will stay in your arms for long periods of time, but is also very clear when he has had enough. The standard head turn, “love bite” or licking will precede a final warning. In my house, we never get to that point. Cubby stays comfortable in his surroundings because his boundaries and eccentricities are respected.

We found out the hard way that one of his boundaries was … NO OTHER CATS!! Cubby refuses to share his people with that of another feline. Like most people in San Francisco, I live in a tiny apartment with just enough space for us and him. We remedy that problem by providing Cubby with vertical climbing structures and cat shelves that get him off the floor and high up where he can be king of Mars.

Cubby exemplifies the Go, Cat, Go Motto. Slow down. Live in the moment. Be patient with the process.