Question: My cat really struggles to be alone. When I leave the house for any extended period of time, such as to go to work or out for a social occasion, I return to a scene of devastation and a very unhappy cat. I can hear my cat crying out for me as I leave the house, and while I’m not there, they have a habit of destroying furniture and knocking things over. I can’t always be at home – so how do I stop it?
Answer: One of the most common causes of this is loneliness, as this type of behaviour is seen most commonly in house cats where they are the only animal present. A simple solution is to take on another cat, as company for your existing animal. When they have another animal to socialise with, your existing cat may find being separated from you less distressing.
However, that isn’t always an option, so the next step is to create a comfortable scenario for your cat to be alone in. Fill a room with toys and a comforting, familiar blanket. Then, use a small wind-up radio and leave it running. Your cat will therefore always be able to hear a human voice, which they should find reassuring. Ensure when you come home, you lavish affection on your cat to cheer them up and create a sense of confidence that you will always come back.
If your cat is destructive when you are not there, it is best to keep them to one room only while you are not present. Make sure ‘their’ area has some toys, a water dish and a tray, and remember to let kitty out as soon as you’re home.
Question: Whenever I try and bathe my cat, I have a real fight on my hands. My cat will bite, scratch and claw at me in an attempt to get free, making the entire experience an absolute nightmare. I need to know how to bathe a cat – how do I do so without losing blood and making both cat and myself angry?
Answer: Cats are not big fans of water, and while you may think their monthly bath is completely reasonable, they’re unlikely to agree. They will fight, claw, scratch, hiss and make an almighty noise as they struggle for a dry freedom – and during this, you’re meant to be able to apply shampoo! It’s a nightmare.
The main reason for their aggression is fear; your cat cannot understand what is happening, so they object to it. Try and keep bath time a calm and simple affair. Begin by preparing your bath prior to fetching your cat. Lay out all of the items you need (shampoo, a comb, a towel) within easy reach of the bath, and only when the room is completely ready to go should you bring your feline in.
As you put your cat in the water, make soothing “hush” noises in the back of your throat. Do not shout if the cat scratches you; just keep calm and bite your tongue. Just imagine how scary it would be if someone suddenly threw you into a big tub of water for no apparent reason! The calmer you remain, the more likely it is your cat will also remain calm. Make the process as quick as possible, move efficiently from step to step and – most importantly – don’t lose your temper!
Question: My cat does not seem to understand that he / she is not allowed to eat human food. They will often steal food off the kitchen counter or our dinner plates if we happen to turn our backs for one second. They are extremely sneaky and make life very unpleasant, as we have to constantly be on our guard. How do we teach them that they cannot eat human food?
Answer: The problem here is that the cat does not understand why they are not allowed human food, and no amount of cat training will actually rectify the issue. As an animal, who cannot understand reasoning, the idea that they cannot eat the incredibly tasty food they see before them is a cause of confusion. They want it, it looks nice, it’s right there… why not eat it?
As you cannot explain the hygiene and behavioural problems with a cat, the situation has to be dealt with differently. When your cat does eat food off a kitchen counter or a dinner plate, your reaction should be swift. Say “no” in a firm and powerful voice, then remove the cat from the room for the rest of the meal. If possible, keep the cat out of the room when food is around.
In terms of prevention, this is a difficult thing to achieve – as mentioned, you cannot override that instinct for wanting to eat what a cat conceives to be nice food. Always ensure your cat is well fed, so they are less likely to want to steal food – ideally, feed your cat a half hour before humans are going to eat. This, combined with clamping down on bad behaviour, should see a reduction in food theft.
Question: We are a multi-cat household, and one of the cats is bullying the other animals in the house. They are generally very aggressive, to the point where the other cats fear the bullying cat and will not eat or drink when this cat is around. I love all my cats, but this can’t continue – what can I do?
Answer: While cats are not pack animals by nature, they do tend to form roles within a social grouping. One of these roles will be as the alpha male or female; one cat who believes themselves to be the leader of the group, and takes a very authoritarian attitude.
In some cases, this manifests itself in aggression. The lead cat is often extremely territorial, and may – behind your back if necessary – be extremely protective of the food and water dishes, and sometimes the litter tray. Therefore the best way to deal with this problem in the first instance is to use separate food and water trays for the problem cat. Do not feed all cats together, but rather remove the one causing the issue and feed he or she in a separate room. When they have eaten, remove the dishes and trays so that the other cats cannot approach them; if this is allowed to happen, it can trigger aggression from the dominant cat.
This should calm the worst of the problems associated with territory – anything else you will have to deal with as it happens. If you see the problem cat being unnecessarily aggressive, remove them from the situation for a ‘time out’. They should soon learn you are not on their side, and you are ultimately the dominant one in the household.
Question: I have more than one cat in my household, and the cats fight with each other continually. Sometimes, it can even become so aggressive I fear for their safety. What should I do?
Answer: There are two, very different reasons, two cats (or more) could be fighting.
Firstly, there may be genuine emotional issues between the two. Some cats, just like humans, will naturally dislike one another. They may see themselves in competition for your affection, or there may be some other territorial transgression which neither animal can deal with.
If this is the case, separate the cats as much as possible – do not force them to interact with one another in the hope that they just ‘get over it’. Use separate feeding dishes (preferably in separate rooms), separate beds, separate toys – and ensure you lavish affection on them both equally. When they do fight, put each kitty in a separate room immediately until they have calmed down.
However, the primary reason for cats who live together actually fighting is boredom. What we as humans constitute as fighting may actually just be playing; even if they do occasionally hiss and scratch at each other. For cats, this is just a form of fun, a way to play around with their friend. You can alleviate this problem by introducing a range of toys into your home, such as mobile or cat DVDs, which will keep their attention off each other. All cats have different preferences, so experiment with different cat toys until you find something that truly holds their attention – and then, you can relax in a fight-free environment.
Question: My cat meows and makes a lot of noise, seemingly for no reason. What can I do to stop it?
Answer: Firstly, you need to ensure there genuinely is no reason for your cat making noise or meowing excessively. One of the only ways a cat has to communicate any discomfort they are in is by making noise, so while the problem may not be immediately evident, one should not assume nothing is wrong.
If your cat is making too much noise, have a quick examine of he or she. Run your hands along their body and study their reactions; look for particular discomfort when you touch any areas, and investigate fully if your cat does express any sign of pain. Check their eyes, ears and teeth for any problems such as infections, and ensure their claws are trimmed and healthy looking. If you do find any problems, book an appointment with your veterinarian.
If, however, you find no problems, it is safe to assume the issue is more psychological than physical. Essentially, when a cat makes too much noise and they are not in any physical discomfort, they are attention seeking. They may want to be fed, to be played with, or just to sit on your lap – whatever, provided they have your attention.
The only way to combat this is to ignore them. If necessary, shut your kitty in a separate room until they have calmed down. By giving in and fussing over your cat, you will teach them that their cries for attention absolutely work – so they will see no reason not to continue to do it. Stay firm, and soon they will lose patience.
One thing that people find with cats, perhaps more than any other domestic pet, is that the cat’s behavior will often be very much exactly what suits them, and that trying to persuade it to act against its instincts is something of a battle. There is no doubt whatsoever that cats are more comfortable behaving the way their instincts tell them, and so it is important to work with its instincts to make sure that it behaves in a way you can live with.
One very common behavior that is shown by cats who are used to getting their own way is scratching, when a cat gives its claws a workout by picking at furniture or carpets, and even when you call its name to warn it against doing so it tends to continue. Equally, a lot of cats have a tendency to “over-bury” in the litter tray, scratching away at the litter for a prolonged period until such time as it is physically removed.
One thing that is often used by owners to prevent cats from behaving in such a manner is the zapper collar. Some of these collars emit an electric shock which provides an impetus to stop problem behavior. However, there is great debate over whether this is a humane solution to problem behaviors. Many zapper collars are less than humane – after all, would you physically hit your cat for carrying out such behaviors? That is what it amounts to. However, more humane variations, including one that sprays a citrus scent (unpleasant but not injurious to cats), may be a worthwhile investment.
When you have a new cat, it is generally accepted that it is going to have its share of “little accidents” when it comes to using the toilet. As cats are creatures of instinct, it is only normal that, when it comes to performing natural bodily functions, it will basically respond to the “law of the jungle”, or to be more accurate it will urinate and defecate where it sees fit. If your cat is an indoor pet, this will generally take the shape of going on your carpet or hardwood floor, and then trying unsuccessfully to bury it.
Most people on buying a cat instantly also buy some necessary equipment, such as a litter tray. However, persuading a cat to go in the litter tray is not always easy. Such trays are filled with “cat litter”, which is usually made from natural substances and allows the cat to go to the toilet somewhere that it can bury what it has done. However, a tray filled with litter is not the same as a forest floor. It is also usually very specifically positioned, taking away the cat’s chance to go where it wants, so you need to be firm with training it.
Unlike humans, cats have a very quick digestive cycle, so the important thing when training one to use a litter tray is to wait for a few minutes after feeding, and then physically place the cat in the tray. It will discover that the litter enables it to bury what it has done, and in time will acclimatise to using the tray as its most efficient way of following its instincts.
When a cat owner looks for the first time to train their cat – or at least, to correct certain problem behaviors – they will often find themselves asking the same question that is asked by trainers all over the world. Do I take the disciplinarian attitude that my rules must be followed (or there will be trouble), or do I decide that my cat will behave like it is supposed to (because it will be rewarded if it does)? This is a philosophical question – do you prefer to punish or reward?
In reality, it is probably a lot better to take the second way in this question, because cats are like people in that they react better to the promise of something good than the threat of something bad. Many people will tell you that cats simply don’t think in this way, but a simple little test will be all you need to see how a cat responds to repetitive actions. When you go to the cupboard where its food is stored, you will notice that the cat often runs over to you and either miaows or starts rubbing against you. The reason for this is that it has learned from habit that when you go to that spot, good things follow.
When you train a cat, a dog, or even a human being, by always having the threat of harsh treatment hanging over them you will only get one result. A timid being who is not free with their affections, and who may eventually turn on you in a most unpleasant manner.
A large number of cat owners have more than one cat. There are varying reasons for this, and the reasons will often dictate the dynamic. Sometimes in a household, even though the pets are nominally a family animal, you will find that a cat (or a dog for that matter) is often referred to as being attached to a specific member of the family. For this reason, sometimes a family will get more pets so that everyone has their “own”. This doesn’t always work out.
Another reason for getting more pets is that people find that a cat will be more content if it has a playmate. This theory works, up to a point, but anyone who has introduced a new cat into a household where one already exists will know that there are some drawbacks to the theory. Namely that if you introduce a new cat onto an older cat’s “turf”, the older one will not willingly give up any of its space.
Usually, though, a cat will eventually welcome a new pet into the house and will begin to form a bond with it. This helps training because – along with the increased contentment of having a “prowling partner” – each cat will be a lot more keen to follow instructions if they see that their fellow cat is doing the same and not having any problems as a result. Indeed, in many ways you are “leading by example” because a cat who recognizes the right way to act – through witnessing it in another – will be quicker to pick it up.