Cats and kids: A match made in heaven? Perhaps. Some cats are shy or skittish, and prefer to retreat to a safe spot, watching noisy, busy children from a distance. Some cats would not hesitate to swat or bite in order to keep a child from coming too close. Yet, except when distracted by a sunbeam, or by some birds fluttering outside the window, most house cats stay close to the family circle. Social cats seek the laps of adults and children alike, enjoying a gentle stroke now and again. Indeed, petting a cat can be a calming experience. Still, many children want more from their companion. Sometimes, that translates into cats being dressed up in dolls clothing. Okay, there are worse experiences than walking around in a baby bonnet. But being dressed up would probably not qualify for environmental enrichment in the mind of a cat. Consider that it is possible to offer pleasure to kids and cats alike. After all, both kids and cats love to play. Yet playtime generally sends them in different directions. Why not invent some games that both can enjoy?
Quite often, I am told tales of apparently mild-mannered cats that seem to tolerate all of lifes challenges save one: the Trespasser. When face to face with a Cat Errant, Mr. Mellow just cannot cope. We are all cat lovers and certainly wish no harm to our neighbors cats. But naturally, we want to look out for our family. When a resident cat spies a potential intruder, several responses are possible. If you are lucky, your cat might believe that the more, the merrier. He may chirp, he may posture in a beckoning manner, or he may continue to nap calmly, with no apparent interest in the antics of his comrade through the glass. If you are less lucky, you may find that your cat does not trust that the glass is sufficient to keep an offending cat at bay. He may post "Private Property" signs of his own. You may come home to discover that your windows and doors have been marked with urine. If you manage to get through the winter months unscathed, beware the ides of April. For when the windows are opened for a little fresh air, the urgency to reset the barriers will return. The most concerning cat of all is the cat that experiences profound fear upon viewing an unfamiliar cat. The frightened cat may respond by redirecting aggression toward a member of your household. Although other cats are most frequently targeted, other pets and people may find themselves victims of serious attacks. The impact on a relationship can be devastating. Fortunately, you can intervene. You will need to work with both sides of the equation.
Lets be honest: Anyone can have a bad day. Maybe the car wouldnt start. Or you forgot to set the alarm and were late for an important meeting. You might have snapped at a loved one who asked a simple question. When bombarded with an unidentified scary sound, a cat may believe that she is under attack. Perhaps your painter needed to power-wash the deck. Maybe something triggered your neighbors alarm system. Nellie, a nervous kitty, could take refuge in the closet. Or, she may instead attempt to learn the source of the scare. She will take a mental snapshot of the scene. Anything in the picture becomes suspect. Her housemate, Sue, seems a likely culprit. Frightened cats are not reasonable, and fear is a powerful trigger for aggression. Without taking time to recall that Sue has always been a friendly companion, Nellie initiates an attack. Naturally, Sue will be caught off guard. She could fight back, or will probably head for cover. As your day improves, you will probably get back on track. The victim of your ill humor - understanding that your behavior was nothing personal - will still treat you kindly. If only our cats could be as understanding. Sadly, a hiss, growl or swat from a trusted feline companion may set off a cycle of aggressive behavior that can take weeks, months or even years to resolve. Sometimes, an inciting event can clearly be identified. Often, folks come home to find that their cats seem to be at war.
Sooner or later, most people find themselves moving to a new home. The experience can be daunting for all concerned. Amazingly enough, as long as they have their special people, most cats seem to adapt to new surroundings with no trouble at all. Still, a little prior planning can smooth the way. Lets examine some potential problem areas. It is of course both normal and desirable for a cat to explore a new environment. A bit of care must be taken so that one does not lose ones cat. Take time to block any openings that would allow a cat to reach areas that you yourself could not access should the need arise. Otherwise, you could find yourself cutting holes in sheetrock, disconnecting your home theatre or even removing plumbing fixtures to retrieve a frightened feline. In fact, if your new home is quite large, you might want to use gates or doors to initially limit the areas that your cat can access without supervision. Offer an assortment of cat-friendly mats and perches in these areas. As you offer access to more areas of the house, begin to move these familiar beds to the new locations. Do scan each new area for any toxic materials or other dangerous situations.
Play is an intriguing behavior. Scientists even speculate on its function. Since all species seem to engage in play on some level, it must fulfill an important need. It might prepare youngsters for future tasks such as hunting or fighting. It certainly serves to refine communication skills between participants, and it offers an opportunity for aerobic exercise. But the main reason we play is quite simply that playing is, by definition, fun. Play is a treat that we can and should offer to our cats. Naturally we cannot engage in precisely the same games that cats play with one another. What is the best way to provide play? The first step is to establish some ground rules. No one should get hurt or be frightened. If a cat hisses, bites, or runs away, then the game should be discontinued. Another important rule is that human body parts should not be used as substitutes for toys. That is to say, a cat should not be encouraged to grab or chase hands, fingers or legs. A pony tail is not a toy. The bottom line is that cats cannot help the fact that they are predators. The drive to hunt is a powerful one, and even the most sophisticated housecat can become a skilled huntress at the sight of a tiny mouse. It is not at all uncommon for cats to stalk hands or legs or to pounce forcefully onto a long braid. Even with absence of malice, harm can be done. An ounce of prevention will serve you well. Encourage your cat to play with appropriate toys.
We have all heard the popular phrases that support the notion that cats cannot be trained. Tee shirts remind us that "dogs come when called - while cats take a message and get back to us." When a dog is not particularly obedient, he is said to be "more like a cat than a dog." Yet we all know that cats are intelligent and quite capable of learning. In fact, people have successfully trained fruitflies and fish. Perhaps the misconception arose because old-fashioned training strategies which rely on coersion are generally ineffective when used on cats. On the other hand, reward-based training methods are both effective and fun. When an animal (even a cat) is rewarded for demonstrating a particular behavior, he will repeat the behavior in the future. That is the principle of positive reinforcement. A reward-based training technique requires that you find a reinforcer that is truly rewarding. What is your cats pleasure? Is there a treat so delectable that your cat would be willing to jump through a hoop, literally, just for a taste? Consider not only commercial cat treats, but fresh food instead. Morsels of meat, fish, cheese or even cantaloupe can be tested as potential reinforcers.
These days, despite what we like to consider modern conveniences, people commonly complain that they just cannot find the time to get a good nights sleep. So much to do, so little time. When we finally do settle into bed, we like to be left to our dreams, undisturbed until the alarm takes us to tomorrow. Noisy neighbors, construction crews and barking dogs are beyond our control. But, what an unexpected, and unpleasant, surprise to be awakened by ones own cat! Restless behavior may be particularly hard to understand when your cat has spent the first 12 years of his life refusing to leave the covers until a decent sunbeam appears. The first time that a senior cats cries call a person from sleep, there may be a sympathetic response. A naturally concerned owner might check the food supply. The next occurrence will be more puzzling. Clearly the cat is not wanting for food. Could there be another cat in the yard? Maybe a critter got into the house?
Isnt it remarkable that most cats are well-behaved when they visit their veterinarians? First, they are captured and put into an automobile. They remain in their containers, sheltered but helpless, in a room filled with the scent of unfamiliar cats, humans and even dogs. Finally, every bit of security is lost when the cat is removed from its newfound shelter and the veterinary team places the cat on the examination table. Why do cats behave so nicely? Fear can sometimes render a cat motionless and therefore cooperative. Fearful cats - whether immobile or aggressive - can benefit from a behavior modification specifically designed to address high arousal. But what about the average cat, dare I say the "normal" cat? There may be no indication for intensive therapy or anxiety-reducing medication. But clearly, the veterinary experience is not entirely stress-free. Rather than take a cats good behavior for granted, why not reduce some of the stressors that can occur during a visit to the veterinary hospital? Lets examine some components of the visit that could trigger anxiety.
Once upon a time, cats were considered to be solitary creatures. Since they hunted alone rather than in packs, it was assumed that they preferred to be alone. As it turns out, some cats do indeed avoid the company of others. Yet even more cats clearly choose to remain close to fellow felines. They snuggle and groom and maintain proximity even when there are plenty of comfortable, safe resting places nearby. Unfortunately, there is no reliable way to predict whether an individual kitten will mature into a cat that seeks rather than shuns companionship. When two kittens are adopted together, particularly when they are siblings, the expectation is that they will benefit from one another. Initially, most kittens do play together, groom one another and share a bed. Even as their second birthday passes, all may seem well.
It is safe to say that most people live with their cats without much concern about getting bitten. Alas, cats have been known to try to bite veterinarians and animal handlers. Frightened animals bite. But why do cats sometimes bite the people they live with? At times, the motivation for aggressive behavior is clear. Yet there are also situations where aggression is just plain difficult to understand. Cats may behave aggressively during procedures such as grooming or nail clipping. A certain degree of restraint is needed to perform these manipulations. Since cats feel trapped when restrained, they may struggle or bite. It may be possible to prevent the development of fear related to handling by conditioning young cats to accept gentle restraint. Early introduction to grooming may be paired with treats.
When a cat forms a strong attachment to one fellow cat in the household while actively avoiding another, we chalk it up to personality preferences. As long as no one is injured, we do not complain. It is a cat of a different color, however, that fancies one human while consistently avoiding another family member. Why should this happen? When a couple goes to a shelter to adopt a cat, they of course select one that appears friendly and interacts with both of them. Once the cat is brought home, both owners commonly take turns feeding, grooming, playing and snuggling with their new family member. Yet somehow, a cat may take to following only one member of the couple. What is the reason for this biased bonding? Perhaps one person is loud or large in stature. The less-favored person may simply spend less time at home. There might even be a scent that disturbs the new adoptee.
One of the most frustrating feline behaviors that cat lovers endure is urination outside the litter box. In some cases, the cat has issues with the box. Cats may select litter materials or locations based on their own convenience, disregarding any resulting inconvenience to the people who share their household. Fortunately, with a bit of detective work and perhaps some flexibility on the part of the family, most litter box issues can be resolved. The cat that uses his litter box regularly - yet deposits additional urine in assorted areas - is a cat of a different color. When such behavior occurs, the first consideration should be that the cat might be ill. A thorough examination with urinalysis is in order. Confirm that the cat has been neutered. Cats adopted late in life might require a blood test for added assurance.